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Ask the Experts: How to Decrease Risk and Maintain Building Operations During COVID-19

COVID-19 has taken the world by surprise and thrown many businesses into crisis mode, resulting in unforeseen shutdowns of operations and abandonment of buildings. It is up to building owners and operators to take proactive steps to ensure that building systems continue to operate as expected, especially during facility shutdowns.

Here’s what two AkitaBox experts have to say about decreasing risk and maintaining facility functionality during COVID-19 shutdowns and decreased operations.

Leadership-Square_0001_Josh Josh Lowe
Business Development Executive
and Co-founder, AkitaBox
Robert Thomas 500x500 Robert Thomas
Account Executive, AkitaBox

Q&A: Decreasing Risk and Maintaining Operations During COVID-19

AkitaBox: “Josh and Robert, tell me more about yourselves. How long have you worked in the facility management field, and what drew you to this industry?”

Josh Lowe: “I guess you could say that I stumbled into the facility management industry, which in my experience isn’t really an anomaly. Very few people go into the world wanting to be a facility manager at a young age. Thankfully, IFMA and other industry organizations are trying to change that. I became interested in facility management after serving as a project manager in construction. It was very apparent that the industry was sorely behind in the technology curve. There was no ‘home’ for that technology to live, which is why I helped found AkitaBox as a company. Overall, I’ve worked in the facility management industry for around 12 years.”

Robert Thomas: “Similar to Josh, I also started out in the construction world. I have about 10 years in the facilities and construction world. A lot of times, construction teams hand off a beautiful new building and teams don’t know how to take care of it. There’s a gap in best practices. When it comes to facility managers, a lot of the people you meet came from other fields, like plumbing for example. They move on from their individual trades and get hired as facility managers, taking on more responsibilities and managing whole building systems. There is often a lot of unfamiliar territory that goes along with that. There are many opportunities to be transformational and help Facilities Managers do their work better with the use of technology.”

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AkitaBox: “What is machine atrophy? Why do machines need to be ‘exercised’ in order to maintain functionality?”

Josh Lowe: “The word atrophy is just a word that refers to when something gradually breaks down when it’s not regularly used. For example, take the human body. When you stop moving, it’s incredibly hard to get back up and going the less you exercise. Buildings are just like the human body. Building systems that stop ‘exercising’ will start to deteriorate.”

Robert Thomas: “Machine atrophy can also be compared to a car that sits in the driveway too long. It’s not going to run very well the longer you neglect it. Building systems are the same. Most are designed to run anywhere from 15 to 30 years. Throughout this time, they run non-stop — lubricating themselves in the process. Machines that stop running just won’t work well. What many people don’t realize is that this kind of atrophy can happen in only weeks, not months or years. This is why it’s so important for your building’s machinery to be properly maintained, even if people are not actively using your building during COVID-19 shutdowns.”

AkitaBox: “Plumbing is another building system that’s important to monitor during COVID-19 shutdowns. What should operators know?”

Robert Thomas: “Stagnant water is no good. If you fill up a cup of water and set it in your house for three months, it’s not going to be very fresh or clean. When buildings sit vacant, that’s what’s going on inside your pipes. Plumbing needs to be regularly used and flushed in order to maintain functionality and avoid bacteria growth. Not to mention, older cast-iron piping is also susceptible to deterioration and rust if it doesn’t have water running through it. Pipes are designed to be wet. You can have a major drain problem if you don’t maintain wetness in pipes with frequent use.”

Josh Lowe: “Let’s not forget noxious gases that can come out of your sewer system. P-traps — those little ‘U’ shapes in pipes — are designed to hold water so that sewer gasses don’t enter your building from below. In essence, that drain water is what keeps the gases from coming up from your sewer and into your building. When pipes are not regularly used, this water can evaporate pretty quickly. This allows sewer gases to enter your building, which is a hazard in and of itself. Run water through sinks often to avoid health hazards such as sewer gas and fecal matter coming into the air. If you must leave your building unoccupied, make sure to consistently run toilets, sinks, and other plumbing so that p-traps are constantly filled with fresh water.”

AkitaBox: “What are the top things that every building owner or operator should know in regards to mothballing for their buildings during COVID-19 and beyond?”

Josh Lowe: “First, we were focused on the coronavirus. Now, we must also focus on human rights issues that are happening in the country that need to be dealt with. We still don’t know the outcomes of these situations, and many of us are concerned about what is to come. The longer that COVID-19 shutdowns go on, the higher the risk to building owners. For example, some companies are spending millions, if not billions of dollars right now trying to remedy the fact that they have legionnaire’s disease due to remodels and dead-end pipes (a non-circulatory plumping system that can breed contaminants and disease). This water is getting pumped out and people are getting very sick. Ultimately, these organizations are liable for this.

Robert Thomas: “Many people don’t recognize the gravity of completely shutting down a building, then reopening them. This is perhaps the first time in history that we truly put buildings on hold on a massive scale. I don’t think we’ve ever seen this before. The hazardous impacts of this, along with the safety and health of occupants, is yet to be fully known. You can’t just return to a building after months of non-use and start drinking the water. This is new ground for a lot of people in our space. It’s going to affect them in different ways, so it’s important to keep your occupants in mind and take proper precautions to keep systems running as intended. Check your HVAC, flush your plumbing, schedule that pest control inspection. These are things that need to be dealt with as people return to the buildings they occupy.”


No matter what your situation is, AkitaBox is here to offer assistance and peace of mind during these unprecedented times. We have a variety of tools and resources to share to help your organization bounce back from any operations-related challenges you’ve faced due to COVID-19.

Click here to read a more in-depth view of AkitaBox DeepClean Assurance and how your custodial teams can leverage it to gain public trust and provide relief to customers and occupants. If you’d rather speak with one of our friendly team members, we’re here and ready to chat at (608) 729-9191.

Stay safe and healthy this week! Let us know how we can help.

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