2020 has been a challenging year for commercial real estate. The coronavirus pandemic has left office buildings, shopping malls and other commercial properties either completely or virtually unoccupied. In many states, it’s still unclear when “business as usual” will resume.
But building owners and operators need to view their unoccupied properties as an opportunity. One of the biggest challenges to any kind of repair or maintenance activity is the occupants. Offices and stores can’t be disrupted by contractors. Full parking lots often make it difficult to store materials and heavy machinery. Landlords receive complaints about dust and odors.
With so many spaces empty, now is the time for building owners to take advantage and schedule building maintenance and upgrades efficiently. From installing energy-efficient HVAC units to completing a commercial roof assessment, there are probably many tasks on your to-do list, and now is the time to get them done quickly.
Check Off Your To-Do List
Depending on the age, size, function and location of your building, your maintenance to-do list could include any number of activities, including:
- Roof inspection and repair
- HVAC assessment and upgrades
- Skylight inspection and repair
- Repair or replace windows and doors to improve energy efficiency
- Inspect pipes and plumbing systems for signs of leaks and water damage
- Building facade inspection and repair
- Inspect and replace worn flooring and carpet tiles
- For older buildings, inspect the condition of asbestos-containing materials
- General cleanings such as carpet steaming, wall washing or surface disinfection
You know there’s always more to do, but getting it all done without disrupting tenants — while still providing contractors access to the necessary spaces when they’re occupied — can be complicated. If work can only be done after hours or on weekends, projects can be slow to complete and require overtime for your facility staff to supervise contractors.
Since your building is now empty, or nearly so, it’s suddenly much easier to have contractors from several disciplines in to do work at once, even in normally occupied spaces — meaning you typically won’t have to pay for overtime work as you usually would.
To maximize your building maintenance budget, prioritize the work to be done in terms of cost, urgency, scale and which projects can be done simultaneously.
For example, you might have an aging roof that needs a new coating. The inspection for this can be done at the same time you assess the condition of your skylights. And both these tasks can be done while contractors inside the building check the condition of your flooring.
Building Maintenance During COVID-19
While the appeal of getting a lot of work done quickly and efficiently is hard to ignore, building owners and operators need to make sure that their own facility staff as well as contractors continue to observe COVID-19 best practices while work is being done.
While many states are relaxing their restrictions around activities that could potentially cause COVID-19 transmission, building owners and operators need to be aware of their potential liability if a worker or contractor were to get sick while working on the owner or operator’s site.
While it can be tempting to get as much work done as quickly as possible by scheduling several different contractors to be onsite at once, facility staff need to clearly communicate expectations and best practices around activities like wearing a mask or social distancing while completing building maintenance activities.
The good news is many contractors will already have their own procedures in place to help protect their workers. Make sure you understand what these are and communicate your own, just like you would any other health and safety procedures, so that all parties understand their rights and responsibilities.
Recommended best practices for contractors include:
- Signing in and out so there is a record of who is on-site.
- Making hand sanitizer available as workers enter and leave and area.
- Requiring all workers on-site to wear a mask. N95 masks are recommended where available. Make sure workers have received training on the proper way to wear and remove their masks.
- Ensure people working in close proximity maintain social distancing of at least six feet apart whenever possible.
Building owners and operators may also want to do additional screening like verifying that workers are not exhibiting any physical symptoms, such as coughing, or require workers to have their temperature taken using a contactless thermometer.
Remember that, as part of your responsibility to provide a safe workplace, you have the right to refuse entry if you believe a worker may create an exposure risk to other people on-site.
Improve Your Energy Efficiency
Along with general maintenance and repairs, an empty building is a great opportunity to improve its overall energy efficiency. Not only will you have maximized your building maintenance budget, but you will have set yourself up for longer-term cost savings.
Many commercial property owners are preparing for vacancies as struggling tenants choose to close their businesses. As economic conditions improve, the commercial real estate market will be competitive for tenants who survived the downturn, and features like accredited energy efficiency improvements can make your building more attractive to potential tenants.
However, many third-party energy standards require pre-occupancy verification in order for you to receive your accreditation. Whether you’re upgrading your HVAC system, installing new energy-efficient windows or applying a cool roof coating, having an unoccupied building means you can easily verify the impact these improvements are having on your facility, and you’ll be able to share your achievements when tenants are ready to get back to work.
Whether your to-do list is long or short, treating your unoccupied building as an opportunity to get work done quickly and efficiently will pay off in the long run.
If your first set of tasks includes a commercial roof assessment or roof repair, Western Colloid can help you find a qualified contractor. Visit our website for a complimentary consultation.