Ask the High-Rise Experts: Healthy Building Practices for 2021
In 2020, high-rise associations worked through the challenges of COVID-19 by developing best practices to keep their buildings safe and residents healthy. Whether it’s upgrading the building’s air filters or enhancing your janitorial cleaning schedule, we encourage your board and community managers to keep practices that will improve your high-rise association’s reputation and property values post-COVID.
Watch the first episode of FirstService Residential’s high-rise roundtable series to learn healthy building best practices for high-rises and mid-rises. Then, read below to learn more about the measures many of our associations took to keep our buildings and residents safe.
Who are the panelists?
- Drew Schlegel, Executive Vice President, High-Rise
- Lee Newman, Regional Director, High-Rise
- Brian Lerner, General Manager of One Queensridge Place, Las Vegas
- Brian Keith, General Manager of The Summit at Copper Square, Phoenix
- Filipe Santos, General Manager of LUMINA, San Francisco
- Pepe Ramirez, Chief Engineer of LUMINA, San Francisco
How useful are UV-C lights and electrostatic sprayers? What do they do?
The UV-C light is a tool we use to transform our standard air conditioner system into an air purification system. We tested this device in one of our units for a month to observe any air changes or damages to the system. After a month without any issues, we proceeded to install the UV-C lights for the rest of our units.
"When there were a lot of wildfires in California, San Francisco's air quality was so poor that you had to wear a mask outside," said Pepe Ramirez, chief engineer of LUMINA in San Francisco. "Once we installed the UV-C light in our AC system along with the existing MERV 13 air filters, it really felt like breathing fresh air when you entered the LUMINA building."
An electrostatic sprayer is a tool that city officials use to clean the streets and prevent virus spread. We purchased a handheld version and implemented it in our cleaning procedures, focusing on high-touch areas, twice a day before the staff leaves. We spray the fitness center up to four times a day because it is a popular common area. Both the UV-C light and the sprayer were affordable enough to include in the budget for next year.
What are some changes you’ve made to your front desk area?
Many of our front desks now have a glass divider to protect residents and associates based on the CDC’s health protocols and FirstService Residential guidelines. We created floor markings to keep everyone socially distanced, and in some buildings, we added a separate shelf for food and grocery pickup. This makes an easy, low-touch operation for our residents to retrieve their essential items.
What changes have you made (if any) to your custodial or janitorial services and schedule?
Before COVID-19, we had a standard cleaning schedule outlining what areas to clean, when, and how often. After March 2020, we focused on fine-tuning our janitorial standard operational procedures to include specific, high-touch areas and CDC-approved cleaning products. Then, we conducted audits and inspections to ensure our team was following the new protocols and keeping up with these best practices. We also encourage community managers to keep their board and residents informed of the new custodial procedures, so they are aware of our efforts in keeping them safe.
Does FirstService Residential have their own custodial or janitorial guidelines for the buildings they manage, even if the building has a third-party janitorial service?
Yes, FirstService Residential does have national standard cleaning procedure guidelines. Within those guidelines, we include an agreement for any third-party janitorial companies to ensure they are following our protocols. Our community managers utilize FirstService Residential’s guidelines as a base and customize it for their building. The managers determine which areas need to be cleaned more frequently than others, then they conduct biweekly or quarterly meetings with the third-party vendors to discuss results. Each building has its own system to catalog cleaning products and track completed tasks from third-party vendors.
What measures should you take after a resident, vendor or associate reports testing positive for COVID-19 to ensure your building and residents are safe?
The first and most crucial step is to ensure the privacy of the resident, vendor or associate who has tested positive. Our community managers and HOA boards have access to FirstService Residential's standard COVID-19 response guidelines and communication templates. We highly advise your board to communicate this information to the residents as soon as possible to eliminate further exposure, then proceed with extra cleaning. To alleviate some pressure off our community management teams, FirstService Residential has a dedicated COVID-19 response team to connect with the positive person and perform a contact tracing process.
Click here to read the CDC’s cleaning and safety guidelines for buildings and facilities.
How do you manage the extra stress on your building’s utilities and systems due to residents working from home?
We keep detailed records of usage in measurable units, such as gallons of water, watts of electricity and therms of gas. Then, we proactively track usage and patterns by starting with a baseline and then creating metrics around usage, which is included in our annual budget planning. It’s important to ensure that general managers are spending more time reviewing the utility invoices to see the actual amount used.
Another way to maintain your building during times of additional stress is to conduct regular equipment checkups and have a proper preventive maintenance plan in place. Work with your chief engineer and specialists to conduct regular inspections of your property, and they will help determine if equipment needs to be replaced.
If amenities are closed or limited, should assessments be reduced?
Assessments should not be reduced in your building even if certain amenities are closed or limited following COVID-19 mandates. While many residents are required to work from home, your building’s front desk, security and maintenance teams are essential to maintain daily operations. The common areas must be cleaned and sanitized more frequently to accommodate the number of residents who would want to use them. Since you cannot predict when or which amenities will be able to reopen again, we recommend upkeeping those areas, so they are ready to go at a moment’s notice. Your board and community manager should keep your residents informed of ongoing maintenance, staffing and other costs, so that they understand why they are still paying assessments.