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Who’s Responsible for Water Damage: Tenants or Landlords?

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Water Damage

Water damage is an ever-present threat in a rental property. Almost every room in a home has water running through it. And water tends to go where it’s not wanted. If there is the slightest leak or crack, water will find its way through it.

Additionally, many activities people do in a home uses water. Leading to spills, and people forgetting to turn off faucets or unplug their sinks. Human errors increase the probability water will damage a rental property.

The fact is water damage is hard to detect and costly to repair, it’s easy to see why this is a source of conflict between landlords and tenants. So when these conflicts arise tenants, blame landlords who own the property and should take care of it, and Landlords claim tenants use the property and should be responsible for it.

Tenants try to push all responsibility for fixing water damage to the property owner. On their part, landlords try to get tenants to assume more responsibility for repairing water damage. This conflict is why, of all the maintenance issues that make tenants terminate their lease, water damage tops the list.

But the question is, whose responsibility should it be to fix water damage in a rental property? The answer is not simple. It depends on a combination of state laws and the lease agreement signed by the tenants and landlords.

Below we explain the best way for landlords and tenants to resolve this issue.

What is the Landlord’s Responsibility?

Landlord’s Responsibility for Water Damage

The basis for the landlord’s responsibility is created by the principle of “implied warranty of habitability.” This law requires property owners to guarantee that a home is habitable before they hand it over to tenants. According to the law, a residence is habitable if it has adequate and working plumbing, among other things. In addition to providing these amenities, the law also demands that landlords maintain the home in a livable state for the whole period that the tenant lives there.

What this means, is that the property owner is primarily responsible for the maintenance of a home’s plumbing, and by extension, any water damage that occurs. Landlords have to ensure that the water supply is constant and adequate in the house. And there are two ways they fulfill this obligation.

  • The property owner must carry out regular maintenance on the home’s plumbing components to keep them in good working order. Maintenance refers to all issues that result from fair wear and tear to the home’s plumbing. If pipes burst due to old-age, the landlord must fix the pipe and the ensuing water damage.
  • Secondly, landlords must attend to all emergency water problems tenants bring to their notice. Emergencies are unexpected events that threaten a home’s habitability,  and are issues that can violate the landlord’s “implied warranty of habitability.” Not all problems with a home’s plumbing qualify as emergencies. Emergencies threaten the home’s habitability.
Fixing Water Damage

We can sum up the landlord’s role in fixing water damage as follows. Firstly, since a home’s plumbing is part of the home’s structures, and the landlord owns the house, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to maintain the plumbing. Secondly, since the landlord gave a warranty to the tenant that the property is habitable, it is the landlord’s responsibility to keep the home in that state.

These conditions are only altered if a tenant does something to damage the landlord’s property or fails to live up to the terms of the lease agreement that they signed.  Bringing us to the tenant’s responsibility for fixing water damage.

What is the Tenant’s Responsibility?

Just as landlords are responsible for providing and maintaining a home’s plumbing, tenants are also required to use that plumbing responsibly. If the tenant misuses the plumbing – through neglectful or malicious behavior – the tenant will be responsible for the damage. For instance, if a tenant allows a sink to overflow and floods the home, that tenant will pay the owner to fix the damage. But this is not where the tenant’s responsibilities end.

  • The tenant is responsible for promptly notifying the landlord of all issues that threaten the home and its plumbing. While landlords must provide adequate plumbing, tenants must be diligent in detecting the plumbing problems and reporting them to the landlord.
  • Secondly, tenants have a responsibility to limit the damage caused by water once they detect the problem. If, for instance, a pipe bursts and a tenant discovers it, that tenant is responsible for shutting off the supply valve and removing all items from the water’s path. If the tenant fails to do this, they will be partly responsible for fixing the damage.

In conclusion, responsibility for water damage in a rental property is shared between landlords and tenants, with landlords taking the more significant share. To ensure there are no misunderstandings over this issue, landlords should include these terms in their lease and explicitly explain them to their tenants.

house mold removal

What to Do About Mold in Your Home

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kansas city restoration services

By Don M. McNulty

Before you try to tackle a mold issue in your home, there are a few things you should know about mold overall.

The first thing to understand is that mold is a part of nature; it is a fungus, a living organism, whose purpose is to decay organic material. You can very much think of mold like a termite but on a much smaller scale. Their job is to help get rid of organic material.

Mold in various forms is everywhere. It is estimated that there are over three-hundred thousand species of mold. There are molds for every environment; whether it is hot or, cold mold will exist.

When I ask any one of the general population which mold is the most dangerous, they will invariably say black mold. The reason people say black mold is because the news media in the 1980s ran many stories about the dangers of black mold. So much so they scared the entire population into believing it was so dangerous their children would suffer brain damage and other developmental problems. 

But the media never told us that everything they were reporting about black mold is that their claims have never been proven. Even to this day, in 2020, they have never been proven.

You should know the media was speaking about Stachybotrys chartarum mold. It is only found indoors, so you will not find it outdoors. Second, hundreds of mold species are black, so when you look at a black mold, it isn’t necessarily Stachybotrys.

Other molds are dangerous to the human environment. The first and most prevalent is Aspergillus fumigatus. This mold is called black mold on fruits, but it may appear greenish to pinkish cast in color and have fuzzy white fungus intermingled in other structure areas. 

Aspergillus niger mold is almost everywhere in the United States, outdoors and indoors almost every day. We are used to breathing this mold without getting sick.

Aspergillus mold carries mycotoxins and left in the area to grow, can cause a lung disease called Aspergillosis. Aspergillosis sets up and grows in the bronchial and lung areas of its victim.

The difference between not contracting Aspergillosis or not first lies in your genetics. After that, it is from living or working in closed quarters with concentrated amounts of the mold. Being in close contact with more massive amounts of this mold is called a bioload. The greater the bioload and the longer the contact presents a greater chance of developing Aspergillosis.

Because Aspergillosis is not a reportable disease, it’s hard to know how many have succumbed to the disease. It is estimated worldwide that at least 3,000,000 people contract Aspergillosis each year, with a 15% mortality rate. Many of those who do not die are respiratorily compromised for the rest of their lives.

Of course, anyone who is allergic to mold(s) are at risk of many related immune problems and should be diligent about its eradication. 

NOVICE v. PROFESSIONAL

The format professionals will be different from a homeowner attempting to remediate the mold. This writer recommends the homeowner attempt to remediate the mold only for small areas.

In the eyes of the novice, cleaning mold should be different than remediating the mold. For the sake of this instruction, Cleaning the mold represents having minimal amounts of mold around your tub or shower, and you have a returning fungus you attempt to get rid of using bleach or some other disinfectant. It disappears for a while, then reappears later.

If this is the case, then more than likely, you have some water intrusion that needs attention.

If this is a caulked seam, you can remove the caulk from that seam, then apply your disinfectant, allow it to thoroughly dry and replace the caulk. If the mold persists or the mold is in the grout, the problem just gained importance in how it should be handled.

Although you are beginning to approach the professional level, your skill sets might allow you to proceed. 

Apart from the professional’s negative air chamber with Hepa filtration, I suggest you drape the doorway with a plastic sheet. That way, when the door has opened, a barrier exists.

If the mold is in the grout, it usually means there is a water intrution behind the wall. Think about it. Grout is not cellulosic; it’s cementitious. Household mold loves dark, stale, humid, or wet air that you would find in the wall void with a water leak present. The leak could be from a roof leak or a pipe fitting.

Professionals use an inferred camera and inspection to determine how the water may be intruding. Here’s what I mean. Is there a water pipe in the area that might be our culprit? If not, then a trip into the attic might enlighten us on an area of the leak. We would look for apparent water damage in the attic, or if not that, then dark streaks on the wood structures in the wall area in question. 

While you are in the attic, inspect the whole of the roof area for leaks, it may reveal extensive damage that indicates a roof replacement.

Suppose no visible damage is discovered in the attic or suspect pipe in the area. In that case, you must conclude that the water intrusion is from water going through the tiled wall; you must open up the wall to inspect, revealing water damage indicating the source. If water is seeping through the tile and onto the wall, the wallboard will be wet and will likely crumble easily with little pressure. Before getting aggressive with the wall’s demolition in a question, apply hand pressure to the wall area where you see the mold. Is the wall spongy or stout?

If it’s spongy, then you found the issue. It’s time to complete the demolition and proceed with the rebuild.

If your problem was a roof leak, have the roof fixed.

If it was a pipe leaking, have it repaired,

If it was a wall, our suggestion is to build it back using the concrete board or green rock and use a liquid waterproofing membrane to be applied like paint on the wall before retiling the surround. A membrane will thoroughly protect the wall in case there is water intruding any time in the future.

If this seems more daunting a task than you’re up to, then give us a call. First Call Restoration of Kansas City, 913-909-0142 KS, for Missouri call, 816-804-0154.

We will come to your location for a free inspection and quote.

Are you strapped for CASH? Don,t worry. We have you covered with Low payment options.

First Call Restoration Company

Free Mold Inspection

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This year 2020 has brought our society a pandemic that had us all sequestered in place, made us afraid to go out to shop, visit friends and family, work, and have caused many businesses to be hurt or, worse yet, closed. Also, the allergy season was rough for those who suffer those maladies. But here in the Greater Kansas City Area, we missed out on certain weather events. Although our rainfall has been average for the most part, we didn’t have many thunderstorms or severe weather.

Consequently, for as much as we could, we’ve spent time outdoors in our yards, many people started gardening again with many for the first time. Several of us kept close to family, and small groups of people we knew were taking precautions as we were practicing.

Now, as I’m writing this piece, it is the first day of fall. Here in the KC area, the weather has already moderated, and we have had cool nights with warm, moderate days. To me, at least, weather-wise, it’s a perfect entrance into fall, so far.

As the weather progresses toward winter and the coming cold forces us indoors, you may discover or suspect you have mold brewing in your home or business.

If that is the case, First Call Restoration of Kansas City can help provide a FREE MOLD INSPECTION. If you are like me, I don’t like not knowing if I suspect a problem developing; I like to know.

The only way to know is to have those areas inspected. With mold, the adage applies, the sooner this problem is found, the less expensive the repair.

If you suspect mold being present in your living or work environment, don’t put off the inspection. It’s a straightforward and painless call to First Call Restoration 816-804-0154 in Missouri or 913-909-0142 in Kansas. You may find our website at www.firstcallrestorationkc.com

We cover the entire metro-plex from Harrisonville, MO to Oskaloosa, KS and Lawrence, KS to Odessa, MO.

Please don’t put it off; give us a call today.

Infection Preventionists Prepare to Ride the Second Wave of COVID

By Blog
June 17, 2020
Those of us in healthcare and infection prevention must focus on sustainable efforts to combat COVID-19. How do we maintain readiness and response without burnout? There’s no solid answer to this, but a big piece really goes into the establishment of plans and education. 
Second Wave of COVID

While cases in New York City have been on the decline and many states are reopened or in the process of reopening, across the United States, 6 states are seeing record high cases. Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas are all seeing major spikes in their cases of COVID-19. For many, this is considered a result of rapid reopening efforts, but also Memorial Day weekend events and gatherings possibly paid a part. In fact, 17 states saw their new cases rises within the last week. (Oklahoma saw cases rise by 68%.)

With well over 2 million cases in the United States, the question then becomes has the second wave begun or are we still experiencing the first wave? Or has the first wave been so rough that it’s blending into the second wave?

For many, it seemed like the first wave of COVID-19 cases was mild and didn’t feel as chaotic as what we saw across some U.S. cities, while others experienced deeply traumatizing, overwhelmed hospitals. That so many of us were in different periods of the outbreak often lends itself to many thinking we’re through the first wave … or even the pandemic. Cheer down. As we’re seeing in many states, that’s just not the case. For many, this is the first wave.

Those of us in healthcare and infection prevention must focus on sustainable efforts to combat COVID-19. How do we maintain readiness and response without burnout? There’s no solid answer to this, but a big piece really goes into the establishment of plans and education.

For those scaling down, what are your indicators for scaling back up? Sometimes the hardest thing is recognizing when we need to start looking again at personal protective equipment (PPE) re-use efforts, surge capacity, and all the other aspects of pandemic response that had to be implemented initially.

The good thing is that we have knowledge on our side, both in terms of lessons learned and hopefully having some more processes already in place; processes that don’t need to be created or revised. Having COVID-19 plans, like information on extended use of N-95 masks, or duration of isolation, available online on intranets can be immensely helpful.

Another piece to this is reiteration of training and screening. While most are using universal masking practices for all hospital employees, how confident are we in their compliance or habits? Now is the time to do educational roadshows on PPE and isolation precautions. They don’t have be long, but it’s a nice way to stop by units not treating COVID-19 patients and discuss proper masking practices. (For instance, wearing PPE all day is rather novel for most of us.)

Moreover, this is the time to chat with staff about hospital plans and address questions they might have. Using those quiet moments to invest in sustainable COVID-19 infection prevention goes a long way and helps to reduce the long-term burden on the infection preventionists. Giving staff the skills to not only be safe, but also critically think through infection prevention situations, is critical to their safety and that of the patient.

In the beginning, we were rapidly trying to do training and education, acquire PPE, and develop educational materials and processes. Now is the time to regroup and refine our practices, like ensuring staff understand when isolation precautions for COVID-19 patients can be discontinued, or where the information is available to give to patients being sent home, but still requiring isolation. These are a just a few lessons learned and a handful of things that can help guide us to a more sustainable approach to COVID-19.

The Dying Mall’s New Lease on Life: Apartments

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As the pandemic hastens the retail apocalypse, some developers are betting that empty malls can mix housing with stores and community space.

Patrick Sisson
June 30, 2020, 6:00 AM CDT

It’s definitely, finally, without a doubt, the end of malls, right?

The multiple crises impacting the U.S. economy — the botched response to the coronavirus and the resulting economic fallout, and lack of spending power — have delivered a new gut punch to brick-and-mortar retail, a sector that was already reeling. More than half of all U.S. department stores in malls will be gone by 2021, one real estate research firm predicts, and surviving retailers may not be far behind; once-mighty brands such as Cheesecake Factory and the Gap are skipping rent payments, Starbucks is closing physical locations, and developers see a future for big box stores as office complexes. Banks fear “a stampede” of landlords looking to restructure loans after commercial tenants miss their rents. Last week, the Trump administration floated the idea of turning the glut of empty retail space into affordable housing.

At the Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood, a suburb north of Seattle, an adaptive reuse project already in progress suggests that America’s vast stock of fading shopping infrastructure could indeed get a second life as places to live. Such transformation could even bring malls closer to the “village square” concept they were initially envisioned to become.

Developers are turning a wide swath of the 41-year-old shopping center into Avalon Alderwood Place, a 300-unit apartment complex with underground parking. The project won’t completely erase the shopping side of the development: Commercial tenants will still take up 90,000 square feet of retail. But when the new Alderwood reopens, which developers expect will happen by 2022, the focus will have shifted dramatically. One of the mall’s anchor department stores, Sears, shut down last year; in a sense, the apartment complex will be the new anchor.

Step-by-Step: How to Clean Up Spills in the Workplace

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Have you ever slipped, tripped or fallen at work? Perhaps you have watched a television show where a slip, trip and fall was the punch line for a joke. Slips, trips and falls are no joke however, and rank among the most frequent types of accidents, second only to motor-vehicle accidents as a cause of death. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “26% of the 8982,730 nonfatal work injuries resulting in days away from work in 2017 were related to slips, trips, and falls. With 44% of Society Insurance claims are related to slips and falls (general liability and workers compensation), businesses can’t afford to not take additional precautions when it comes to cleaning up spills in the workplace.

How to Clean Up Spills in Restaurants, Bars, Grocery Stores & More

  • Identify that a spill has occurred and make sure the source of the spill has stopped making the spill worse.
  • Display wet floor signs to alert customers that the hazard exists.
  • While you retrieve the spill clean-up kit, have someone stand by the spill to alert customers to the spill. Never leave a spill unattended.
  • Sweep up broken glass or other debris.
  • Slop mop the area using an enzyme-based floor cleaner. Leave the chemical to ‘cure’ according to manufacturer guidelines.
  • Leave the wet floor signs in place until the area is completely dry.
  • Brush floor with a stiff bristled brush.
  • Use a squeegee, wet-dry vacuum or dry mop to ensure the area is dry and there is no trace of greasy residue.

Evaluate the Size of the Spill

Before attempting to clean up spills, take the size into consideration. Large spills should be cleaned up slightly differently than a small spill. For example, you wouldn’t attempt to clean up a gallon of spilled liquid with paper towels. Whatever the size of the spill, clean up spills with the appropriate equipment and correct chemicals.

Determine What Was Spilled on the Floor

The more you know the better you can assess and effectively clean up spills in the workplace. Sweet substances like soda, syrups, and high sugar items will likely leave a very sticky residue on the floor. The cleaning chemical used to clean up this type of spill will be different from what you would use on water or more soluble spills.

Tips for Using Floor Cleaning Chemicals

  • Have a systematic procedure for cleaning spills and proper use cases
  • Provide proper training to staff that covers manufacturer guidelines (dry times, etc.)
  • Calibrate pre-mixers
  • Use a deck brush

How to Clean Up Spills by Following Proper Floor Care Procedures

Importance of Slip Resistant Shoes in the Workplace

You may want to strongly consider developing a slip-resistant shoe program, especially if your business is a restaurant or auto service venture. Make slip-resistant shoes a part of the uniform and assure that managers follow up with team members regularly.

Read, ‘Slip-Resistant Shoes for Employees.

Complete Regular Floor Audits

floor audit or walkway audit is a risk control service designed to reduce the risk of slip and fall injuries. Completing a floor audit and developing a plan to improve floor traction will help to prevent costly customer and employee slip and fall claims in your restaurantbar, or workplace.

Facts About Slips, Trips and Falls

More than a million people suffer from a slip, trip or fall injury each year; over 17,000 die as a result of a slip and fall alone. Between 20% to 30% of people experience an injury after falling, with an estimated 8.9 million visits to the emergency room every year. The long-term effect of these incidents can increase insurance rates, which leads to an increase in insurance premiums. They not only have a financial impact, but also a personal cost with the temporary or permanent loss of a valued member of the community.

Slips, trips and falls can be a significant problem for a business. However, recommended controls can assist management in avoiding these costly, disruptive and painful occurrences. Customers and employees alike will appreciate the increased effort to improve safety.

Download White Paper: Mitigating Slip & Fall Risks

In this whitepaper we discuss:

  • Identifying and controlling risk.
  • Role of education and training.
  • Employee-specific concerns.
  • How to respond to a slip, trip or fall.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to clean up spills in the workplace, browse our Slips, Trips and Falls blog series.

 

Rush to Disinfect Offices Has Some Environmental Health Experts Worried

By Blog

Prognosis
Rush to Disinfect Oces Has Some Environmental Health
Experts Worried
The EPA list of approved cleaning agents for the
coronavirus includes some that haven’t been proven safe
for humans.
By
Arianne Cohen
June 15, 2020, 2:00 AM CDT

Businesses across the U.S. have begun intensive Covid-19
disinfection regimens, exposing returning workers and
consumers to some chemicals that are largely untested for
human health, a development that’s alarming health and
environmental safety experts.

The rush to disinfect is well-intentioned. Executives want to
protect employees while abiding by U.S. Centers for
Disease Control & Prevention guidelines (and to avoid
liability). Pre-pandemic, corporate cleaning stas typically
“freshened” lobbies every three hours, sanitized restrooms
every four hours and cleaned other areas at night, said
Rich Feczko, national director of systems, standards and
innovation at Crothall Healthcare, which cleans hundreds
of hospitals.
That pace has now accelerated. “Our frequencies have
ramped up in public places like lobbies and elevators to 6-
8 times per day,” said Feczko. Restrooms are cleaned every
two hours. “Before the pandemic, clients were happy if their
trash was emptied and vacuum marks were in the plush
carpet,” said Jill Frey, owner of Ohio-based Cummins
Facility Services. Now, customers ask for sanitization
(reducing pathogens on a surface) and disinfection (killing
all pathogens).
“This is a hazardous proposition,” said ,
an immunologist, allergist and co-author of
. “Cleaners tend to
go in with hugely toxic chemicals. We’re creating another
problem for a whole group of people, and I’m not sure we’re
actually controlling infections.”

Cleaning companies are selecting disinfectants from
hundreds on , the month-old compendium of
products approved by the Environmental Protection Agency
to kill the novel coronavirus. Those chemicals have passed
tests to show they’re eective against the pathogen, but
“this doesn’t mean that they have been approved because
they’re considered safe with regard to human health,” said
exposure scientist , an assistant
professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public
Health.
List N
Lesliam Quirós-Alcalá
Limited studies, including on , have raised
concerns that some might increase risk of neurological
and dermatological problems, as well as respiratory
ailments like , or have notable .
And while those studies don’t necessarily mean the
disinfectants are harmful to humans, environmental health
experts contend that risks are rising sharply with the
increase in exposure. They also note that there are
alternative ways to kill o the virus that carry less potential
risk.
rodents
asthma reproductive eects
“I don’t know that I would be using potent disinfectants in
an elevator, rather than something like 70% rubbing
alcohol,” said Quirós-Alcalá. (The rubbing alcohol
option is approved by the CDC).

The disinfection methods themselves may also prove
concerning to employees. Cleaning companies sometimes
use electrostatic sprayers—machines which positively
charge and aerosolize small droplets of cleaning solution.
Spraying is fast, allowing cleaners to cover 14,000 square
feet of oce space per hour, and the positive charge allows
the solution to stick to surfaces.
Electrostatic disinfection, which aerosolizes chemicals, is
used to clean a medical oce in Riverside County,
California, on April 15. The potential risk of aerosolizing
many disinfectants hasn’t been studied. Photographer:
Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
“The risks of aerosolizing many of the disinfectants on List
N hasn’t been studied,” said Ian Cull, president of Indoor
Sciences, . “And there are
very few that are approved for aerosolizing or misting or
fogging.” The EPA is still researching whether sprayers and
foggers are .
an environmental consultancy
eective against Covid-19
A spokesperson for the EPA didn’t return several requests
for comment.
Meanwhile, enclosed areas with poor ventilation—
particularly common to high-rises that often recirculate air
—greatly increase exposure to cleaning agents, said Cull.
“Many are hampered by their equipment and unable to
ventilate more,” he said.
For a small percentage of workers, disinfectants pose an
immediate risk, said Claudia Miller. Up to 10% of people—
including asthmatics, migraine suerers, those with
allergies or immune disorders or suppressed immune
systems—may experience symptoms such as memory loss,
trouble concentrating, mood swings, irritability,
headaches, seizures, nausea and vomiting, she said.

Repeated or extended exposures can lead to neuroimmune sensitization and intolerances to common
chemicals, foods and drugs. “That becomes a nightmare
for us to deal with as physicians,” Miller said.
A worker uses a disinfectant fogger at the Denver airport
on May 6. The EPA is still researching whether foggers are
eective against Covid-19.
Photographer: Aaron Ontiveroz/Denver Post via Getty
Images
The cleaning industry has been actively applying new
technologies to combat the coronavirus. Merrick Group, a
Pennsylvania-based industrial cleaning company now
pivoting to disinfect schools, businesses and hospitals,
uses a proprietary process that propels a combination of
isopropyl alcohol and quaternary ammonium onto
surfaces using a CO2 gun. The no-wipe chemical dries
within a minute, and the EPA has pronounced it safe for
some food-grade and hospital surfaces.
“If we can spray it in a Hershey’s food plant or at a hospital,
we can certainly spray it on a school bus,” said Merrick
Group President Bob Gorski. The health care sector,
however, is proceeding with caution.

“We’re letting the science guide us,” said Geo Price, cofounder of Oak Street Health, which treats 85,000 patients
in 56 clinics. “There’s a lot of new stu out there, and I think
companies are just grasping at dierent things to throw at
the problem, and it’s not always fact-based. Existing
technologies do the work if they’re applied correctly.” Oak
Street, for example, cleans its patient transport vans with
wipes.

One potential chemical alternative is ultraviolet light.
Breckenridge Grand Vacations, which owns 800 rooms
across ve resorts in the ski town of Breckenridge,
Colorado, scooped up 50 Puro UV disinfection lights, which
kill pathogens illuminated for 15-30 minutes.
The lights are deployed when humans aren’t present, and
up to now have been used primarily in hospitals. Whether
they work as well in larger spaces (or damage furniture not
designed for intense UV exposure) is another question.
Their overall benet is still being evaluated. Last month,
New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority a
pilot program with Puro, which includes an evaluation by
scientists at Columbia University.

In the meantime, commercial landlords can’t wait for
science, and may be incentivized to choose the cheapest
methods, said Michael Silver, chairman of commercial real
estate group Vestian. “If a business comes up with a great
plan, and the landlord agrees, then who’s paying for it?”
Silver said. “You wonder why anyone would want to go back
to work to begin with.”

No Need to Worry
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Preventionist Will
give You a Cost
Analysis for our 90-
Day Long-term
Disinfectant
I’m sure you are aware disinfectant only
works until it dries, then it will recontaminate. Our 90-day Long-term
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and your employees, patrons, and customers
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Leran More

This is the end of the office as we know it

By Blog

The pandemic already pushed millions to work from home. Many of them will likely go back to a very different office.

If and when you return to your office after the novel coronavirus pandemic, you’ll probably notice some differences.

Upon entering your building, the doors may open automatically so you don’t have to touch the handles. Before you board your elevator, you might tell the elevator where you’d like to go, rather than pressing the many buttons within the elevator. When you reach your floor, you could walk into a room full of dividers and well-spaced desks instead of the crowded open floor plan you’re used to. In common areas like meeting rooms and kitchens, expect to see fewer chairs and posted documentation of the last time they were cleaned.

These are just the changes you can see. Less noticeable in the post-coronavirus office would be more frequent cleaning policies, antimicrobial properties woven into fabrics and materials, amped-up ventilation systems, or even the addition of UV lights for more deeply disinfecting the office at night.

Of course, this is all assuming you go back to your old office at all. As the coronavirus takes a steep toll on the economy and the workforce, many won’t have jobs to go back to. Some who are still employed will now permanently work from home, and some employers will choose to downsize their leases or look for flexible office space rather than long-term leases. Coworking spaces will probably never be what they once were as they forgo hot desks and communal spaces for more sanitary — and less profitable — private areas.

 

Many of these adjustments in office design are actually just accelerations of real estate trends that existed well before the pandemic. But just as policies around telehealth and liquor have quickly shifted, the Covid-19 crisis will force swift and permanent changes in both commercial real estate and work culture itself. The office as we know it will never be the same.

Working from home will be the new normal for many

According to a new MIT report, 34 percent of Americans who previously commuted to work report that they were working from home by the first week of April due to the coronavirus. That’s the same percentage of people who can work from home, according to a recent University of Chicago publication.

These new numbers represent a seismic shift in work culture. Prior to the pandemic, the number of people regularly working from home remained in the single digits, with only about 4 percent of the US workforce working from home at least half the time. However, the trend of working from home had been gaining momentum incrementally for years, as technology and company cultures increasingly accommodated it. So it’s also likely that many Americans who are now working from home for the first time will continue to do so after the pandemic.

“Once they’ve done it, they’re going to want to continue,” said Kate Lister, president of consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics, which is currently running a survey about work-from-home participation. She predicts that 30 percent of people will work from home multiple days per week within a couple of years. Lister added that there has been pent-up demand by employees for greater work-life flexibility, and that the coronavirus has made their employers see the light, especially as they themselves have had to work from home.

“It had been proven prior to this, but a lot of company management and leaders showed great skepticism,” Steve King, partner at small-business consulting firm Emergent Research, told Recode. “That skepticism will go away because companies recognize that remote work does work.”

There’s a lot more at play than what employers and workers want, of course. The economic impact of the pandemic will likely force many employers to cut costs. For companies to reduce their rent obligations by letting workers work from home is an easy solution, one that’s less painful than layoffs. In Lister’s words, “The investor community is going to insist on it.”

Furthermore, the necessity of working from home brought on by the pandemic has also caused many employers and employees to spend money on new technology, like video conferencing subscriptions as well as new equipment. According to data from expense management provider Emburse, the most frequent employee expenses in the first half of March included computer monitors, desks, office supplies, mice, and keyboards — a departure from the norm. These purchases presumably happened at companies where working from home was a new development.

“Companies were caught with their pants down,” said Lister. “Companies where the technology and culture were aligned with working from home were more successful in working from home than others.”

More formalization and company policies around remote work are necessary for the shift to be successful. A recent PWC study showed that about half of businesses expect a dip in productivity during the pandemic due to a lack of remote work capabilities. Companies where people have worked from home for a while and have built up guidelines — about, say, what time of night is appropriate to expect a response on Slack, how employees can securely access company files, and whether employees are allowed to expense an at-home monitor or standing desk — will probably have an easier time working from home.

Employees themselves are also spending more money to create better home offices. Katie Storey, principal at Storey Design, says that her residential and commercial interior design firm is already seeing the trend.

“Instead of allocating a corner of the den,” she said, “there’s now a real focus on where can we convert a closet or add a room under the steps or where can we reconfigure parts of the house to be more functional work-from-home space.”

Regardless of how prepared they were, people have done what they had to do to make working from home work. In doing so, they moved the needle on what’s acceptable in the at-home office.

“It added some humanity to us,” Lister said. “You don’t have a choice: The dog is going to walk through the meeting, your child is going to walk through. Period. We’ve just relaxed our standards to that. Maybe it will bring us closer.”

Coronavirus will likely change the way office space looks and works

Working from home all the time is not for everyone, and many will want to return to the office. As the public health crisis continues, however, office space will probably have to be altered in order for people to feel safe being there. That could mean a reversal of the open office trend.

For years, the amount of privacy allotted to each person working in an office had been steadily decreasing as companies of all stripes adopted the ubiquitous — if often loathed — open office plan. In effect, that meant a very cool-looking office space where you could see many of your coworkers but where there was little separation between you and your colleagues’ germs. Prior to the open office, offices used to have, well, offices, or at least cubicles that divided up the larger space and gave employees a semblance of privacy

“I do think this is going to reshape the workplace,” Janet Pogue-McLaurin, principal and workplace leader at design and architecture firm Gensler, told Recode. “Social distance thinking may be part of our DNA moving forward.”

That means people will want more space. Following the last recession, companies had been trying to do more with less space. That meant packing more and more people into open office spaces, a practice known as “densification.”

“Densification will take a hiatus,” Pogue-McLaurin said. “We’ll shift to, ‘How do we dedensify to create the physical distancing that we now need to have?’”

That could mean more private spaces or personal offices for individuals, and more distance between desks. Rather than desk setups that face each other or are right next to each other, we might now be positioned to our colleague’s backs with more space between us. A conference room that normally fit 10 people might now only hold chairs for five. Expect greater spacing and fewer seating options in communal areas like kitchens as well.

“Every configuration of every floor plan should be assessed to look at distancing and safety,” Kate North, vice president of workplace strategy at Colliers International real estate company, said.

This could also mean the reintroduction of various types of barriers between desks, including much maligned cubicles, in order to block the passage of germs — an effort that might be harder given the prevalence these days of standing desk options.

Christine Cavataio, president and chief operating officer at architecture firm Cuningham Group, thinks that while physical barriers will be used in the short term, the more long-term architectural fix will be done with spacing.

In the immediate future, “we’ll see physical, hard things that create separation,” Cavataio said. “Over time, we will start to design differently to create space, versus how tight can we get it. Can we get our generous six feet of physical distance and still create a company environment people want to be in, knowing you have safety inherently based in the design?”

Commercial real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield is testing a new design concept called “Six Feet Office” in which it visually displays unique foot traffic routing in the office to keep people the recommended six feet apart.

Perhaps more importantly, though less visible, will be the actions that facilities managers take to divert congestion points and clean offices. International Facility Management Association‎ (IFMA) is currently working in tandem with other specialized groups for cleaning and ventilation systems, among other things, to create guidelines and protocols for building operators around the world.

“There’s going to be a special effort to consider and think about every possible place within the built environment that a human being has touched and the possibility of that being a source of contamination,” Don Gilpin, president and chief operating officer at IFMA, said.

That effort could include everything from higher-quality air filtration systems to more-powerful cleaners. Every surface — including door handles, light switches, countertops, copy machine buttons, AV equipment, coffee makers, and many more — will have to be dealt with. According to Cavataio, regular offices will likely take cues from health care design. This shift could include the addition of things like copper fixtures, fabric that retains fewer germs and can more easily be cleaned, more space in kitchens and bathrooms, as well as more attention paid to how far liquids can splash. Some companies could even use UV lighting to disinfect offices at night or meeting rooms in between uses, a practice that’s increasingly common in hospitals.

Automation and voice technology could also play a role. Technology like Amazon Alexa for Business, for example, could become a new interface and remove the need for physically pushing a button or touching a surface in an office. As Bret Kinsella, founder & CEO of the voice technology publication Voicebot.ai, explained, “There is voice tech in warehouses today but very little in office settings. That will absolutely change.”

Inevitably, the most consequential way to prevent the spread of germs in an office might just be to limit the number of people allowed inside at once. Rather than having everyone work in the office from nine to five, companies might want to bring in certain teams at specific times to lessen congestion. The initial process of bringing employees back to work, at least, will probably be staggered.

“What we are anticipating is a gradual ramp-up of business as usual,” Gilpin said. “We are not expecting a flood gate of theaters and corporate spaces opening up to employees and the public. We see this as a gradual process.”

Demand for office space is uncertain

There are two conflicting trends that will affect whether or not the coronavirus leads to a sizable decrease in demand for office space.

First, fewer employees coming into the office, either due to layoffs or to an increase in working from home, could mean less need for office space.

As Tim Savage, a clinical assistant professor of real estate at NYU’s Schack Institute of Real Estate, put it, “As people are forced to work from home, personal space becomes an office. In a way, we’ve dramatically expanded the amount of office space we have.”

Second, safety protocols that require people to be spaced at least six feet apart could cause more demand for office space so that the people who work there aren’t as packed in as they used to be.

“In short, it is too early to tell if companies will lease less space,” Julie Whelan, Americas head of occupier research at commercial real estate services company CBRE, told Recode. “While they may need less space because some people may conduct some of their work remotely, they may also need more space to provide the social distancing that employees may feel they need to be comfortable.”

It’s possible these two trends will cancel each other out.

So far, CBRE has noted that as a result of the coronavirus and its containment measures, office leasing has slowed and vacancy rates are rising. But the company also says that office properties will be more insulated than other property types like hotels and retail.

“The impact on office [space] should not be as deep or broad as what was felt after the financial crisis,” Whelan said.

Experts say there will certainly be an acceleration of existing trends in office real estate, including a move away from traditional 10-year leases for shorter ones or for flexible or coworking space (more on that later). Still, the nature of existing office leases will likely temper upheaval in the office market.

“Those who signed 10-year leases a few years ago are legally obligated to meet the terms of those leases,” Savage, the NYU professor, said. “But this could affect expansion plans.”

Whatever happens to demand for more or less square footage, the coronavirus will likely affect the type of space people are looking for. Spaces with more private areas that might limit the spread of germs stand to become more popular, for example. And while meeting rooms will still be important, companies will likely reconsider the types of meeting rooms they want (and, by extension, question whether a meeting is necessary in person in the first place). Those new types of meeting rooms will be geared toward group projects and collaboration.

“We’re going to reevaluate face-to-face meetings: which are really important and which can be substituted,” Gensler’s Pogue-McLaurin said. “We want to reserve when we do come together to be special and important and about creating relationships — and to create social distance without feeling awkward.”

Coworking is not doomed, but it’s destined to change

Proponents of coworking spaces have long argued that companies managing flexible office space would be able to weather a recession. That’s because, while a number of clients at coworking spaces might choose to liquidate their space completely, coworking companies expect an influx of new clients looking to downsize from traditional office space with long lease terms into so-called flexible or coworking space.

What the coworking space enthusiasts didn’t anticipate was a fear — and a legitimate safety hazard — of working in close quarters to others. Coworking companies like WeWork have already seen a rapid decrease in demand as clients with month-to-month commitments have dialed back or terminated their coworking memberships due to shelter-in-place orders during the pandemic. Experts say this setback hardly signals the end of coworking. It’s probably temporary, though it may lead to the demise of some struggling coworking companies.

“Before this crisis, we saw a slowdown in leasing activity to flexible space operators because the sector was starting to rationalize,” CBRE’s Whelan told Recode. “It is without a doubt that the industry is feeling pressure now, as is evidenced by the headlines around lay-offs among many of the major [coworking] brands.”

Before the Covid-19 crisis, many large companies were increasingly taking advantage of the flexible terms of coworking space rather than taking on long-term leases. That’s likely to continue, perhaps even more rapidly.

The uncertainty the coronavirus brings could cause more companies to look for flexible space that can accommodate rapid changes in their needs. Coworking spaces can also provide office environments for newly remote workers who choose to work outside the office.

“If anything, this crisis highlights why flexibility is valuable for companies,” Whelan said.

However, coworking as we know it will probably have to change to survive. Coworking spaces are known for their communal areas and shared amenities like hot desks, where anyone can use an open work station — and where it’s often unclear how recently the space has been cleaned.

“Think about the little phone booths people were starting to use for calls for privacy,” Gensler’s Pogue-McLaurin noted. “If someone sneezed, you have a germ-filled little box.” (Months before the coronavirus outbreak, WeWork’s phone booths were already flagged as dangerous because they contained high levels of formaldehyde.)

In addition to heightened cleaning protocols, coworking spaces will have to rethink their vaunted — and highly profitable — use of communal space. Fitting as many people as possible into one location won’t be as acceptable as it used to be. Like with regular offices, keeping coworking spaces safe in a post-coronavirus world will probably lead to more dividers and private offices. That might also mean fewer chance encounters between people from different teams and companies — interactions that coworking companies say differentiate them from regular office real estate companies.

Fortunately for coworking companies, their growing base of enterprise clients had already been moving in that direction, leasing whole sections, floors, and even buildings from coworking companies.

“Pre-Covid, the trends were already tilted toward more private team space within those operations,” said Mark Gilbreath, CEO and founder of LiquidSpace, a platform for companies to get flexible office space.

“What will be most in demand will be spaces that offer a measure of control and privacy during the recovery, when there’s still uncertainty financially and from a health and safety perspective.”

So for those who do return to their office jobs following the coronavirus, the space will look different, and they’ll be functional for a different future. Hopefully, that will mean they’re safer, too.


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