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Article: The Role of IoT Monitoring In Re-Commissioning

IoT monitoring of water system temperatures and flow events (such as provided by the LinkThru system from Cistermiser) can play a key role to assist the commissioning and smooth handover of newly constructed buildings, re-purposing of existing buildings to cater for changes in use, or re-commissioning of temporarily mothballed buildings:

Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has been a demanding challenge for us all, but it is now abundantly clear that planning to return to something approaching “business as usual” presents innumerable additional difficulties.

Public Health Concerns

Public Health England’s Food, Water & Environmental (FW&E) Microbiology Services have issued this statement: “During the COVID-19 lockdown, many businesses have had to close to protect public health and reduce the spread of the virus. However, as businesses start to consider re-opening, as restrictions are lifted, it is important to ensure that public health continues to be protected. A potential health risk relates to Legionella in water systems that have not been used during the lockdown period. Buildings should have in place a risk assessment and a Water Safety Plan, but dormant water systems will result in bacterial growth, especially in warmer weather. Regular flushing of the premises water system throughout the shutdown period is required. However, all aspects of the water system need to be reviewed before re-opening the business and necessary action will be dependant on the complexities of the system. This may be done by a combination of workers employed by the organisation if they have the necessary skills and knowledge. However, if a water system needs disinfection then a water consultant will be needed.”

This advice, also endorsed by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE),  is for “any organisation that has a water supply and is currently shutdown”, but in particular emphasis is placed on office buildings (especially those with shower facilities), dental practices, hairdressers, hotels, gyms and sports clubs.

Businesses will have also received clearly-presented guidance notes from their local County Councils, with the interesting comment that “People who are recovering from COVID-19 are particularly susceptible to Legionnaire’s Disease. This could be members of your staff. Legionella can cause serious illness at the best of times, but if contracted by those who have had or are susceptible to COVID-19, it can prove deadly.”

The Legionnaire Control Association (LCA) has published “Updated And Revised LCA Guidance For Members Re-Opening Buildings” and similar guidelines have been issued by the Water Management Society (WMSoc). These helpful documents from recognised industry specialist bodies define appropriate best practise methods for re-commissioning dormant water systems, generally involving hands-on manual tasks to be carried out by experienced personnel, which include the flushing of significant quantities of hot and cold water.

Challenging Times

Flushing water systems when re-commissioning mothballed buildings may also involve chemical or thermal disinfections and shock treatments. However, there are two other factors which will ensure that the need to simultaneously re-open thousands of business premises across the UK presents an even more daunting task. The underlying problems are a potential over-stretching of technical manpower resources to carry out the re-commissioning and a shortage of available fresh water supplies.

All building operators and water contractors about to perform re-commissioning procedures are being advised to liaise with the Water Supply companies because there is a risk that the system will run out of water, as we don’t have system capacity for large-volume site and building flushing to be occurring over the same period of time. Building owners could be asked to work to a rolling schedule and delay the re-commissioning of their water system, which in turn would postpone re-opening of the building.

Lack of manpower and a need to reduce water wastage will undoubtedly become pressing concerns as Britain aims to return to work. This is where remote IoT monitoring of water system temperatures and flow events can plan a key role to help take the strain off these limited resources.

Intelligent Temperature Monitoring Units (TMUs) deliver automatic wireless monitoring, providing real-time temperature readings on a computer screen, in order to track and monitor hot and cold water temperatures in pipework systems which are critical to risk assessments.

A connected TMU can be retrofittable and is typically fitted onto water outlet pipework, distribution pipework including risers, calorifiers, cold water storage tanks and many other sentinel points across a building’s water system.

Each TMU takes a reading every ten seconds and then sends temperature and flow event data to a cloud-based portal on an hourly basis. Recorded data includes maximum, minimum and average temperatures. The sensor also records any flow events, such as outlets being utilised. The data readings are analysed by the device’s inbuilt software, batched and sent up back to the cloud, and then on to the user’s preferred interface which might be a phone, tablet or PC. The powerful data delivered by installed TMUs can help to show where sections of a building’s water system have remained safe and are operating to specified parameters (and therefore do not need excessive flushing) and flag areas that may require specific attention.

Practical Insights

Leading Authorising Engineer (AE) and recognised UK expert on water safety, Dr Paul McDermott FRSPH, FIHEEM provides some practical insights into the role of IoT monitoring and associated challenges faced by estates teams in the proactive management of building water systems:

“The emerging technologies that permit remote sensing and monitoring of water temperatures and outlet usage undoubtedly provide significantly more data and superior information on water system safety compared to the traditional approaches.  The ability to check these important parameters in real time provides a far more detailed picture of the way a water system is functioning and can identify issues such as infrequent use of outlets unequivocally to enable appropriate actions to be taken, e.g., proactive flushing or outlet removal. Enhanced monitoring is likely to be of greatest value in high-risk areas, e.g., hospital augmented care wards, but can also be of great value during commissioning and balancing of new, or altered, water systems.  In these (and other) situations, the ability to appraise water flow (and usage) through a system can identify potential problems that might otherwise go unnoticed if traditional methods are used.

“It has been said that knowledge is power, and that is certainly true; knowing what the problems are and where they are means that solutions can be identified and the situation remedied.

“However, organisations that utilise these new technologies must do so in the knowledge that once problems are identified, there is an obligation to take proportionate actions to put things right.  Having systems in place to understand and utilise effectively the additional information that these novel approaches provide, and access to sufficient resource to do what is needed (both in the short and long term), is essential.”    

Reducing Risk

As previously highlighted, when re-commissioning is required a shortage of skilled manpower resources may cause undue delays due to the size of the task and the sheer number of buildings that require immediate attention across the UK. In premises where TMUs have been installed, constant real-time IoT monitoring will show if flushing has been carried out correctly and appropriate hot and cold temperatures are being reached. Over-stretched technical resources can be deployed selectively to suit, to address defined issues. Building owners and Facilities Management teams both benefit greatly from increased visibility, as well as added peace of mind.

Multi-floored commercial buildings will be typically let to new business tenants on a floor-by-floor basis, over different periods of time, so TMUs can help to keep an eye on temporarily mothballed floors and reduce the risk.

When re-purposing a building (such as the COVID-19 Nightingale Wards), new pipework for hot and cold water supplies may be installed but in most instances the existing original water system infrastructure will remain in place. If a building designed to house 2,000 workers is reduced to 200 people in regular attendance, the result will be under-used or even totally non-used water system outlets and the risk of stagnant “dead legs”. If IoT monitoring is installed, TMUs can constantly check water outlet usage and assist with safe building management.

As new buildings are commissioned, they need to be handed over in a pristine and safe condition for acceptance and sign-off by the client. IoT monitoring with installed TMUs can help to demonstrate that the contractor-installed water system has been delivered to specification, exactly as originally designed. TMUs can also be moved from site to site as required (as and when buildings are completed), to assist with evaluation of commissioning. Alternatively, TMUs can be permanently fitted at key water system distribution points to build client confidence, post-install and handover.

For more information about IoT monitoring from Cistermiser, please visit www.linkthru.com