Wow!!! I looked out my office window earlier this week and, to my surprise (and that of my local meteorologist), the ground was covered with snow. “How could this happen?” I asked to no one in particular, to which my fourteen-year-old son began to explain moisture, temperature, and air pressure. This was not what I meant. I meant how could we already be this far into the year that we would even need to think about this? Is it really time for us to think about how to get our buildings ready for the seasonal change? It does not matter whether you are in Minneapolis or Corpus Christi, Seattle or Boston, there are things that you need to do to prepare your facility for winter.
This year, going into the change of season is going to be very different than past years for a lot of our congregations. Some that I have been in contact with have told me they will not return to their buildings until next year; maybe in spring, maybe in summer. Others are now in their buildings or are preparing to re-enter them. Still others, I am sure, barely left their buildings vacant. Regardless of your occupancy situation, there are basic things to consider concerning your facilities and property.
Sealing the envelope
This is something that you have heard me talk about before. No, it has nothing to do with licking an envelope and pressing it closed. But, like that action, we want our ‘building envelope’ to seal out the elements; to keep the wind, snow, and rain where it belongs — outside. This means we need to check our roofs. Make sure that your roofing system does not have any missing shingles, loose seams, or panels with loose fasteners. Also, make sure that your roof is clear of debris, balls and toys. In addition, you need to check your gutters to make sure they are secure, free of debris and that your down spouts and drainage pipes are not clogged so water can travel away freely. One of the biggest problems I have found on older buildings with flat roofs, and even on some with lots of slope, is that water is directed to a single inlet. If that inlet becomes plugged, you now have a pond or lake. Your roof is not always designed to carry the extra weight of water, snow or ice, and it can easily become a safety issue. Go up on your roof and look at how your system is designed to carry away water. Then, think of the worst-case ‘what if’ scenario. Now, consider your options for making sure that never happens.
Reflecting on windows and doors
Do your windows and doors keep out the elements? This may be the only time you will hear me say that, if your windows and doors do not seal up well, it may be a good thing. This year is different than most in that we are looking for ways to bring fresh air into our worship spaces and buildings, sacrificing our conditioned air and comfort. I would normally ask you to use a smoke tube to check around your windows and doors to make sure that your seals are tight. But, this year, we will let it slide.
Heating up HVAC
The next thing we need to look at is our Heating/Ventilation/Air Conditioning systems. Now is the time to get your furnace, or boiler, and your delivery system, checked out by professionals. You need to make sure that your equipment is working as safely and efficiently as possible. Also, make sure that your flue exhaust is being pulled out of the building, so that you do not have to worry about carbon monoxide. In addition, ask your professionals about two major considerations for the year. The first is finding out about your filtration. What is currently being used, and to what degree does it filter out particulates as small as the COVID-19 virus? Filters actually have a rating system, called MERV for Minimum Efficiency Rating Value, which ranges from 1 to 16. There are HEPA or High Efficiency Particulate Air filters, as well. The problem is that very few of your furnaces are capable of using a filter with a high MERV rating, let alone a HEPA filter. The reason is that these filters require a lot of suction to pull room air through them and then push it back out as heated air.
My suggestion is to have your HVAC professional look at your equipment and then install the best filtration it can handle without causing damage. You should also ask your tech how much ‘make-up’ air is being brought into the building. This is fresh air brought in from outside. With COVID-19 now understood to be transmitted by airborne particles the more fresh air brought in, the better. It means less chance of those particles hanging around. For those of you with boiler systems, where air and room objects are being radiantly heated, there is no air being exchanged through your HVAC system. You will want to find a way to bring fresh air in and push exhaust air out. This can be accomplished by opening windows on both sides of your space, or using doors to draw air in and out of the room.
The next thing to think about takes us outside. You need to do an inspection around the exterior of your building. Look at shrubs, bushes and, even, trees. If you have shrubs and bushes next to your building, are they older plants? Are they overgrown? Do they obscure your building? Do they create a means for rodents to move freely around your facility looking for entry points? Maybe it is time to trim them back or remove them all together so new ones can be planted. You may think of your trees as big and beautiful, but are they healthy? Are they touching your building or roof? Do they keep people from clearly seeing your facility? I know that it is hard to think of your facility without the trees you have always had, but they may be hurting your ministry by keeping you from growing or threatening your building.
Perking up parking
Parking lots, in general, seem to get little attention, until they really need it. Snow on the ground the other day reminded me that our facilities committee normally would have already met to talk about winter preparation, including meeting with our snow removal people. This year, we get to make decisions on whether we should have all the lots cleared or only worry about the one our preschool uses. Maybe this is something for you to discuss, as well. Regardless of where you are in the country, you need to consider parking. Do you need to have lot repairs done? Do you need to have asphalt resealed? Or, crushed stone re-graded and augmented? Do you need to have your lot re-striped? All things worth thinking about. And, while you are looking at your parking, also look at your walkways. Are they free of trip hazards? Do you have walks that have settled or heaved? Do you have brick pavers with raised up edges just waiting to catch a child’s toe or an adult’s heel?
For a printable handout of these suggestions, click here.
Whether or not you are meeting in your facility right now, all of these points are worth looking at. Who knows what the future holds for meeting in-person and face-to-face? Just in case, we can make our buildings as safe and welcoming as possible through careful and considered preparation.
Jim Michel brings nearly 40 years of experience in civil engineering and land surveying, plus proficiency in facilities and construction management, to his position as Building and Capital Services Advisor. He oversees DCEF’s architectural consultants. Jim also serves as DCEF’s Disaster Response Coordinator. Having helped his home congregation in Joplin, Mo., rebuild after an EF-5 tornado struck in 2011, he understands intimately how vulnerable congregations are after a disaster. Jim lives in North Liberty, Iowa, with his wife, Rev. Jill Cameron Michel, and their sons Cameron and Teegan.
For 137 years, DCEF has offered mission-driven building and capital planning services to congregations and organizations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Together with our investors and partners, we are Disciples helping Disciples.