Ongoing Maintenance Concerns for Trust-Owned Homes During COVID-19 Pandemic
With ongoing concerns as the global COVID-19 pandemic continues, trustees should consider the effects of ongoing maintenance of trust-owned homes. Attorneys also should be cognizant of maintenance procedures for trust-owned homes to be prepared in the event of post-pandemic litigation. While we are all taking preventative measures to protect ourselves from the aggressive respiratory virus such as wearing masks, social distancing, and increased hygiene efforts, there is a growing concern for overlooked home maintenance. In our experience, oversight of filter and HVAC maintenance can result in both health and financial repercussions.
As the medical community continues to learn more regarding this invisible, viral killer, the need for fresh filters to fight this and other unseen viruses is further revealed. According the Environmental Protection Agency, “People who are often most susceptible to the adverse effects of pollution (e.g., the very young, older adults, people with cardiovascular or respiratory disease) tend to spend even more time indoors.” Unfortunately, the same individuals who are most susceptible to these adverse effects are also more at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. Add the many stay-at-home orders across the country, and we have a recipe for the perfect storm. In our day-to-day operations as a home maintenance company, this silent invasion is a widespread issue we see continually.
A primarily forgotten maintenance item in a home, the HVAC filter, is often hidden from plain sight or out of reach completely and is often overlooked because of its inconspicuous nature. However, this inexpensive maintenance item can wreak havoc on the HVAC system, affecting the home as a whole as well as having a significant impact on finances, health, and the overall well-being of the residents. Filters left unchanged will lead to a significant lack of air flow to the system. This will result in a buildup of condensation that is in direct correlation to temperature differences from the system to the air inside the home. As the condensation builds up in and on the ductwork, moisture will begin to penetrate the walls, ceilings, and other direct contact surfaces. As the issue persists, the result will be a widespread mold growth problem that directly impacts the seemingly unknowing residents in the home. The case below demonstrates the direct effect of unchanged HVAC filters and the extensive impact an unresolved maintenance item may have.
In a home held in trust in Louisiana, a state known for high humidity and moisture (and one that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, has experienced high impact from the global pandemic), we present a home currently in mitigation as a direct result of an unchanged HVAC filter. As you can see in Figure 1 below, the filter has been neglected for an unspecified amount of time. This has resulted in invasive mold growth in the home. The client called a local “contractor” out to investigate the microbial growth on the walls and ceilings. This “professional” was not licensed in mitigation and stated the issue was only from “mildew.” As you can see in Figure 2, the issue was more invasive than surface mildew. Currently, our team is working toward full mitigation with a qualified and licensed contractor, as well as complete system replacement including new ductwork.
This issue was avoidable, yet it had serious repercussions. The impacts of mold, moisture, and contaminated air are well known. With proper maintenance, regular servicing of the HVAC system, and changing out filters regularly, the air quality in this home would be significantly impacted. The fiduciary could have saved well over $14,000 for replacement had the system been maintained. This number is not inclusive of the costs of mitigation of the affected areas of the home, and the overall well-being of the resident cannot be counted.
With such widespread concern for the control of the pandemic, we cannot, nor should we, ignore the need for upkeep of these essential maintenance items in the trust-owned home as a preventative measure. According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers Epidemic Task Force, “Ventilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2 and thus the risk of transmission through the air. Unconditioned spaces can cause thermal stress to people that may be directly life threatening and that may also lower resistance to infection. In general, disabling of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems is not a recommended measure to reduce the transmission of the virus.” Placing a home on a regular maintenance program that includes HVAC filter maintenance is crucial and will remain so long after the pandemic passes. The correlation between properly maintained systems and the risk of infection are astounding. Continual maintenance will prove to be a long-term benefit for the preventive healthcare and well-being of the beneficiary and residents of the trust-owned home, as well as in the long run save the trust money.