Commissioning: New Construction & LEED
Commissioning is a quality-driven, owner-directed process. Ideally, commissioning is started in the design phase of a new project. We work with owners to make technically sound, forward thinking decisions. Although first cost is often top priority, the truth of the matter is that an owner will spend much more money to operate the building over its lifetime, than the first cost of building it. Decisions made in haste, or without enough information, can haunt that owner for a long time.
The commissioning authority CxA leads the owner’s team to develop the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR). If the process is utilized correctly, an OPR meeting or charrette is a great opportunity to bring all the stakeholders to the table, including End-users, Administrators, Operations and Maintenance (O&M) staff, Engineers, Architects, and Contractors to decide what determines SUCCESS for a project. If the team is able to take a few days to investigate space usage/ requirements, as well as ideas and concerns from all involved parties, then the team becomes invested in the project and the process. This is a critical step that is often overlooked. The OPR is a living document, and should frequently be referred back to, throughout the project. The OPR is the “Road Map” to success.
The OPR, as well as continued Owner involvement, is critical to the success of the project. Contractually, Commissioning should be a 3rd party effort, in other words, independent from the Construction or Design Team. As beneficial as this is, it is also problematic without Owner involvement. A Commissioning Authority has no real “authority” without Owner support. We can suggest or recommend, but contractually, the Design or Construction teams do not need to follow-up on anything we say.
After the OPR discussion is held and project success is defined for all the interested parties, the CxA does not disappear. Although the scope for a LEED certified project is more clearly defined, the scope of commissioning for other projects can vary. To get the most out of the commissioning process, the project scope should include most, if not all, of the following activities for new construction:
- OPR Development: As noted above, the OPR can define project success. It is required for LEED, but is a good idea, regardless of whether the building is certified or not. The development of the OPR promotes team buy-in. Even an OPR written later during the design process, is better than no OPR at all.
- Commissioning (Cx) Plan: It is always good to have a plan, or a project direction. Creating a Cx Plan helps to define the CxA’s scope of activities, as well as the roles that each team member plays in the Cx Process.
- Basis of Design (by Design Team): The BOD is created by the design team. The CxA should review the BOD to determine that it aligns with the OPR.
- Design Reviews: Cx design reviews are different from Engineering Design Reviews. Cx Reviews look more at operations & maintenance issues- accessibility, ease of replacement (both parts & unit), and other coordination issues frequently found on new construction projects.
- Automatic Temperature Controls (ATC) Coordination (pt 1): A first-part coordination should be held during the design phase. This meeting typically includes the CxA & Design Engineer. Asking questions in the design phase, assures that the design is well-thought out before Construction/ Bid Documents are issued, reducing addendums and RFIs.
- Cx Specifications: Cx specifications are necessary to ensure that the Cx Process is outlined in the Bid Documents and that the General Contractor and Sub-contractors are aware that Commissioning is required and that their teams are expected to participate.
- Submittal Reviews: Again, these Cx Reviews are different from Engineering Reviews. If the submitted equipment is different than the basis of design equipment, we look at coordination issues- dimensions, weight, electrical requirements, etc.
- Automatic Temperature Controls (ATC) Coordination (pt 2): The second ATC coordination meeting should happen during submittal reviews. This meeting should include the Design Engineer, ATC subcontractor, Owner (or Representative) and CxA. Having all of these parties at the table to discuss the ATC submittal will assure that all sequences, safeties and alarms that are required by the Owner are included in the submittal, so there are no surprises at the end of the project.
- Cx Kickoff Meeting: The intention of this meeting is to have all of the construction team members who are active participants in the Cx Process (Contractor, Mechanical/ Electrical/ Plumbing Subcontractors, TAB Subcontractor, ATC Subcontractor, Design Engineer) come to the table to learn about the Cx Construction Process and their roles in it. We go over all of our forms and activities, so that everyone knows what to expect. This should be done early in construction, but not until all of the subs have been contracted.
- Regular Site Visits: This does not necessarily mean every week. The intervals between visits should vary, based on the schedule of the project. For example, if the project has a 2 year time frame, weekly visits for the entire construction time will not be cost effective. Maybe ever couple of months for the first year, then monthly, then biweekly at 4 months from completion, then weekly, etc. As the Cx activities become more frequent, so should the visits.
- System/ Terminal Unit Installation Mockups: If we have a project with many terminal units, it pays dividends to do a mockup of the installation BEFORE INSTALLATION STARTS. Always more time and cost effective to do it once, correctly.
- Installation Observations: Doing effective installation observations can sometimes be hard. For example, trying to get onsite when piping is completed and pressure tested, but insulation is not installed yet. We want to go once there is something to see, but before it is covered up.
- Pre-Functional or System Readiness Checklists: This is also time-sensitive. We want the contractor to confirm when they have installed all the components and the systems are ready to be functionally tested.
- ATC/ Testing & Balancing Coordination: This is one of the last activities to be accomplished before functional testing can proceed. It can be difficult if deadline for Certificate of Occupancy is approaching.
- Functional Performance Testing: “Final” testing. We develop the FPT documentation and distribute it to all the stakeholders. We hand out the testing documentation at least two weeks before FPTs are to begin, to allow for team comments and discussion.
- O&M Document & Training Review: Our goal is to have all of the O&M documentation within 3 months of the submittal acceptance. If we wait until the end of the project, we have difficulty getting documentation in a timely fashion.
- Cx Report: The Cx report has all of our documentation in one place for easy reference.
- Off-Season Functional Performance Testing: We really can’t test cooling systems in the winter. Humidity control cannot be simulated. Also, heating equipment should be tested in the colder months, in case there is a utility issue.
- 9/10 Month Warranty Review: There will most likely be a few open items when the project is finished. Having a Warranty Review meeting for those issues, as well as anything else that comes up after Off-Season testing needs to be resolved before warranties are up. Also, be sure to get a definitive date when the warranties began.
- Trend Review: Commissioning often involves sampling in some building usages, to keep costs down. For example, in an office building, we may only test 10-20% of the terminal units. Trend reviews allow us to look over all the equipment, to determine if all systems are operating according to the design intent. Commissioning is also a “snapshot” in time of the systems operation. Just because a building is commissioned does not mean that setpoints or other variables won’t be changed after we leave. Trend Reviews are often a good place to start with Existing Building Commissioning.
- Lessons Learned: There is always something to learn; always the opportunity to do something better the next time. We like to have a short meeting with all the key people at the end of the project to discuss what we did well, what we did mediocre, and what needs to be better next time.
So whether you are thinking of building a new building or your existing building is not performing the way you think it should, contact us. We will work with you and your team of professionals to turn over a building that operates efficiently, with complete documentation, and complete facility staff training for long term success.