Tips and tricks for commissioning, balancing buildings
Building commissioning is one of the most important (and complex) types of projects an engineer can be tasked with. This overview provides insights for commissioning building systems.
- Jerry Bauers, National director of commissioning, Sebesta Blomberg, Kansas City, Mo.
- Michael P. Feyler, Co-director, building solutions group, RDK Engineers, Andover, Mass.
- Robert J. Linder, PE, Senior project manager, Karges-Faulconbridge Inc., St. Paul, Minn.
- James Szel, Senior vice president, Syska Hennessy Group, New York City
- Geremy Wolff, Commissioning manager, McKinstry, Bellingham, Wash.
- Barney York, Project manager, RMF Engineering, Baltimore
CSE: What challenges do building commissioning projects pose that are different from other projects?
Jerry Bauers: As a provider of commissioning services, the biggest challenge we face is managing the schedule of commissioning project execution. At every phase of a project, our work is entirely dependent upon the logical and timely execution of the work of other members of the design and construction team. And, in many cases, the incentives that these team members have—both financial and emotional—are in conflict with the requirements appropriate to a disciplined and effective commissioning process. The challenge is to engage the project team members in the notion that an effective construction process and schedule adds value to the results of every member of the team.
James Szel: The biggest challenge to commissioning is to create the environment where everyone from the owner to the contractors to the vendors feels like they are a valued part of the commissioning team. Commissioning is only as important as the owner makes it. When the owner (or its representative) is engaged and actively participating in the process, it really makes for a cohesive, productive team. Another challenge is the timing of the involvement by the commissioning agent (CxA). The CxA should be engaged early in the project to be an integral part of the team, for tasks such as peer reviews.
Geremy Wolff: Managing the relationships between the contractors, the architecture/engineering team, and the owner can be difficult at times. If everyone is on-board with collaborating to find solutions, it’s great, but there are times when it feels like all we hear is “that’s not in my scope.” This seems to be more prevalent on low-bid work versus design-build or projects with performance requirements. But it is a serious challenge for us.
Some project teams expect the commissioning provider to know everything about everything. This just isn’t the case, especially considering commissioning has expanded into disciplines other than mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), and fire protection, such as building envelope. As the commissioning provider, you don’t have any authority. Through our commissioning process we identify issues and communicate them back to the team, but there is typically no contractual obligation for them to do anything about it. The design-bid-build process used today has not significantly changed in more than 100 years; however, commissioning was not introduced until the late 1980s, so we are still “the new kids on the block.” Integrating our process into the well-established design-build process has proven to be challenging. We still find ourselves educating design and construction professionals on what is commissioning (it’s not just “testing at the end”) and when it should be implemented (it’s never too early).
Barney York: Building commissioning projects are unique in the sense that another party is introduced and integrated into the overall design and construction process. This can create challenges because the CxA’s role has a natural tendency to become adversarial due to the additional oversight the commissioning process adds. In addition, the project schedule can become a challenge as the project completion now requires a contractor to demonstrate a building is not only substantially complete, but functionally complete as well. Commissioning tasks required to demonstrate functional completion must be integrated into the project schedule, and the team must work collaboratively to ensure the owner’s target date is met.
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