The Value of Commissioning
From Both an Owner and General Contractor Perspective
Often “value” in systems is not visible. This Central Boiler Plant at Fort Carson, Colo., is now working efficiently: the occupants are comfortable and the owner’s utility bills are per the original design intent.
Whether we buy a car, plan a vacation, or invest in a new building, we want value. In that value is the perceived worth of something we paid for. We want the best value we can get for the budget available. In today’s world, sustainability is usually a key aspect of the value expected by owners in new and existing facilities. Commissioning (Cx) is a process that when accomplished correctly, will help ensure value.
ASHRAE defines commissioning as:
“A quality-focused process for enhancing the delivery of a project. The process focuses upon verifying and documenting that the facility and all of its systems and assemblies are planned, designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained to meet the Owner’s Project Requirements.”
What determines “value”? In commissioning, that’s where the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR) come in. But what determines value to the general contractor? Typically, value for the general contractor ends at the end of the Warranty Phase; however, value for the owner begins at the end of Warranty Phase.
For the general contractor, schedule and budget concerns are often top-of-mind per their contracts. For the Commissioning Agent, functionality is the main focus. (Left) The timing of the construction schedule is illustrated by the complexity of the tilt-up-wall construction on a project at Fort Carson, Colo. (Right) Proper equipment installation is a key aspect of providing value in the commissioning process. PHOTOS COURTESY FARNSWORTH GROUP
Commissioning: THE Owner’s Perspective
The OPR for long-term owners tends to include items such as energy efficiency, maintainability, comfort, plus other specific requirements of the facility. Typical key items of an OPR relative to the Cx process may include:
- A well-functioning building
- Maintaining the project schedule
- Energy efficiency
- Ease of maintenance
- Low cost of maintenance
- Occupant comfort
- Good indoor air quality
All phases of the project focus on delivering these requirements. Issues identified by the Commissioning Authority (CxA) during the design process are documented and presented to the Cx team, which includes the Design Team, Owner, and sometimes the general contractor, if selected early. As a team, decisions are made as to what issues are incorporated into the construction documents. This process ensures owner control of high-value issues identified in the OPR. Similarly, this same process is followed with Construction Phase and Acceptance Phase issues.
Identified issues are documented and presented to the Cx team for direction from the owner. This puts the owner in control of their own destiny regarding the facility. The process continues into the Warranty Period with a walk with the owner to discuss issues the operations and maintenance team may have encountered and review of system trends to identify other issues. When sustainability is one of the key items of value, the warranty walk includes review of the utility bills to determine if the building is performing per the design. If this is not the case, the CxA will review the system controls to identify a solution to the performance issue.
Often a building design incorporates many energy saving features, but energy savings may not be realized without a quality Cx process. A design for a recent 45,000-ft² maintenance facility incorporated many energy savings features including Energy Recovery Units. The projected energy savings were approximately 40 percent. However, the Energy Recovery Units were not being controlled correctly, so most of the savings would have been lost. The Cx process identified these issues.
Current savings are illustrated in the graph below. With the addition of solar, the facility is saving more than 50 percent of their previous energy consumption.
Commissioning: the General Contractor’s Perspective
It is often said, “We all have the same goal on this project.” Is that really true? In most cases, the general contractor wants to deliver a very successful project on time and on budget per the contract documents. However, things such as maintenance access, energy efficiency, sustainability, and indoor air quality may not be part of a general contractor’s critical issues view.
If hired by the general contractor during the Design Phase, the process works very similarly to the process of working for the owner, the CxA focuses on ensuring the equipment and systems are installed and perform according to the construction documents. The general contractor uses the issues identified by the CxA to steer the subs to completion. The CxA becomes a subject matter expert for the operation, so the general contractor can say with authority and knowledge “you’re not done until you’ve completed the items in the issues log.”
This is a great tool for the general contractor when a specific subcontractor is having difficulty finishing final details. Having a subject matter expert on the team may be the difference between functionality and unresolved call-backs. When a system doesn’t work right from day one, there are many reasons, and it is often not the general contractor’s fault. The commissioning process is not about finding fault, but about identifying issues and resolutions before they have a negative impact on the schedule and project quality.
Value to the owner may equate to a well-functioning, energy efficient building that is easy and inexpensive to maintain. Value to the general contractor means delivering a high quality project on time and on budget without multiple call-backs.
Working for the general contractor has a different focus, but it will still have an impact on many of the OPR items such as energy efficiency, comfort, and indoor air quality by ensuring the systems operate according to the design intent. For instance, the savings that were realized in the maintenance facility noted earlier would have been achieved in the Cx process regardless of who signed the contract. When the CxA is hired by the general contractor, the process still provides value to the owner—but the focus is on the requirements of the contractor.
providing value to the client