The role of commissioning in design/build

In the traditional world of the built environment, commissioning has proven to be a beneficial tool in determining the true efficiency of a building. A building commissioning plan involves documenting system design and operating intent, performance verification, preparing operations and maintenance manuals for the building owner/operator, and monitoring system performance. This is done to ensure the building systems function properly and in accordance to the building owner’s needs.

Today’s systems are advertised, with good reason, as being much more energy efficient than their aging counterparts. This is a critical issue in today’s world of ever-rising heating, cooling and energy costs that affect just about every business, building and organization. One would be hard-pressed to find any facility that is not concerned about rising energy costs.

Improperly installed systems may not maximize energy efficiency, which is why companies use commissioning as a check-and-balance system both for buildings and the systems contained within.

The main benefit comes after all systems have been installed by all of the various contractors working on the project. Commissioning helps ensure they were designed and installed in accordance with the original specifications.

Commissioning is useful because in the bidding world of construction, some projects can end up using countless parties for numerous elements of the project. Design/build is different, and many may have thought the principles supporting the process made commissioning a moot point. But that opinion is now changing.

The holdouts

There are many who have yet to get on board the design/build train, as they remain leery of the process wherein one party seems to control a lot of the power and authority. Many still believe the bidding portion of projects helps owners realize better savings, as it almost forces those competing for the work to re-
evaluate the charges they present.

That, too, has consequences, and many owners and contractors are all too familiar with the pitfalls associated with the bidding process. Overruns, material shortages, MACs (moves, adds and changes) and other glitches almost always seem to crop up somewhere.

Those who believe bidding levels the playing field should perhaps look at the commissioning process as an equalizer.

Defining limits

Another positive aspect of commissioning is that it is performed by a third party, which helps ease some fears associated with design/build. It provides an extra set of eyes, ears and functions.

No matter what project delivery method is used, the commissioning process can and should be used throughout the entire life cycle of the project to make sure all involved parties are doing exactly what they should be doing.

One of the arguments in the case against design/build is owners fear their wants and needs will not be met since the project was not bid. Many still feel the bidding element helps make team members accountable for their own portions of the project.

One misconception is that commissioning occurs only after all systems have been designed and installed but before the building is officially turned over for occupation. Nowadays, especially in the fast-track world of design/build,
commissioning can occur easily throughout the construction process. Finding and correcting problems as you go along can stave off sometimes exorbitant costs associated with going past a project completion date.

Get to the party early

One way to help commissioning succeed is to have the commissioning consultant or in-house commissioning agent involved in the entire design/build process, especially early on. Most design/build projects are fast track (hence the surge in popularity), and early involvement helps prevent surprises down the road.

Another reason to bring the commissing agents on board as early as possible is to let other team members, such as contractors, become accustomed to working with and around these types of consultants.

Though many may feel as if those doing the commissioning are judging the contractor’s work, one must realize, since design/build is still a newer form of project delivery, it is still finding its way into the mainstream.

Embracing the commissioning process could actually benefit contractors since it helps them check their own systems work and also lets the other contractors in the team know the work done before they come in is up to par. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.