ALSO in this report
A Ruling on Vinyl (sort of)
USGBC’s New Space
NY Agency Goes Green
A Ruling on Vinyl (sort of)
USGBC’s New Space
NY Agency Goes Green
Excitement over the opening of a new building can be quickly tempered if the building’s systems don’t work the way the designers intended. One way to help avoid disappointment and costly repairs is commissioning.
Commissioning helps ensure that the facility will meet the needs of the owner and occupants. It also verifies that building design meets owner requirements, construction conforms to contract documents and building systems operate as needed.
It’s important for facility executives to carefully review a commissioning provider’s qualifications. When selecting a commissioning provider, consider technical knowledge, relevant experience, availability, communication skills, accreditation and objectivity.
Think of commissioning as a way to reduce risk. Define where there is the most risk if the building does not perform as expected. Look for technical knowledge of that building function in a commissioning provider.
For example, the owner of a laboratory housing biological agents would want a commissioning provider with experience verifying biological containment systems. The owner of a manufacturing facility where processes require tight temperature or humidity control, such as pharmaceutical or semiconductor manufacturing or printing plants, would want a commissioning provider with experience verifying temperature and humidity control systems to guard against fluctuations that could cause a costly process interruption.
When selecting a commissioning provider, facility executives should also consider how many years experience the commissioning provider has designing, operating, troubleshooting, testing and balancing the following building functions: HVAC, direct digital controls (DDC), electrical power, lighting and life safety systems.
A firm employing professionals with a history of experience in DDC design, installation and testing will be well-suited for diagnosing complex controls problems in modern buildings. Similarly, a firm employing persons certified by the National Environmental Balancing Bureau (NEBB) or the Associated Air Balance Council (AABC) and with previous full-time test, adjust and balance experience is likely to have the equipment and field expertise required to make accurate and independent measurements of building performance and be able to confirm when problems are corrected.
Look for a provider with experience commissioning buildings of a similar size. Consider knowledge of building operations and maintenance, as well as the ability to provide training in those areas. Expect to have a professional engineer on the commissioning team. A professional certification assures that the provider has proven knowledge of the building systems. Look for recent experience commissioning at least two other facilities similar to the one being commissioned. The more technically complex the building, the more important it is for the commissioning provider to have experience in that particular building type.
Look for a commissioning team that is available when needed, with sufficient staff to manage and execute the project. Ask that key staff be available from the beginning to the end of the project. When selecting a provider, consider physical distance from the facility site. However, for critical facility types, it is more important to have the right technical skills than to select a provider that is physically close.
As important as technical skills are, they aren’t enough. Facility executives should also pay attention to the so-called soft skills of potential providers. Involved in all stages of the building process — from pre-design through occupancy — the commissioning provider interacts with a wide range of personalities, including owners, designers, constructors, software specialists and building operators. Strong written and verbal communication skills — and especially diplomacy skills — are essential for a commissioning provider.
Look for a commissioning provider with a history of continuing education in the commissioning field and professional certification. The rigor of certification varies by certifying agency. A record of involvement in national commissioning conferences as a speaker or author, or service on committees for commissioning organizations, is a sign of commitment to the industry.
Because commissioning ensures that owner intentions are realized, it is very important the commissioning provider be objective and not show bias toward any member, discipline or trade involved in the design and construction process. Many say the only way to achieve this goal is for the commissioning provider to have no material or financial stake in the building project and to report directly to the owner. But there are a number of ways to contract commissioning services, each with advantages and disadvantages. (See table.)
Lynne Wasner is a writer who is a member of the Building Commissioning Association.
The following groups certify commissioning providers.
A summary of commissioning accreditation program requirements, developed by the California Commissioning Collaborative, can be found on-line.
Visit these sites for more information about commissioning and choosing a provider.
USGBC’s Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee, tasked with studying whether to recommend a LEED credit for buildings that don’t use vinyl, issued a report calling for more study. The report also raised some larger questions about LEED in general. For instance:
The committee cited various data uncertainties and mixed environmental performance of some vinyl alternatives as one of the reasons it wasn’t able to recommend a credit.
The committee analyzed life-cycle assessment, occupational exposure, end-of-life toxicity, risk assessment, and combined life-cycle assessment and risk assessment. As a part of this process, the committee reviewed more than 2,000 documents, all of which are now posted on a database on USGBC’s Web site (www.usgbc.org). Public comments and a peer review were also incorporated into the report.
Industry reactions varied widely. An organization called the Healthy Building Network, while disappointed that USGBC failed to recommend a LEED credit for buildings that don’t use vinyl, stated that “the report makes clear that PVC, also commonly known as vinyl, is not a healthy building material.”
Meanwhile, the Vinyl Institute backed the committee’s decision. “This is the right decision,” said Tim Burns, president. “The report of the committee was correct in stating that there are no simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers to assessing the desirability of different building materials.”
The LEED Steering Committee will review the report and its recommendations and determine, what, if any, changes to make to LEED.
You’ve probably heard “LEEDing by example” and “walking the green talk” more than a few times, but if there’s any facility for which those clichés are appropriate, it’s USGBC’s new LEED Platinum-certified office space. The council occupied 22,000 square feet of space in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) building in December 2006 and received Platinum certification with the LEED for Commercial Interiors rating system in February 2007.
Because of its vast growth in the last few years, USGBC had outgrown its previous space. As the organization looked for new space, it had several criteria, says Linda Sorrento, director of the LEED-CI program. First, they looked for an already-green base building, which would make their own green goals easier to achieve. Second, the council hoped to double the size of its space, but keep all its employees on the same floor. And third, the new space had to be near public transportation and the area of Washington, D.C., where many of the organization’s employees lived.
The council found a fit with the SEIU building — itself a LEED-certified building, at the Gold level with LEED for New Construction. The building, constructed in 1976, had recently undergone a major renovation, which included the addition of a whole floor to house new mechanical systems. Also, most windows were replaced with operable ones.
According to Sorrento, one of the most striking features of the space is that 93 percent of the interior has access to daylight. “We did that by keeping hard-walled offices near the core,” she says. “There is a stunning view from every side of the building.” USGBC reused existing ceiling tiles and systems furniture — the partitions of which are 42 inches high, helping light penetrate more deeply into the space.
The space also includes materials chosen for their aesthetics and their greenness. Manufacturers lined up to contribute products to the space as part of a sponsorship agreement. Products include bamboo, linoleum and cork flooring, reused granite countertops and non-toxic paint.
Sorrento estimates USGBC paid a 1 to 2 percent premium to certify the space at the Platinum level, though exact cost is hard to calculate because of all the manufacturer contributions to the space.
Since USGBC had an open house in February — at the time the space was certified — Sorrento says they have averaged two tours per day. Representatives from Capitol Hill have planned tours as well to get ideas for applying green strategies to government office space.
Continuing a trend of using sustainable strategies to rebuild buildings destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, the New York Office of Emergency Management (OEM) received a LEED Silver certification on its new $50 million headquarters building in downtown Brooklyn. Prior to the attacks, the OEM had been headquartered in World Trade Center 7.
The federal government funded the 65,000-square-foot building, the first New York City government agency headquarters to receive LEED certification. It includes a 100-person emergency operations center, general office space, and a press and conference center. The project — a gut renovation of a former American Red Cross building constructed in 1954 — included a recladding (demolishing existing concrete walls and replacing them with more efficient limestone), and an 8,000-square-foot addition to the north side of the building.
A major challenge of the project was meeting LEED certification without spending unbudgeted money on green features. The building, which is designed to use 20 percent less energy and 30 percent less water, includes low-e glass windows; a reflective roof; carbon dioxide and occupancy sensors that automatically control heating, cooling and lighting systems; computerized controls that automatically adjust the ventilation system according to the number of people in a given space; water-conserving fixtures such as zero water consumption (chemical-based) urinals and low-consumption/automatic faucets and toilets; and Energy Star appliances for pantry areas. Uninterruptible power supplies and emergency generators back up primary power and electrical systems.
In addition to green features, the building includes state-of-the-art technology for OEM’s emergency response and planning personnel. Designers had to carefully plan how to program space for these features. The building’s watch command room includes several workstations, a citywide warning desk, full audio and video recording capabilities, a 15-foot video wall, and state-of-the-art communications tools. Additionally, nine conference rooms facilitate interagency training and coordination.