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Who Should Commission Your Building?
ALSO in this report
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.
Knowledge and Experience
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.
Pros and Cons
Subcontracted to design engineer or architect
Knowledge of owner’s intent
Familiar with project
Potential conflict of interest when designer is managing design verification
Subcontracted to contractor
Familiar with mechanical systems installation and operation
Can commission mechanical systems during checkout
Potential conflict of interest when contractor is managing equipment installation and system verification
Member of owner’s in-house staff
No conflict of interest
Knowledge gained during commissioning process useful for maintaining building performance
Owner must have enough building projects to support a qualified commissioning staff
Subcontracted to construction manager (CM)
On-site and available
CM has direct responsibility to and communication with owner
Commissioning provider best hired in pre-design, which is usually before the CM is chosen
Possible conflict if CM has financial interest in the project
Independent third party contracted to owner
Owner retains control and decision-making over all parties allowing quick and single-point action
No loss in translation when transferring information from commissioning provider to owner
Additional management burden for owner
Complete objectivity only if the commissioning provider does not serve under others as either a designer or contractor on other jobs
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.
Getting the Job Done
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.
Accreditation and Objectivity
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.
Seal of Approval
The following groups certify commissioning providers.
A summary of commissioning accreditation program requirements, developed by the California Commissioning Collaborative, can be found on-line.
For More Information...
Visit these sites for more information about commissioning and choosing a provider.
USGBC Committee on Vinyl Raises Larger Questions
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:
- How should risks to human health and risks to the natural environment be reconciled?
- Should LEED offer credits for avoiding less desirable materials, or create credit incentives for the use of preferable, often innovative alternative materials or processes?
- Should LEED address individual materials through its credits, or should it focus on areas of impact?
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.
|Won’t You Be My Green Neighbor
The pilot phase has begun on a new LEED: LEED for Neighborhood Development. A collaboration between USGBC, the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council, this new rating system integrates the principles of smart growth, urbanism and green building into the first national standard for neighborhood design.
The program emphasizes the design and construction elements that knit buildings together into a neighborhood, and provides guidelines for better location, design and construction of new residential, commercial and mixed use development.
Specifically, the pilot program for neighborhood development evaluates projects in four areas:
Climate Change Action
A diverse group of more than 90 companies has signed a new statement calling on governments to boost the use of renewable energy and set scientifically informed targets for greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide emissions.
Among the signers of The Path to Climate Sustainability: A Joint Statement by the Global Roundtable on Climate Change are Allianz, Bayer, Citi, DuPont, General Electric and Volvo.
Calling climate change “an urgent problem,” the statement lays out a proactive framework for global action to mitigate risks and impacts while also meeting the global need for energy, economic growth and sustainable development. The agreement also urges governments to place a price on carbon emissions and set forth policies aimed at addressing energy efficiency and de-carbonization in all sectors.
The GEMI (Global Environmental Management Initiative) Sustainable Development (SD) Planner and SD Gateway is a planning tool companies can use to help achieve sustainable goals.
According to GEMI, the tool has three primary capabilities:
Four large projects around the country will receive funding from the sale of $2 billion worth of federally sanctioned green bonds, the first program of its kind.
The first installment of $238 million, co-underwritten by Citi and Lehman Brothers and insured by XL Capital, was issued in late February by the Syracuse Industrial Development Authority. The bonds will help fund the DestiNY USA project in upstate New York — a massive retail, hospitality and entertainment project. The project will be powered entirely with renewable energy.
Projects using the green bonds must meet the following criteria: installation of 25 MW of fuel cell capacity, where both the electrical and thermal outputs of the fuel cells are creditable toward the 25 MW criterion; installation of 10.8 MW of photovoltaic nameplate electrical generation capacity; reduction of sulfur dioxide emissions by 10 tons/day; and displacement of 150 MW of peak electric load on the grid.
Top 10 Green Power Purchasers
IMMEDIATE PAST CHAIR
Rebecca L. Flora
Pittsburgh Green Building Alliance
Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems
Joe Van Belleghem
Buildgreen Developments Inc.
IMMEDIATE PAST CHAIR
James E. Hartzfeld
David A. Gottfried
WorldBuild Technology Inc.
Michael L. Italiano
Sustainable Products Corp.
PRESIDENT, CEO and FOUNDING CHAIRMAN
S. Richard Fedrizzi