Why Commissioning shouldn’t just be a checklist
When we purchase products we usually have basic assumptions about what we will receive. When you order a hot dog, it's common practice to expect a bun and condiments (sometimes we even ask if it comes with “chips and a drink?”). When you purchase a cell phone, you expect the packaging to contain at least a way to charge the phone. We expect these additional benefits when we order basic products, but when we construct a new building, I have the feeling that many owners don’t know what is supposed to be included in the “package”. That can work against them.
Typically a commissioning agent’s (CxA) job is to verify that the equipment is installed as specified in the construction documents. That’s the bare minimum and there is nothing wrong with this approach, assuming that the construction documents are perfectly clear, not only about installation but also how the equipment should run (e.g., HVAC controls). “The devil is in the details” and the details of operation make a dramatic impact, especially on the cost of operation.
Keep in mind that the owner has no idea what to expect regarding energy costs, so they have no idea whether they’re “low”, “just right” or “too high”. The same is true for the contracting team. And it’s often true that the CxA is unaware of the energy impact of various ways to meet the specifications. “Energy-Focused Cx” is a natural extension of BPT’s expertise in the energy world--striving to provide Greater Understanding for all. We know from our experience that certain “levers” in the energy machine have a big impact (for good or for ill). We know that certain strategies always work better at no additional cost. Our energy-focused CxA pays special attention to helping a building function optimally and works with all parties to ensure that … in addition to meeting the project’s specific goals.
We want to take a brief segue here and say that this is where Cx could become contentious with the design or construction teams. They can feel like they are having someone babysit them instead of letting them do their job. The saying goes, “A rising tide raises all ships”, and picking a CxA with that will “assume the best” of all parties, respect them AND add value will make everyone look great. Construction schedules and budgets are very tight, and it is easy for things to be overlooked, communication to be flawed, mistakes to happen. An energy-focused Cx effort will make sure the owner gets the building they deserve, not the bare minimum. Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog…
When commissioning a building, it isn't enough to know just about the equipment being installed, but it is important to know how to optimize it for that facility. This also becomes an issue when a building is being retrofitted for a new purpose, i.e. an old office building becomes a restaurant and nightclub. Making sure the equipment is “tuned” for its use is paramount.
Here are a couple examples from recent projects:
- At a college in the Midwest, we reviewed construction documents that had a complicated scheme which determined when outdoor air should be used for cooling. We recommended a simpler setup that was easier for the maintenance staff to maintain and used less energy.
- The same college, had outrageous energy spend on a similar building. We recommended no-cost control enhancements which made sure these problems wouldn't appear at the new building.
- At a Michigan school, construction documents gave no specific details on how a new boiler and chiller were to work with existing boiler and chiller system, creating a potentially expensive oversight. We recommended a plan that would optimize operating costs for the system and clearly define how the old and new systems should work together.
These are just a handful of examples where we have applied Energy-Focused Cx to help our client in the long term. Not only does this Cx approach reduce energy costs, but often it will cost the owner less to maintain the systems.
We will continue to discuss the benefits of Cx in future blogs. At Building Performance Team, we believe the best way to get a handle on operational costs is by making sure everything functions in the best possible way for the owner. In the meantime, what are some of the best and worst things you have found while commissioning a building?