Starting this month and going through November 2022, I will count down my Top 10 Elements of Commissioning. These are, in my opinion, the most important things for a successful commissioning project. My definition of “success” is twofold: First, the building systems function properly when they’re handed over from the project team to the operations team, and, second, the operations team is equipped with the understanding, documentation, and training needed to sustain that proper operation for the life of the systems.

My No. 10 element is third-party professionals leading the commissioning process. “Third-party,” in this context, means someone not employed by the design engineering or architectural firms and someone not employed by one of the installation contractors or subcontractors. As such, third party can mean a separate firm whose only role on a project is commissioning; an employee of the building owner; an employee of the test, adjust, and balance (TAB) firm (as long as TAB is not contracted under the general or mechanical contractors); or an employee of the construction-manager, as long as the construction manager is not at risk.

Needless to say, regardless of who employs the third-party professionals), those professionals need to have the requisite skill set to lead the commissioning process. In addition to the myriad commissioning certifications available to help differentiate qualified commissioning providers from the general public, the following are some of the key traits of an excellent commissioning provider.

 •     Facilities operations background;
 •     Construction experience;
 •     Engineering design training and experience;
 •     Excellent speaker;
 •     Excellent writer; and
 •     Respectful of others.

The reason for a third party is the fact that we are all human and will struggle with conflicts of interest when they present themselves. I know from an experience more than 20 years ago that commissioning a project designed by some of my co-workers (I wasn’t even with the firm when the project was designed) is awkward, at best, and ethically challenging, at worst.

Not all problems with the operation of new building systems are due to construction defects (i.e., contractor deficiencies). Some are actually due to design errors, omissions, or simply not anticipating a problematic operating condition during the design phase. This is why it’s important to not be employed by a design team firm. There will undoubtedly be internal pressure to resolve the problem in a way minimally impactful for the design firm and not necessarily the best for the owner.

Alternately, not all problems with new building systems operation are due to design defects. Having the commissioning professional paid by and reporting to a firm within the construction team organization chart can similarly water down the team’s acknowledgement of problems and the rigor with which they attempt to resolve the issues. How can the owner be any more confident with a building commissioned by the construction team than with an un-commissioned building?

Twenty-five years ago, qualified commissioning firms and/or individual building commissioning professionals were few and far between. As such, some owners didn’t think they had a practical choice regarding who they hired for commissioning. Today, there are plenty of commissioning professionals available for owners and construction managers (not at risk) to hire directly for their projects without having to go through their design and construction team partners.