Next in my list of Top 10 Elements of Commissioning is No. 5, owner support. Last month’s column, No. 6, owner’s operation and maintenance (O&M) participation, touched on the importance of the owner’s O&M management team making participation in the commissioning process and new equipment and systems training a priority for their teams. This month, I want to emphasize the importance of the owner’s project management team’s support of the commissioning process.

There are a number of facility owners who are desperate for help with their building construction projects, typically due to a long history of one nonfunctioning new building after another. These facility owners are also overworked, understaffed, and constantly trying to “put out fires” in their buildings. When they learn a little about commissioning, they may charge ahead with hiring a commissioning professional to solve all of their problems.

These owners may not know enough about the commissioning process to understand it is a team effort, not an individual consultant, that makes a building work. In fact, commissioning professionals typically have no contractual authority to direct the designers or the contractors. As such, they have limited influence on the outcome of a project if they don’t have the designers and contractors willingly participating in the commissioning process.

An owner who expects to step back and leave the commissioning professional to make everything right will be sorely disappointed. It is the owner, and only the owner, who has final authority and influence over the designers and contractors. To put it bluntly, the owner holds the purse strings, and, especially in low-bid projects, money reigns supreme in the influence department. This influence can take a number of forms as detailed below.

Personal Presence and Vocal Support for the Commissioning Process — The first and foremost support comes in personal presence and vocal support throughout the commissioning process. The owner needs to introduce the commissioning professional to the rest of the project team with a strong vote of confidence and no sense of waffling on the subject of commissioning. The owner must not walk away after doing so and expect everything to run itself. Instead, the owner needs to be available to put in a good and strong word about commissioning on a regular basis in order to keep the designers and contractors engaged.

Schedule of Values Commissioning Task-Line Items — I strongly recommend the owner require commissioning to be broken out into at least one separate line item in the contractor’s schedule of values. The contractor’s monthly applications for payment use this schedule as the basis for documenting work complete versus work remaining in order to justify monthly progress payments. The commissioning line item should be understood to include, at a minimum, timely O&M manual submittals, training delivery, test, and balance completion, and delivery of the as-built documentation as well as scheduling of commissioning tasks into the master construction schedule, execution of various checklists and performance tests, and correction of the deficiencies found.

Award Fees — One approach to encouraging contractors is the concept of assigning an award fee, over and above the contract amount, for active and meaningful participation in the commissioning process. An award fee is a carrot instead of a stick and, as such, is a positive way in which to grab the contractor’s attention. Monthly review of the contractor’s adherence to the commissioning plan and his or her attitude with respect to participation in the process is translated into a certain percentage of the award fee being granted or withheld. This very quickly becomes a great vehicle through which the owner can communicate his or her seriousness about commissioning.

Commissioning success is directly proportional to the owner’s commitment to the process, and every owner considering commissioning needs to understand he or she is an integral part of the process. It is safe to say that if the owner is not committed to the success of commissioning, the commissioned project will not be as successful as it could be.