By far, the largest category of new construction commissioning issues is related to control system implementation and integration. As such, No. 2 on my Top 10 Elements of Commissioning list is controls integration.
The more automated and complex a building is, the more important it is to clarify, in detail, control system technical requirements (sequences of operation, computer graphics, alarms, trending, etc.) early and facilitate communication and coordination between the controls contractor and the manufacturer representatives for the equipment to be controlled. On top of that, most buildings’ building automation systems (BAS) require some integration between the BAS and non-HVAC systems, such as fire alarm, lighting, access control, etc.
These days, many “simple” projects need controls integration, too. This is because more and more small buildings are monitored and controlled by some type of BAS, often with limited functionality and user interface. These smaller buildings are also very likely to have HVAC equipment with factory-installed, onboard controllers, and security/fire alarm/lighting devices to which the BAS will want to communicate.
In order to avoid confusion and schedule-driven shortcuts during the construction phase, I strongly recommend a focused controls integration process that starts in the design phase. The design engineers are responsible for coordinating and specifying how each component of the HVAC system is to be controlled and ensuring there is neither duplication nor missing details between the BAS and equipment onboard controllers. The designers also need to specify the level of communication and controls integration with non-HVAC systems.
If there is to be any interface between onboard controllers and the BAS, this also needs to be unambiguously defined in the design specification. Simply stating the equipment controller shall integrate with the BAS is not specific enough. The design needs to define which points are to be monitored by the BAS, which alarms are to be sounded through the BAS, what information the onboard controller should accept from the BAS (e.g., set points, schedules, etc.), which onboard controller points should be displayed on the BAS graphics, etc.
These details should be a primary focus of commissioning design reviews. If the commissioning professional doesn’t understand how the building system components are to be controlled by reading the designers’ specification, clarity should be added before issuing the project for bid.
Early in construction, once equipment, system, and BAS submittals are in hand, the controls integration process should continue and will often be facilitated by the commissioning professional. This is best accomplished in group meetings with the BAS contractor, equipment manufacturer representatives, and fire alarm/security/lighting controls contractors, as appropriate. Roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined, commitments and timing for information sharing set, and all technical integration details worked out.
It’s critically important that everyone associated with the integrated systems be on the same page regarding performance, communication, monitoring, and reporting requirements well before installation, programming, and startup. There should be one party responsible for every element of the integration process, and there should be no elements without a responsible party identified. This will save valuable time at the end of construction and help ensure the owner receives a fully functional building when it is turned over for occupancy and ongoing operation.