Back in 1994, I took the National Environmental Balancing Bureau (NEBB) TAB test that is formatted by beginning with an eight-hour written test. If you pass that, then you take a four-hour field test. The field test was completed at the University of Lowell (now UMASS Lowell) and was overseen by a professor at the university.

The Importance of Starting at the Beginning

To start the test, and in accordance with the NEBB training book1 you are required to create a system flow diagram (air or water system depending on the test). When I finished the flow diagram and got ready to pick up the tools and go out and do some TAB work, I will never forget what the professor said to me upon reviewing the flow diagram with all its documented pertinent design data, "If you had not started with a flow diagram and instead expected to pick up the tools, you would have flunked the test."

Yes, you are supposed to create a TAB plan long before you go out and start taking readings. To quote the book's introduction, "Testing, adjusting, and balancing personnel no longer can be just instrument readers, they must understand fully how to perform their work. Furthermore, they must understand at least the fundamentals of how these systems function, and use this knowledge to determine what is malfunctioning and how to correct it."

Over the years, I have valued and applied the lessons learned from studying and passing the TAB test. I also came away from the experience with a different perspective and a more positive attitude toward the TAB business. I also believe at this point in time, we need to jump-start the TAB process.

You don't agree with me? Then tell me when have you ever seen a TAB contractor create and submit a TAB plan (system flow diagrams with design data) early in the construction phase of a project? How many TAB technicians conform to the NEBB training manual (NEBB technicians included)? How many TAB technicians are perceived as "just instrument readers"? Perception is reality, and the TAB business is in dire need of a jump-start in its role in the building industry.

Now, some may disagree with me and, in particular, those working for TAB firms and those associated with various TAB organizations, but I'm sure I won't get too much disagreement from building owners and construction managers. Just like owners are driving the commissioning process because of their dissatisfaction with designers and builders, they are also looking for that "better mousetrap" for getting their systems tested, adjusted, and balanced correctly.

A Call for Change

The time has come to change the way TAB is performed, and the suggestion from clients I'm working with is to collectively contract third-party TAB with third-party commissioning services. This concept is being initiated by building owners who value both of these services and see mutual goals in both processes. I can't agree more with these facility-savvy professionals striving to receive a better product from their design team and construction team.

For us, this is an interesting and exciting challenge that we have been participating with for a while now and, working with a select few TAB firms, we have been able to establish and standardized our answer to the TAB dilemma. Our vision of the TAB process is to start in the design phase in parallel with the commissioning process. We believe a TAB book similar to our Division 17 commissioning section in the specification should be built so that at the end of the job, the owner will have system flow diagrams, pre-TAB inspection checklists, traditional TAB forms (fan and pump data, duct traverses, etc.), and TAB technician field notes. Of course, our TAB product, like our commissioning product, is all electronic ready for sustainable application by facility managers for tune-up ease in the years to come.

This new client-driven process has already reaped positive results when one client, after a design-construction-TAB team meeting said to me, "I can't image how the systems would have been balanced without this TAB plan process." While the comment was rewarding, more importantly it reinforced the need to fulfill the NEBB quote above and to do this the TAB provider should start in the design phase and continue on with their TAB plan submitted in the shop drawing phase of a construction project to ensure the TAB firm is going to be a strong contributor to the job and not just an instrument reader.

Stay tuned as we experience a new way of testing, adjusting, and balancing air and water systems. In the next year, I will highlight lessons learned as we jump-start the TAB process. ES