Recently, I had a discussion with a few design engineers who were complaining about the performance of air and water balancing contractors in the hvac industry. Taking the testing, adjusting, and balancing (TAB) contractor's side, I asked these engineers how many times they participated in the start-up of the systems that they had designed. Interestingly, none of these professionals had on-the-job training when it came to TAB.

These were the reasons why they had not taken the opportunity to observe and/or participate in testing and system start-up:

  • This work was not included within their engineering fee.
  • This was beyond the scope of their services.
  • They didn't get paid enough to assist in system start-up.
  • Their firm's construction supervision staff was responsible for this work.
  • They were too busy to be involved in this time-consuming process.
  • Participation brought with it added liability that they could not assume.
  • They had to begin the next design phase project.
  • They shouldn't have to be needed to oversee this work.

The comments did not surprise me. I have heard them all before, but one fundamental question arose from their complaints about TAB contractors. These design professionals had not, for whatever reason, experienced the air and water balancing process, so what qualifies them to write a TAB specification?

Having taken the air and water balancing test by the National Environmental Balancing Bureau (NEBB, Gaithersburg, MD), I know there are many items one should know before editing a standard office TAB specification. NEBB provides an approximately 6- to 8-hour written test, followed by another practitioner test where you use the tools of the trade to do air and water balancing.

Try A Pop Quiz

Most consulting engineering firms' standard TAB specifications do not require the TAB contractor to perform the work the way they were trained by organizations such as NEBB. As a result, these specifications miss their mark when it comes to requiring the contractor to submit documentation on the TAB work performed. Based on the above, I strongly believe that no one should be allowed to write a TAB specification unless they are knowledgeable of TAB procedures and documentation and have assisted in the start-up, testing, and balancing of air and water systems. How can someone give direction when they do not have some knowledge and/or on-the-job experience to perform that same work?

If you disagree with me, pull out your standard TAB specification and test your design engineers, paragraph by paragraph. As a manager of engineering, you may also find these employees are probably not prepared to go out and give direction relative to start-up and documentation TAB work.

Also, get a copy of the NEBB documents used to prepare an engineer for taking its test. When you do this, you will probably find within the "NEBB Procedural Standards for Testing, Adjusting, Balancing of Environmental Systems" documentation requirements missing from your standard office TAB specification.

The Tip Of The Iceberg

I'm sure someone is going to e-mail me with a question, "What could possibly be missing in our standard TAB specification?" Look at next month's column for the answer. In the meantime, consider putting a moratorium on authorizing testing, adjusting, and balancing specifications from engineers who are not qualified to write this very important document.ES