Redistributing some of the fee, updating your toolbox, and waiting to jump into the design minutiae can pay off in many ways. Fewer drawings, increased time on-site, and more accurate pricing will lead to a better (and more profitable) product. If that’s a concept you can get behind, then start pushing your team toward these procedures.

In Part 1 of “Design and Construction Administration For The 21st Century,” (January 2007), we raised the awareness that today’s construction documentation and construction administration process is the same format that has been used for more than 50 years despite entering the computerized age of design, build, and O&M of buildings. Very little has changed in the way we do our business. Our approach to designing building systems is in need of change so that we can maximize our time on the issues pertinent to building program success, such as better design-build-operate (D-B-O) documentation, better cost estimates, and more effective construction administration.

D-B-O documentation. We have found that, historically, construction documents (CDs) are not useful D-B-O documentation. Typical CDs provided by the mechanical design firm include design information for the D-B portion of the project but lack definitive information for the operation of the systems. The documents usually do not provide any information on how the mechanical systems are to be started up, commissioned, or properly maintained by the facility personnel once the building has been turned over to them. This lack of operational information is inherent to the design process practiced by most design firms today.

Precise cost estimates. The document process is nothing more than a way of providing a continuously evolving cost estimate. The owner has a budget that he must preserve. If the design documents can provide clear and explicit information in each phase for accurate pricing, without over designing, the design firm is more likely to make money. It is time that the industry takes a new look at the documentation phases and what should be provided at each phase of the design.

Engineer absenteeism. In addition to inadequate construction documents, we have failed to provide adequate design engineering firm participation in the construction phase of the job. The design firm needs to have fee remaining after CDs, so that they can supervise the installation of the sophisticated building systems, as well as assist with the transfer of the design intent to the building operator.

These deficiencies start back in the schematic design (SD) phase, but now it is time to suggest a corrective course starting with what is truly needed in this initial phase of the work. Here is our suggested SD phase format that is built on performance criteria that will allow the project to do D-B or construction management (CM) based on a firm construction budget, while also allowing the building owner to understand the basis of design at the end of the SD.

The SD phase

The schematic phase (15% of design fee) of a new construction or renovation project is the most important segment of the design phase engineering. Once completed, the building program committee can finalize the project delivery method that they will invest in, be it design-bid-build (D-B-B), D-B, CM, design-build-operate and maintain (D-B-O&M) or performance contract (PC). The SD phase is also the most misunderstood phase of the design process, because most firms fail to grasp the importance of making critical decisions at this time, while the building program is shaping up.

Water and airflow diagrams and preliminary sequences of operations are essential to understanding the big picture because they force the designer to think through the design and fully understand the systems she is proposing. These documents, along with the DID, which documents the space programming and system selection process, and the design criteria, including building block loads (cfm/sq ft, sq ft/ton, etc.) and design assumptions, are a great start for the SD documentation package. Depending on the project scope, other documents may be required to complete the package. We have listed additional items that should be included in this phase of documentation, depending on the scope of the project, below.
  • Floor plan sketches (block out square footage for equipment room(s), equipment on roof or at grade, and shaft space within building)
  • Budget inventory of equipment, lengths of pipe, and pounds of ductwork
  • Site visit inspection documentation (for renovation projects)
  • LEED® certification scorecard
  • Commissioning plan
  • Potential utility incentives or other funding available
When evaluating the SD documents produced from this process, the following questions should be asked:
  • Can these documents be sufficient performance criteria to provide a design-builder with enough information to produce a single-source solution with a fixed project cost?
  • Are these the correct documents for a building owner to understand the design intent?
  • Have you stayed within your design fee budget based on these deliverables?
  • Should the system distribution be included in this package?

Our SD assessment:
  • Yes, a comprehensive SD package, including the items listed above, allows the project to proceed into the D-B-B design development phase and begin the CM process of furnishing a detailed project estimate, or alternatively solicit D-B quotes.
  • Yes, a package that includes the DID, design criteria, and flow diagrams provide the owner with the information he needs to make decisions. Also providing a written list of design assumptions can open up discussions with the owner leading to early resolution of key issues. Small items left unaddressed early on grow exponentially as the design progresses.
  • Yes, we believe that the documents listed above can be produced within the 15% design fee allocated to the schematic design.
  • No, system distribution is not required at this stage, because it is easily estimated by square footage. In the SD phase, it is more cost-effective for the design engineer to take the inventory approach (one fancoil/1,200-sq-ft zone or three offices per VAV) and document much of the design in quantities rather than drawings.

21ST century business tools of the SD phase

System flow diagrams are priority #1. Utilize flow diagrams as a tool to conceptualize the building system’s operation when starting any project.

Enhanced system flow diagrams. Utilize software programs to create flow diagrams early. By using system software that is easy to manipulate (e.g., Taco Inc.’s “Hydronic System Solution”), the flow diagrams can be edited as the design details progress through the design process. These diagrams can also be utilized later for TAB.

Combine the ATC with the FPT. Consider combining the sequence of operation with the FPT narrative (refer to the July 2006 “Tomorrow’s Engineer” column).

Standard electronic templates. Create templates for items such as the design intent, design criteria, and equipment inventory embedded into the contract documents.

The design development (DD) phase

The DD phase (15% of design fee) typically represents 20% of the design fee, but in an effort to allocate more money to the construction administration (CA) phase of the project, we suggest shaving 5% of the fee from the DD phase.

As the DD phase moves forward, the project documentation delivery can continue as a D-B-B project or change direction to be D-B, with the solid SD documentation package noted above.

The DD phase is often the beginning of the end for a project destined to lose money, as the designer prematurely chooses document details that have not been confirmed. The designer needs to focus on enhancing the building program without starting in on the minute details. The DD phase should piggyback on the SD phase; the building owner’s concerns and requirements that were presented in the SD phase are finalized and documented in the DD phase.

The documents provided to the client at the end of this stage will be used to adjust the preliminary construction budget that was provided from the SD documents. The documents created in the SD phase should be considered working documents, such as updating the flow diagrams, DID, design criteria, and sequences of operations as the mechanical design progresses and the building programming requirements are finalized.

In addition to updating these documents, more exact building loads should be calculated using load calculation software. As the mechanical equipment is selected, requirements for installation and service should be noted.
Coordination with other trades begins, and if the building is to be LEED certified, the project’s estimated energy usage should be determined via system simulation software. This estimate can also serve as a benchmark upon which to compare the actual energy consumption during the first year of occupancy. We have listed additional items that could be included in this phase of documentation, depending on the scope of the project, below.
  • Complete zoning on floor plans (or key plans)
  • Primary distribution (duct/pipe mains, branch run-outs)
  • LEED certification scorecard
  • First pass at contract specifications
When evaluating the DD documents produced from this process, the following questions should be asked:
  • Will a construction manager be able to provide a GMP (guaranteed maximum price) based on these documents?
  • Are these the correct documents for a building owner to understand the design intent having now invested 30% of the design fee?
  • Have you stayed within your design fee budget based on these deliverables?
  • Will the client now have a sense of the annual energy consumption and associated operating costs based on the documents to date?
Our DD assessment:
  • Yes, since much of the GMP hinges on the large equipment and overall building design. Again, it is more cost-effective for the design engineer to take the inventory approach and document much of the design in quantities rather than drawings. This approach can save frustration and fees by asking the estimator what he needs to know to firm up the price.
  • Yes, all of the mechanical systems and their operational modes were documented by the flow diagrams and sequences of operations in SD and are improved in the DD phase.
  • Yes, since most of the documentation is only being updated in this phase. Coordination often uses up much of the fee. Be diligent about your requirements, but don’t get into the details yet.
  • Yes, if the building energy usage benchmark is estimated using simulation software.

21ST century business tools of the DD phase

Select equipment electronically. By selecting the equipment either online or with a vendor’s selection software, the engineer is able to get detailed information (pump and fan curves, etc.) immediately. In addition, many programs or websites offer starter specifications and O&M data.

Load calculation software. There are multiple load programs available, but the most effective ones allow for entire building energy simulations. An energy simulation is required for a LEED project, to determine benchmark and improved design energy usage, but for other projects it provides the building owner with an energy budget/profile for year one.

Using 3-D CAD. Some CAD programs offer a 3-D modeling program (e.g., AutoCad Building Systems) that facilitates the layout of the ductwork in mechanical rooms and later during CDs for coordination drawings.

The CD phase

The CD phase (30% of design fee) typically represents 40% of the design fee plus 5% more of the fee upon receipt of bids, but in an effort to allocate more money to the CA phase of the project, we suggest managing the design within a 30% fee allocation so that sufficient time (40% remaining fee) is available to contribute to the construction administration process. The CD phase makes or breaks the engineer’s fee.

The documents created in the SD and DD phases are often abandoned and new documents are created without an increase in fee. Ideally, by providing performance driven flow diagrams, sequences of operations/FPTs, and pertinent CDs, there will not be any surprises at this stage because the design has been well documented since the beginning.

When evaluating the CDs produced from this process, the following questions should be asked:
  •  Do the documents provide a clear picture of the construction cost?
  • Do the documents provide information on the O&M of the building systems?
  • Have you stayed within your design fee budget, such that there is still 40% of the fee left for construction administration?
Our CD assessment:

  • Yes, since the documentation process focused early on providing the construction cost, the costs have merely been revised as the design questions have been resolved and decisions made. Nothing has been left until the last minute.
  • Yes, all of the mechanical systems and their operational modes were documented by the flow diagrams and sequences of operations/FPTs in SD and continually improved through the CD phase.
  • Yes, by going through this process, the engineer has anticipated what documents should and should not be used based on the fee, without compromising the delivery of a quality product. By doing this, there are no big surprises as the CDs are released and the project enters the CA phase.

21ST century business tools of the CD phase

Energy simulation software. If not completed in the design development phase for a LEED project, the CD is an appropriate time to complete an energy simulation, so the owner has an idea of what his annual energy costs may be.

Using 3-D CAD. Use a 3-D CAD program to produce coordination drawings.

Burn a CD-ROM. Most of the design information is calculated using vendor software and other common programs, such as Microsoft® Word® and Excel®. Why not burn a CD-ROM with this information at the end of the project and give it to the facility personnel? Even if the spreadsheets do not seem important in their current state, the facilities person could manipulate the information to suit their needs.

The CA phase

The CA phase (40% of the design fee) usually follows the “too little, too late” scenario. By the time most projects make it to CA, the budget is gone; however, this is the time that the engineer’s presence is really needed. The CA phase for a project is usually twice the length of the design phase, yet, because the budget has been depleted, the design firm is absent from the site and the correspondence.

No matter how thorough the designer was when coordinating with the architect or other trades, something always comes up, like structural conflicts, access panel locations, and unforeseen existing conditions in renovation projects. It can be said that the amount of time that the engineer is on site is directly tied to the successful implementation of the building systems. By preserving approximately 40% of the design fee for the CA process, the following can be achieved:
  • The engineer’s participation in the CA process can be proactive vs. reactive
  • The engineer can assist in the final coordination effort
  • The engineer has time to visit the site to facilitate system readiness
  • The engineer has time to communicate with the third-party TAB contractor, beginning in the submittal phase
  • The engineer can assist in collecting the equipment information for the O&M manual, beginning in the submittal phase.
  • The engineer has time to assist in the training of the facility personnel, relative to the design intent.

21ST century business tools of the CA phase

Equipment and distribution observation checklists. Create equipment and distribution observation checklists to utilize during site visits to document construction progress and equipment readiness (e.g., preliminary, progress, and punchlist). Standard checklists can be an in-house quality control tool.

Tablet computers.Use tablet computers to complete observation checklists on-site.

Website address.Document the website address of the equipment manufacturer during the submittal process for use by the facility personnel.

Practice what you preach

As the authors of this two-part article, we have continuously endeavored to improve our “responsible document” process as we design-engineered two chiller plant expansions: UMass Memorial Health Care (UMMHC) and Harvard Business School (HBS) in 2007. Both are existing installations in need of increased capacity. In each of these projects, we applied our groups’ Responsible Construction Document Process, taking note of lessons learned and molding our model.

The HBS chiller job started with a need to select the optimum chiller for the existing central chilled water plant. Consideration was given to steam absorption, gas absorption, and electrical centrifugal, with electrical winning out. A similar first step was completed at UMMHC before proceeding forward with the steps taken as we have outlined in this article. The HBS documents went out to bid and we consumed 55% of our fee in the SD, DD, and CD phases.

We are in the CD phase of the UMMHC project and are on target to complete the design phase at just under 60% of our fee. For each project, we combined the automatic control sequence of operation with our FPT narratives (refer to “Tomorrow’s Engineer,” July 2006) and produced system flow diagrams for the overall design, as well as for water balancing, noting gpm, velocities, and pressure drops throughout the distribution system.

Prior to the HBS chiller project we completed a hydraulic model of the chilled water system (“The Very Model Of A Model Major Campus,” February 2005). For the UMMHC job, we are also using the Taco Hydronic System Solution software as part of our design approach to creating system flow diagrams. Both software programs will be useful facility management tools in the operating years to come, along with the system flow diagrams and the water balancing system flow diagram.

In the construction phase, we will be using our standardized observation checklists downloaded into our tablet computers for system readiness and the installation punchlist. Digital photographs and project-specific job websites will maintain documentation. As each job comes to an end, we are confident we have sufficient fee to proactively participate in system startup and commissioning of the multiple chiller installations. Closing out the projects, we will have all of our documents downloaded onto computer disk for transfer of all design and construction documents to the owner as the final step in a sustainable transfer of data.


Our industry-wide approach to designing building systems needs to change so we can better focus on the issues pertinent to building program success, such as better D-B-O documentation, better cost estimates, and more effective construction administration. We realize that for most firms, the current standardized process has been ingrained and that change does not happen overnight; however, this process is not as efficient as it once was.

By providing clearer and more performance-driven documentation in the SD phase, beginning with system flow diagrams, preliminary sequences of operation, the DID, and an inventory of equipment and distribution requirements, the project design criteria can be clearly communicated to the owner and to prospective design-builders or construction managers and general contractors.

Continuing the process through DD, performing more detailed load calculations, selecting equipment, providing main distribution layouts and updating the other key documents, the process moves seamlessly into CDs and then on to CA.

During the process, the project costs are easier to estimate because the key pieces have been defined early and adjusted as the details are worked out. By streamlining the old process so that only the documentation required for providing a quality project is delivered, the design firm can maintain their own budgeted fee and still provide CA services, being more proactive than reactive.

By strategizing and determining at the start of a project what the project deliverables will be in the end, we believe consulting engineers can provide a quality product and provide proactive construction administration. You just have to change your 20th-century methods to 21st-century procedures.