Commissioning: When There Is No O&M Representative
The last few months of this column have focused on the value of O&M planning for commissioned projects. The earlier this planning begins, the better - preferably early in design, when the owner’s project requirements are defined and documented. This month, I want to talk about the situation where the owner does not have anyone to represent the long-term O&M perspective during design and construction.
This is not typically the situation in campus settings, where a facility management group is responsible for operating and maintaining other buildings. In addition, it is least likely to be a challenge for building renovations or additions where the existing O&M staff is involved in the planning, construction, startup, and turnover of the new work as part of the day-to-day management of the modified building.
STANDING ALONE IN A STANDALONEHowever, the absence of early O&M representation is very common for new standalone buildings. Although most owners understand that long-term O&M is important, they do not plan to make a decision about how the building will be operated and maintained until near the end of construction. Their intent is to have the O&M management and staff in place and ready at substantial completion.
This is understandable from a staffing cost perspective, but it is shortsighted in light of all of the benefits that could be attained by early planning for system operation, monitoring, and optimization. In addition, knowing how the building will be operated and by whom is of great benefit when defining required O&M documentation and training in the construction specifications.
Some owners do not even know whether they will maintain the new systems with in-house staff, with a third-party building management firm, or simply with outside service contractors for regular PM and on-call troubleshooting. Knowing which of these options the owner will choose influences what the commissioning process should provide to the owner in terms of O&M documentation and training.
For example, would it be necessary to provide in-depth equipment training on a project that will be turned over to a service contractor to operate and maintain? Is that level of training something the owner should pay to provide to their service contractor? Instead, I would recommend high-level equipment and systems “orientation” for the service contractor accompanied by a detailed list of equipment, standard equipment O&M manuals, a systems manual, and a comprehensive list of PM activities and frequencies. This level of training and documentation can be extremely valuable in allowing the owner to write the service contract with quantitative and measurable performance criteria against which the service contractor will be judged.
A COST/BENEFIT PERSPECTIVEOf course, the O&M documentation defined above should be delivered to the owner regardless of who will be responsible for operating and maintaining the systems. The main question is what type of training should be delivered, how, and when. Without knowing something about the trainees, the commissioning professional will need to assume the worst case from a cost standpoint for the owner. That means a comprehensive and detailed equipment training program to be delivered near the end of construction to trainees who potentially have little experience with the types of equipment being installed. If this level of training is not required in the end, the owner may see little or no credit from the responsible contractors.
Therefore, there is a financial incentive for the owner to decide during the design phase how the building will be operated and by whom. Once that is determined, the next cost/benefit decision has to do with when the O&M staff will be hired (or service contractor engaged). The earlier an operations representative joins the owner’s team, the smoother the turnover process will be and the better the initial and long-term operation will be.
Ideally, from a long-term operations perspective, that representative would be involved starting in the design phase. However, carrying a full-time professional for years before there is a building to maintain would be difficult for any owner. At a minimum, I recommend that the owner recognize the importance of this topic and hire a consultant to help outline an operations and optimization plan during the design phase. This plan would become part of the owner’s project requirements and provide guidelines to the design and commissioning team tasked with converting those requirements into contract documents.
In order to take the best advantage of the contractors, the equipment vendors, and the commissioning process, I believe the latest an O&M manager (and, preferably, the mechanical and electrical supervisors) should be hired is before major equipment startup occurs. Hiring people after that point could save money in the short term but could also have major operational cost implications in the long run. The value of fully understanding the equipment, configurations, and sequences of operation of new systems cannot be underestimated. This understanding is best gained by close contact with the people responsible for designing, installing, and making the systems function. After substantial completion, the availability of those people decreases while the risk of the building operators making poor, uninformed assumptions increases. ES