Successful HVAC Training At Project Closeout
Designers with “better things to do” and shortsighted owners create obstacles for long-term efficiency.
August 29, 2013
I have a pet peeve with HVAC design engineers who do not put enough thought into a project’s contract document specification for training the client’s operation and maintenance personnel. My disappointment with designer-specification writers begins with the belief that these individuals have probably never had to be a teacher and/or follow the process a teacher will go through to establish a lesson plan or classroom timeline and outline the on-the-job lesson(s). Analogous to an individual writing a training manual to fly a plane by someone who has never flown a plane, how good is that training manual going to be? In that case, someone could get killed following the instructions. For a project’s HVAC system, the results may be far more energy consumption and operating cost than needed, as well as the potential for a lot of unhappy building occupants complaining about IAQ and space comfort.
Being sympathetic to the facility technicians who will inherit the project’s HVAC systems, I think those writing their generic training requirement specifications need to stop and complete a quality control initiative and create a training specification that is realistic and driven by a process that will always require input from the project owner’s operations group.
When outlining the training plan within the contract specification, the designer-specification writer should assign budget hours and cost to each task written into the specification. If this is not done, my experience has been that the trade contractor will simply carry a cost that will most likely fall short of the specification intent. The reasons for the HVAC contractor using a “plug” value is twofold. First, the contractor is concerned with carrying too high a cost that could contribute to her bid being too high, and secondly, this trade con-tractor will simply pass down the specification compliance down to her subcontractors, figuring she has the project requirements covered. You could say it is the “trickle-down” concept where, in the end, the building operators lose while the design team and the contractors are all anxious to close out the job.
While the financial burden for training is placed on the contractor, the shortcoming to the contract specification really goes back to the design team and their standardized contract specification. This group of professionals will say (or subconsciously think), “I don’t have the fee to take the time to meet with the facility manager and prepare a thorough training session, and besides, we have used this specification on all our past projects with great success.”
There was a time when consulting firms invested in quality control by organizing internal QC teams to study and improve their office standard details and specification, but all that has gone by the wayside with the convenient excuse, “our fees are too tight to spend overhead dollars investing in improving standards.” But I digress.
A second pet peeve regarding a realistic HVAC training process doesn’t start with the design team and end with the contractor. Instead, this project closeout task success begins with the building owner and his planning committee. All too often, the building program’s training of personnel is not even on the agenda when discussing the budget for a new building and/or major renovation. The building program starts with a high-level assessment driven by such issues as financial return on investment or organizational growth to meet the demands of the market place.
Next, a conceptual building design takes shape to fit the building program criteria, including “soft costs” for furnishings, etc. Before the project goes to bid, a more complete estimate is created, but still without addressing the cost for a comprehensive operator training. If there is an energy/carbon footprint line item in the building program, then that is when the training cost should start to take shape. Unfortunately, energy budgets are like other overhead costs. They don’t contribute to the building program and instead add expense that the building owner may decide to move to after the project has been built and occupied. By then, it is too late to think about funding a training program because the process will cost more to implement and the operating engineers will be preoccupied with problematic systems.