The following is a question posed in a recent Request for Proposal (RFP) for commissioning services.

Describe how you intend to determine appropriate level of commissioning effort for the various systems and equipment.

This is different than a question about sampling rates for various systems. It appears to be about how closely the commissioning professional intends to inspect each system that is sampled. This seems to imply that the owner would accept different levels of effort for different systems, but it offers no sense of the owner’s priorities. I understand that this is an opportunity for the proposers to make their best guess at what might be the correct answer in the owner’s mind, and the answer would potentially be reflective of the pre-proposal time spent getting to know the owner and the owner’s expectations.

However, I could not bring myself to put in writing that I would do anything other than fully observe and test the functional performance of each commissioned system. Where would one draw the line?

  • Could you suggest that some systems really don’t need to meet all of the specified requirements?
  • Could a proposer actually say something like, “Temperature control in System X is not critical and will not be tested, but we will test the life safety features.”
  • Could you propose to only commission operational features that affect energy consumption, or that affect indoor air quality, or that affect infection control, etc.?

If a system has been deemed important enough for the owner to put it on the list of systems to be commissioned, how can the prospective commissioning professional suggest it may be more or less important than others? The level of effort per system — let’s call it “hours per system” — will necessarily vary with the complexity of the systems, not because of the criticality of the systems.

I believe the level of effort through the design review, submittal review, construction observation, and functional performance phases of the commissioning process should be as required to clarify, observe, and functionally test all specified features of each system. Where we have seen the level of effort vary widely from project-to-project is in the post-testing follow-up.

By the time a project reaches the “issues closeout” phase, the commissioning professional has become very familiar with the owner’s level of interest and involvement in the commissioning process and its outcome. The owner’s priorities have also become clear to the commissioning professional. Some owners are fully engaged and actually consider the commissioning process their best bet for receiving building systems that function properly. At the other end of the spectrum are owners who have not taken the time to understand the commissioning process and see it only as another box to be checked off for regulatory or credentialing purposes.

The question of “level of effort” may apply only to the owner’s response to any out-of-compliance issues. If the owner puts a high priority on resolving a particular problem, the commissioning professional should track, nudge, and retest until the issue is resolved. If the owner believes the system is acceptable “as is,” even though it does not exactly meet the contract requirements, the issue will be closed.

We expect that most owners’ priorities will be dependent on each issue’s criticality to (1) safety, (2) indoor air quality, (3) energy efficiency, (4) life expectancy of equipment, and (5) general contractual compliance. The commissioning professional should be a resource for the owner in determining the ramifications of each commissioning issue on these factors.