This month’s column is a continuation of my September and October columns regarding excessively long commissioning action lists (CALs). I will continue exploring the multiple reasons why the CAL might get out of hand, who might be responsible, and what the commissioning professional might do about it.

Ineffective Planning, Coordination, Integration

The primary purpose of starting the commissioning process early, i.e. — well before functional performance testing (FPT) starts and preferably early in design — is to have the time to thoughtfully understand the owner’s system performance requirements and the designers’ intentions for how the systems will achieve those requirements. It is not just the commissioning professional who needs to understand these things; it is everyone who touches a commissioned system. This includes confirming:

  • The design documents are detailed and unambiguous regarding equipment-level control capabilities and system-level sequences of operation.
  • The equipment is provided with all of the required controls and communication capabilities.
  • The controls can be programmed to deliver the designer’s sequences of operation or, if not, what are the controls contractor’s proposed alternate sequences?
  • Roles and responsibilities for integration of equipment controllers into the BAS and vice versa are well defined and accepted.

In short, everyone needs to be on the same page about how the systems are to be integrated and the details of how they will perform. This is what the commissioning functional performance testing is intended to “test,” and the only way to pass the test is if everyone has the same expectations.

This coordination, communication, and integration planning does not happen by itself. Although it is typically the general contractor’s responsibility to coordinate all of the subcontractors and their equipment providers, this coordination sometimes stops short of delving into the nitty-gritty technical details that are so important to full integration. Without advanced systems integration discussions and documentation, the uncoordinated issues will eventually surface during FPT. When that happens, all of the issues that should have been discussed during the design and construction process will end up on the CAL and will need to be dealt with at the end of construction.

It has become tradition for the commissioning professional to facilitate the controls integration process. However, the commissioning professional is only a facilitator, and successful systems integration requires active participation, communication, and cooperation amongst all. If any individual team member chooses not to contribute to the integration process, there is a risk of having unresolved issues result in deficiencies during testing.

In order to mitigate this risk, the commissioning professional needs to start the controls integration process as early in construction as practical. This will give the team plenty of time to work out any coordination issues and/or give the commissioning professional and owner enough time to encourage reluctant team members to actively participate in and be responsive to the integration process.

Open-Book FPT Procedures

The commissioning professional then develops customized FPT procedures that assess all of the details of the final coordinated systems configurations and control strategies. These test procedures should be clear about the acceptance criteria for each test step, i.e., they are open-book tests which are distributed to the team ahead of time with the answers included.

 As one final step towards getting everyone on the same page, it is extremely helpful for the contractors to review the test procedures and agree or disagree with the acceptance criteria before field testing begins. It can be mind-numbingly dull to read test procedures, but the size of the future CAL will be reduced by working through different opinions on how the systems will function before field testing begins.