This month, I am continuing my recent exploration of situations where building systems do not pass their commissioning functional performance tests at the end of construction. The obvious answer, of course, is to “fix the systems.” However, this gets complicated when the root cause of the test failure is not the contractor’s sole responsibility. In February 2015, I wrote about the situation where the design needed to change after functional testing in order to meet the owner’s performance criteria. Last month, the topic was about systems that did not perform exactly as designed but just might be okay anyway.

This column is dedicated to the situation where the project team cannot or will not resolve the system performance problems after an extended period of time and the building owner is compelled to look elsewhere for help achieving their design intent. This is a rare but real situation. Although the prospect of such a decision by the owner raises all kinds of legal, contractual, and liability questions, this column will focus solely on what it means for the commissioning professional.

keeping it on the radar

The third-party commissioning professional is most likely the project team member who discovered and documented the system deficiencies in the first place. It is also the commissioning professional who has not let it die. Interestingly, in LEED projects, it is also the LEED facilitator who helps keep the unacceptable system on the project manager’s closeout list. This is because the LEED facilitator wants to complete and upload the LEED Online submission, but should not do so until the Fundamental Commissioning prerequisite is fully documented as having no open commissioning action items.

This is one major difference between a project with a third-party commissioning professional and a project without one. In the latter projects, it is common for systems not to function as expected by the owner. However, many times owners do not have (#1) the information they need to understand the root causes of a problem, (#2) the expertise to negotiate with the design and construction team regarding responsibility for corrective actions, or (#3) the intestinal fortitude to stick with the issues and see them through to resolution. The commissioning professional is there to do #1 and #2 and to help build up the owner’s appetite for seeing things through #3.

owner options

If the owner, for whatever reason, chooses to give up trying to work with the original design and construction team to resolve the problems and move on to other professionals for help, they often start with a new design engineer.

Often the commissioning professional may have the ability to provide design engineering services. In addition, of course, the commissioning professional is likely to have the most intimate and detailed understanding of the systems and their deficiencies. As such, it could be tempting for the owner to turn to the commissioning firm for their new design services. This, however, would negate many of the benefits of having a third-party commissioning professional in the first place.

Undoubtedly, the commissioning professional will have advised the owner on potential solutions to the problems long before the decision to change designers. Those are valuable parts of the project record that will be passed to the new engineers, but those suggestions should never be treated as “direction.” The new design engineers need to come to their own conclusions about the best solutions because the new engineers will be taking on the liability of those solutions being successful.

 From a commissioning perspective, the decision to change design teams essentially restarts the commissioning process — at least for the systems that need to be redesigned in one way or another. The commissioning professional is positioned to provide all of the same services again, if needed. At a minimum, these should include redesign review, submittal review, and functional performance testing.