One of the most important construction phase commissioning activities is control submittal review and controls integration. This is the process of confirming that the proposed HVAC system controls are clear, comprehensive, and integrated with on-board equipment controllers and other control systems such as fire alarm, lighting, security, etc. It is also the process followed to confirm that every aspect of a fully functional control system, from wire terminations to internet connections to programming sequences of operation, are assigned to a responsible party.
This process takes the form of documentation reviews and face-to-face meetings. It also typically results in multiple iterations of control system submittals before all the details are ironed out and coordinated. Anyone who has worked with HVAC controls submittals knows how substantial they are and how time-consuming they are to prepare. As such, each re-submittal is a significant undertaking and multiple resubmittals are downright objectionable to most controls contractors. This is also true of the other control system submittals with which the HVAC controls need to integrate.
One might argue that there should be no sympathy because the controls contractors should “get it right the first time” or expect to resubmit. In all fairness, however, the controls integration process is not owned by any one of the individual controls contractors, and non-commissioned projects do not include a formal integration process.
It then falls on the commissioning professional to facilitate the coordination of multiple controls-related submittals through the integration process, and this often leads to more HVAC controls resubmittals than the controls contractor is willing to produce. In the interest of project team harmony and establishing a good working relationship for the remainder of the project, we have been known to allow the controls contractor to forego formally documenting the final round of control sequences fine-tuning in yet another official submittal prior to installation and programming.
Instead, the final agreed-upon sequences are well documented in controls integration meeting minutes and/or in the commissioning submittal review comments. The only documentation requirement made of the contractor is to accurately portray the final sequences in the “As Built Controls” submittal at the end of the project. The commissioning professional then reviews the As Builts to confirm the owner is receiving accurate documentation.
SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
Although this seems like the right thing to do during the controls integration process, it can easily backfire during functional performance testing. This is because the controls contractors typically have very formal internal communication regarding what hardware is to be installed where and what programming is required. The controls engineer who developed the submittal will often hand off the final approved submittal to their electricians and programmers for implementation. If that submittal does not include the final agreed-upon control system features, the controls electricians and programmers will not implement them. They have no idea that they might need to look at submittal review comments and/or meeting minutes to do their jobs.
That results in a disconnect between the as-programmed control system performance during functional performance testing and the commissioning professional’s expectations for how the systems will perform. That disconnect equals those final agreed-upon details that were not required to be formally documented until the As Built Controls submittal.
All of this results in end-of-construction challenges associated with documenting all of those details again as deficiencies in the commissioning action list, the controls contractor having to perform rework, and everyone having to track the deficiencies until they are corrected and retested. In the grand scheme of things, this end-of-construction effort typically far outweighs the effort that would have been required to prepare one more final and comprehensive control submittal at the end of the controls integration process.
Lesson Learned: The commissioning professional and design engineers need to exercise tough love with the HVAC controls contractor and insist on a complete and final submittal prior to approval-to-proceed with installation and programming. That will be best for everyone in the end.