The commissioning industry standard is to start commissioning early in a project, preferably during project conceptualization but certainly no later than the design development phase. However, that does not mean every building owner is introducing third-party commissioning in the design phase. It still happens from time to time that a building owner decides to start commissioning near the end of construction.

The excuse for such a late start used to be that building owners were not aware of commissioning even being an option for their project until it was presented as an approach for dealing with project closeout problems. That could still be the case these days, but more commonly owners may have been aware of the commissioning option during a project’s design phase but did not think it would be necessary, or at least a high priority, for their particular project. For owners who do not appreciate the benefits of commissioning based on past project histories, commissioning often ends up on the value engineering cutting room floor.

When a project looks like it may be in trouble, typically during the final stages of construction and systems startup, the owner revisits the idea of a third-party professional helping to work through finger-pointing between the owner, the designers, and the contractors. The reconsideration of commissioning is often triggered by an overwhelming sense of dread that the building systems may not be operational when the owner needs them.

Coming into a project which is already in trouble is antithetical to the proactive nature of the full project commissioning process. However, it is definitely never too late to introduce third-party commissioning. The question is, how much influence can the commissioning professional have that late in the game and what is the benefit to the owner?

One thing to keep in mind is that during the last 10-20% of a construction project, the top priority for the owner is almost always to complete the project on schedule. Therefore, the commissioning process will go nowhere if it threatens to delay construction completion. The owner’s project requirements (OPR) will not necessarily be that “all systems perform properly and efficiently at the end of construction,” but that “high-priority systems perform satisfactorily when the owner moves in and that there is a plan for improving system efficiency, effectiveness, and maintainability after construction.” This may be the best a commissioning professional can offer an owner late in construction, especially if the design team and/or contractors are not contractually bound to a third-party commissioning process.

In this case, the commissioning professional’s first steps are to assess the status of all systems to be commissioned, understand which ones are most important for the owner at move-in, and to quickly compile a prioritized commissioning action list (CAL). For example, if the project is a performing arts facility, the HVAC and acoustical systems in the main theater/auditorium will be top priority, while the public lobby and entertainment spaces will be medium priority, and the back-of-house dressing rooms, offices, workshops, etc., will be lowest priority for end-of-construction performance. Similarly for a hospital, surgery and isolation room systems will be top priority, other patient care areas will be medium, and public/staff spaces will be lower priorities.

Achieving high-priority system performance at the end of construction will often mean diverting project team attention from lower priority systems and leaving certain coordination, installation, startup, programming, and testing for later. When advising the owner regarding which outstanding issues to delay until after substantial completion, the commissioning professional should take into consideration the relative difficulty and cost and/or relative discomfort and disruption to the owner’s future operations of addressing things later.

This may be a bitter pill for the owner to swallow. However, I believe it is better to know the facts from a third-party professional than to buy into the promises of a project team which clearly does not have enough time to successfully complete installation, startup, and verification testing of all commissioned systems prior to the owner move-in date. ES