Late last year (November and December, 2015) this column addressed the situation where a third-party commissioning professional is not by with the building owner until the last few weeks of construction. I am currently involved in two such projects, and we don’t even call it “commissioning;” we call it “testing” because that’s what the owner is really asking us to do.

Without the commissioning professional involved earlier in the project, there are no documented Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR). As such, there are no agreed-upon objective acceptance criteria for the testing. In many ways, the testing is being performed to understand and document exactly how the systems function when the project is substantially complete. If they do not perform according to clear design and approved-submittal criteria, it is straightforward to document deficiencies that the contractors need to correct prior to final acceptance.

However, what should be done if the systems perform as designed and yet do not achieve what the commissioning professional believes the owner wants/needs? This belief may be based on code or industry standards, or simply based on the commissioning professional’s past experience with and knowledge of the owner’s expectations.

The end of construction is a challenging time to start talking about what the owner wants from specific systems. Almost everyone on the project team, with the possible exception of the owner’s facilities operations staff, responds the same way to queries from the commissioning professional:

  • “Ugh, why are you even bringing this up right now?”

  • “We will deal with this after project completion.”

  • “Don’t rock the boat.”

So, how hard should the commissioning professional pursue design-related concerns at the end of construction? As with everything else late in the project, it is a matter of prioritizing and only “rocking the boat” when life safety and/or the owner’s primary business function are at risk. Everything else can reasonably be deferred until after construction.

Once the high priority immediate issues are identified, they can typically be split into two categories:

  • Solvable before the end of construction

  • Too hard to correct prior to the end of construction

Of course, those issues that can be resolved relatively easily (e.g., short lead-time equipment replacements, reprogramming the BAS, rebalancing air or water flows, etc.) should be corrected as soon as practical.

For the more complex issues (e.g., long lead-time equipment that needs to be replaced, missing infrastructure elements, undersized distribution systems, etc.), the project team needs to develop a stop-gap solution to get the owner through initial occupancy and operations until a permanent solution can be implemented.

The late-in-construction testing professional needs to help the owner keep the entire project team engaged until all issues are resolved to the owner’s satisfaction, even if that is after the owner assumes ownership and operational responsibilities for the building. Depending on contract details, this may involve additional design fees or construction change orders.

Introducing a third-party professional in the design phase to facilitate a full-service commissioning process should help prevent this type of end-of-construction drama. The discipline of discussing, agreeing on, and documenting the owner’s expectations and acceptance criteria in writing sets the stage for all subsequent commissioning design review, construction observation, and functional testing activities. ES