Last month’s column walked through the scenario of what might happen if the commissioning professional is not engaged until very late in the construction phase. This is a challenge on many fronts, but the issue raised in March 2016 was the functional performance testing process uncovering the fact that the commissioned systems operate as designed but do not meet the owner’s expectations and/or needs. How can this situation be avoided?

Of course, one very effective (but by no means guaranteed) solution is to bring the commissioning professional onto the project team during the design phase. A commissioning professional can bring a systems operation perspective to balance the project team’s design and construction perspective, all of which are absolutely critical to meeting the owner’s long-term needs. There are still owners, however, who think bringing on the commissioning professional early would be too costly and they cannot justify that “luxury.” I believe that reasoning is more myth than reality.

Cx by design

The truth is that the commissioning professional needs to spend time becoming familiar with the design drawings and specifications regardless of when s/he is introduced to the project. If that time is spent in the design phase and the commissioning professional finds no issues of concern with the design documents, the cost is the same as if the time was spent in the construction phase. In that situation, the no-additional-cost benefit to the owner of having the commissioning professional look at the documents prior to construction is the added level of confidence that comes from having a third-party operations specialist concur with the project team’s plans.

On the other hand, if the commissioning professional raises operational concerns with respect to the systems as designed, it is much more cost-effective for the owner to have the project team work through those concerns pre-construction rather than after the equipment is in place, the controls are programmed, and the users are about to move in.

Therefore, the design review element of design phase commissioning does not necessarily need to be an added project cost and can, potentially, help the owner avoid unexpected expenses or delays in the future. In the interest of full disclosure, however, it is important to note that proper design-phase commissioning is more than a design review, and that is where introducing the commissioning professional to the project team early can cost more.

Design-phase commissioning should also include facilitating and verifying clear documentation of the owner’s performance requirements for the commissioned systems, development of a project Commissioning Plan, planning for construction phase operations documentation such as O&M manuals and as-built drawings, and planning for construction phase O&M training. Another key design phase commissioning activity would be the development of a commissioning specification for inclusion in the bid documents.

The long term benefits of these other design phase commissioning activities could be considered a “luxury” compared to normal project delivery processes:

  • Avoid end-of-construction debates about what is “acceptable.”
  • Contractually bind the contractors to participating in the commissioning/testing process during construction.
  • Enhance the chances of receiving meaningful, accurate, and complete O&M documentation and training to help realize sustained proper operation of the systems following commissioning.

If the owner’s budget and priorities preclude investing in these improved outcomes, it is always an option (and better than nothing) to simply engage a commissioning professional for the design review process alone. This does not need to cost any more than having the design “reviewed” immediately prior to functional performance testing at the end of construction and comes with far more benefits. ES