Commissioning professionals, myself included, have always advocated the delay of systems acceptance by and turnover to the owner until the commissioning process is complete. In this sense, “complete” means the systems pass their functional performance tests and the owner’s operations staff has been properly trained.

There is one situation, and it is not simply theoretical, where this may not be the best approach for the owner. If a project is very poorly managed, uncoordinated, behind schedule, and starting to be used by occupants, it may be time to throw in the towel and turn the systems over to the owner’s operators for final system setup, tweaking, and scheduling. Without proper training of the operators by the contractors (which is to be assumed with such a scary project scenario), a fully engaged commissioning professional is in the best position to facilitate this approach to a successful and timely conclusion.

The situation to be corrected is one where the construction manager is “in charge” and is directing the mechanical and controls contractors to make changes to the HVAC systems in order to accommodate complaints from users in a building unready for occupancy.


• The construction manager is not qualified to understand, much less make change decisions about, the complex building systems and their controls.

• The directives actually make the indoor conditions worse than if the systems were left as designed, even if the systems are not fully commissioned yet.

• Given the project hierarchy, the subcontractors are unwilling to disobey the construction manager.

• The commissioning professional has unsuccessfully encouraged the construction manager to stop the harmful behavior.


Of course, all of the overriding of controls and manual operation of devices is occurring in parallel with the commissioning team trying to test systems and close out commissioning action items. It is a continuous cycle of getting a system working properly and then learning in a matter of hours that things were overridden again.

There are a number of reasons a project can get so messed up, but one of them is that there are multiple “owners” who do not necessarily have the same project objectives or commitment to the commissioning process. In this case, the construction manager feels more obligated to the owner who wants to start using the building when it is not ready and then expects the building to be comfortable. The commissioning professional is obligated to the owner who wants to make sure the systems function effectively and efficiently for the long term.

In the situation where the construction manager is actually undermining the commissioning process, I recommend official turnover to the building operators before commissioning is complete. The commissioning professional and operators, along with the mechanical and controls contractors, can finish the job. This is clearly not ideal and is contractually easier said than done. However, it seems that the systems will never pass their functional performance tests under the construction manager’s watch and, thus, will never meet the more traditional criteria for systems turnover.

Part of the challenge is that “turnover” should not be confused with “acceptance.” It must be clear that final acceptance of the systems from the responsible contractors will not occur until the systems do perform as intended and the building operators understand the systems and understand how to sustain their proper performance.ES