The Owner’s Project Requirements document (OPR) is a commissioning industry standard. It is the means by which the owner communicates expectations for a new construction or major renovation project. The OPR documents the owner’s acceptance criteria for everything from systems performance (space temperatures, relative humidities, indoor air quality, pressurization, light levels, power quality, reliability, redundancy, energy consumption, measurement and verification, sustainability, exterior enclosure water-tightness, etc.) and O&M documentation and training to design and construction processes, procedures, and schedule expectations.

Ideally, the owner will develop the OPR prior to procuring architectural and engineering design services. This is because it is a valuable document for communicating expectations to the design firms, and it makes everyone’s jobs easier and more efficient to know the acceptance criteria at the beginning of the project. The alternative is to risk wasted effort pursuing objectives that may have been poorly communicated in design meetings and/or criteria deemed acceptable by the design team without confirmation by the owner.

However, very few owners take the time and/or have the internal resources to prepare a meaningful and effective OPR prior to selecting their design team. The next best thing is to have the commissioning professional assist with developing the OPR after getting to know the owner’s expectations and quizzing the owner on parts of the project the owner values most. The key is to produce and share the OPR with the designers as early as possible.

Believe it or not, some commissioned projects do not have OPRs. This happens most often when the project has evolved a long way before the owner decides to introduce commissioning. Design teams and contractors do not ask for OPRs. They have built buildings forever without them, and there is a sense that only commissioned projects need OPRs. There is a lack of understanding about how important a communication tool an OPR can be to any design and construction project, even if it is not commissioned.

So, how and when does this happen? First of all, LEED-certified projects must have an OPR. Therefore, one way or another, every LEED project will end up with an OPR, even if it is developed very late and is more documentation of what the owner “got” than of what the owner “wants.” In this case, the OPR is an administrative necessity instead of the communication tool it is intended to be.

For non-LEED projects, commissioning will often proceed without an OPR when commissioning is introduced near the end of the construction documents design phase or during construction. In those cases, no one wants to take the time to develop and/or pay for the development of an OPR document.

Without an OPR, against what criteria should the commissioning professional evaluate the design documents during the commissioning design review? One way is for the commissioning professional to ask lots of questions as part of the design review process. For example, if the design documents do not specifically provide the target cooling and heating space temperatures for various space types, one design review item could be, “What is the design heating space temperature for xxx?” In this case, the “xxx” could be “entry vestibules,” “classrooms,” “private offices,” “mechanical rooms,” etc.

The Q&A approach to extracting system performance criteria from the design team will take time. It presumes at least two rounds of commissioning design reviews: one round to ask the questions and the next round to actually review the design documents based on the answers. This approach also depends on the design team being responsive to the questions in a timely fashion — a challenging proposition when they are in the throes of their final design work (or have moved on to their next design project) and are not necessarily expecting the late introduction of a commissioning review.

Of course, whatever the design team tells the commissioning professional about system performance metrics needs to be shared with the owner in order to close the communication loop and confirm that the design team answers are acceptable to the owner.

Next month, I will explore options for commissioning professionals when neither the owner or design team are forthcoming with objective acceptance criteria for the commissioned systems.