There are some building types and/or organizations that are nearly always undergoing some sort of facility upgrade, modification, and/or expansion to accommodate evolving needs. Health care facilities are the first to come to mind, with renovations required due to new technologies, new services, changing patient demographics, growing populations, and/or simply aging infrastructure. Other examples of organizations with ever-changing facility needs include colleges and universities, high-technology industries, and museums.

Because of the constant churn of projects at these organizations, they were the first to embrace commissioning 20-25 years ago as a means to successfully and efficiently achieve their project goals. They simply didn’t have time to “work out the kinks” over a few months or years on one project because they were already working on the next project.

Due to their extensive commissioning experience, these institutions typically also have the most mature commissioning programs. Some commission solely with in-house resources, some rely on outside commissioning professionals, and many use a combination of both. When using outside resources, some institutions rely almost exclusively on a single commissioning firm, while others maintain a stable of prequalified commissioning providers who compete for each individual project, and others openly solicit competitive proposals for each project’s commissioning work.

It’s understandable that a large institution would be wary of putting all of its commissioning eggs in one basket; however, I’m writing this month to make a case for not being totally random in the assignment of prequalified commissioning professionals to individual projects. I have seen owners making choices for project commissioning based on some of the following criteria:

  • Expertise with a certain facility type;
  • Expertise with a certain system type;
  • Leveling the workload across all prequalified commissioning professionals; and
  • Owner’s project manager personal preference.

These are not bad criteria, but I believe there is an opportunity for the owner to enhance the value of commissioning by assigning specific commissioning professionals to specific buildings on their campuses, keeping in mind that a “campus” might be a single complex of inter-connected buildings all built at different times.

After the first or second project in a single building, the commissioning firm is apt to be one of the most knowledgeable teams regarding that building, its systems, and their interactions. This serves the owner’s purposes on all future projects because the commissioning professional:

  • Will not have much, if any, learning curve regarding the systems being modified by the project;

  • Will know the occupants and deeply understand and represent the owner’s project requirements for the building;

  • Will bring to the project team information regarding the impact the proposed project work will have on systems outside of the project boundaries; and

  • Will advocate for comprehensive and accurate edits to the building’s BAS graphics, O&M manuals, systems manuals, and as-built documentation to reflect the modified/removed/replaced equipment and systems. A commissioning professional who fully understands the existing systems will know when the revised documentation is correct and fully integrated.

The latter bullet is particularly valuable for long-term sustainable operation of the building systems. I have been in too many existing buildings where documentation, and even BAS graphics, includes equipment and/or control devices which are no longer there or are no longer in use. In addition, the documentation does not clearly and logically represent equipment and/or controls added by multiple renovation projects over the years, assuming the new equipment is incorporated at all. This leads to progressive madness for the owner’s facilities staff and future consultants trying to understand, maintain, and optimize system operation.

A commissioning professional assigned to a building and its systems should consider that building his or her own and all renovation/upgrade projects should be taken seriously and very personally. This is a great advantage to the building owner who may or may not have the time to advocate for all of his or her buildings to the level of technical detail that a dedicated commissioning firm should.