Whitepaper: 01.25.2013

Plan Early for Efficiency

Five Steps to Successfully Commissioning Complex Buildings

Whether it’s a new greenfield hospital, renovation of an existing laboratory, or expansion of a manufacturing facility, complex building systems in complex building types are designed to perform at high levels. However, if not commissioned properly, the high-performing facility you thought was being built could be severely underperforming. In fact, a recent study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shows that in the U.S. alone, nearly $10 billion is wasted through energy inefficiencies, such as air duct leakages, airflow not being balanced, valve leakages, improper controls setup, etc.

So what can you do to save some of this money and ensure your building is commissioned properly? For starters, you could follow these five simple steps.

  1. Begin the commissioning process during the pre-design or design stages. Just because the bulk of the commissioning effort takes place after construction completion does not mean that you should wait until then to begin commissioning. The process should start as early as possible and be a collaborative effort amongst all key stakeholders in the building’s success: owner, architects, engineers, construction manager, subcontractors, building management, and maintenance personnel.
  2. Create a commissioning plan that defines the roles and expectations of each stakeholder throughout the commissioning process. Most subcontractors do not understand what is expected of them during commissioning, drastically slowing the process. If you develop a commissioning matrix prior to bidding that lists all of the commissioning tasks, who is responsible for their completion, and the timing of those steps, the subcontractors’ responsibilities during commissioning are clarified, making it a much smoother process. The tasks identified in the matrix include procedures for review and acceptance; requirements for documentation, development and approval of commissioning plans; schedules; and inspection and testing.
  3. Build commissioning activities into the master construction schedule. By incorporating the various commissioning tasks as line items in the master schedule, it ensures they are completed in the proper sequence to successfully commission the building. It also reinforces each stakeholder’s responsibilities throughout the process and reemphasizes the collaborative nature of the process by putting it front and center for everyone to see.
  4. Document the process at all levels. Requiring specific documentation of each commissioning act serves as a log of performance standards, inspections, testing, and if necessary, corrective actions, for systems and equipment. This documentation also verifies that all relevant design and construction work meets the objectives established during the pre-design and/or design stages. Finally, housing this information in a digital document management system and tying it to the building information model streamlines the turnover of information to the owner upon project completion and serves as a historical record of the commissioning process for the facility’s systems.
  5. Properly train your facility managers and maintenance personnel on upkeep of systems. To ensure consistent building performance on an ongoing basis, it is essential to have your facility staff trained on the correct operating procedures for all the systems installed. This can include one-on-one training from the equipment manufacturer/vendor and/or the controls contractor, as well as the production of manual and video support programs.

Although not a comprehensive list, these five steps are the cornerstone of a good commissioning process — one that secures owners in the knowledge that:

  • The project will be successfully completed within schedule parameters
  • The facility is fully functional at first occupancy
  • The building optimizes energy efficiency to reduce operational costs
  • Facility managers and maintenance personnel are fully trained and engaged, creating a better likelihood that ongoing maintenance is managed, reducing system downtime, expenses, etc.
  • A safer, more comfortable environment is created for workers and guests
  • There will be improved communication throughout the construction process
  • There will be fewer change orders

If you’re like most owners, these are all aspects of a project you would like to call your own, especially when it is a complex building type like a laboratory or hospital. And to think, it all begins with commissioning.

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