Hey folks, Phil Zito here and welcome back. In this post, we are going to be talking about how to work with a commissioning agent.
So, what is the big deal with commissioning? What is it? What are commissioning agents? What does all of this mean to you? Well, traditionally, commissioning has meant increased labor requirements, increased cost, and just increased time on projects. But done right, it actually results in a better end product.
For those of you reading, you may be asking, “How does it result in a better end product? How does it result in a building that is more functional and that is actually achieving the standards that were set by both the engineer as well as the owner?” Well, it does that by this thing called functional testing.
Now, that is kind of a misunderstanding. People hear commissioning and they think that commissioning equates to functional testing. It doesn't. Just because you're doing commissioning, does not mean that you are actually going to be doing functional testing as well.
So, the two are not the same. You typically will do functional testing when you do commissioning, but you could do functional testing without doing commissioning. You could do commissioning without functional testing.
So, how does this all begin? Well, at the beginning of the project, either the owner decides to select a commissioning agent which is known as the Owners Rep, where the general contractor selects a commissioning agent, which then the commissioning agent works for the general contractor.
Now, the commissioning agent can do one of these three most common things:
- They can do a paper work-only commissioning, which means that they review paperwork, they review documentation, they just review that things are in order, you'll see this a lot in lead projects that require commissioning.
- They could have partial functional test commissioning, where they write a test plan, but it's only for a sampling of the systems. Basically, they sample the systems, and as long as those system samples work well, based on statistics, the rest of the building should work fine.
- Then you have full blown commissioning where they will write a commissioning test plan, and the test plan will test all aspects of every system. This obviously is the most expensive and most demanding of the three, but ideally, it should result in the best results.
Ultimately, it depends on the competency of your commissioning agent because at the end of the day, I've had to do full functional tests with some commissioning agents who knew way more than me about HVAC systems, and they're really good. We came out of it with a really good end product. I've also had to do full functional tests with commissioning agents who didn't even know what piece of equipment they were looking at. So, at the end of the day, I would say that the customer would have been better off not even having commissioning, because at that point, it's just a matter of, can you convince the commissioning agent that you know what you're talking about, and that what you're doing is right, and make them look good, and then they check the box.
At the end of the day, though, commissioning begins at the beginning of the project. It’s typically going to be listed in both Section One and Section Three of the specification. Once you know that there's commissioning on the project, you want to plan accordingly.
You want to first off, figure out, is this going to be just paper commissioning, is it going to be partial functional test or is this going to be full functional test, and you want to estimate accordingly. Like I said, we're not doing estimating in this construction series.
Now that you've estimated and you've done your release to operations, and you hand off to ops, you need to inform the operations team that there is commissioning, and this is if you're the salesperson. If you're the operations team, you want to be checking if there's commissioning.
If there is commissioning, which the details of this are typically found, Section One will tell you there is commissioning, but Section Three is going to go into the details that “this is going to be full blown commissioning, there's going to be a commissioning plan, you need to support, etc” You have to think, “Okay, we have a full commissioning plan, with full functional test. It's going to be covering these systems. We need to account for this many hours of support.”
Some folks would argue that your sequences and your submittals should be the same, no matter whether you have commissioning or not. I'm going to give you the textbook answer and then I'll give you the actual field answer.
So, the textbook answer is going to be:
“Your documentation, your submittal documents, should look no different. Whether you have a commissioning agent or don't have a commissioning agent.”
The real-world answer is:
“The commissioning agent is often going to change or tweak the sequence of operations. They are, that's just being real.”
So, you should make your submittals, obviously, because you need to get the buildings done, but once you've done your submittals, you should update your submittals to match with the commissioning testing plan. You should build your programs in such a way that they can actually be tested.
So, if you're going to be tested on a supply fan mode, a cooling mode, and a heating mode, let's look at how we can make our programs in such a way that when the commissioning agent says, “Okay, I need to see fan failure,” you can actually invoke a fan failure state. It clearly indicates a fan failure state when they say, “I need to switch from mechanical cooling to mechanical heating, and I need to see that you can actually have a cooling mode and a heating mode that you can initiate.”
You can see that and oftentimes, it's one thing for the system to change, but oftentimes, the commissioning agents, they just want to see the status change. You can have the program doing exactly what it's supposed to do, but if they don't know how to look at the HVAC systems, how to really understand that this is changing, then you need to have some sort of visual indicator that says, “We're in heating mode, we're in cooling mode.”
In my opinion, not only does this make a system more serviceable, it makes for a better quality installation, and at the same time, it also makes it clear to your commissioning agent what's happening and what's not happening.
Okay, so you go through functional tests. Before you ever even get into functional tests, you should perform a full point-to-point because what will often happen is, you will do a functional test, and during that functional test, an actuator is going to rotate the wrong way. Instead of going clockwise it’ll go counterclockwise. Your temp sensor is going to be a little off, or a relay is not going to fire. Something is going to happen.
It's one thing on a full functional test when you already have hours budgeted into the project to execute that. On a partial functional test, you probably don't have the hours budgeted, and as soon as that one little thing goes wrong, there are often clauses in their contracts that they can then, at a cost to you, at your burden, require you to support a full, full functional test for that system type. You do not want to get stuck in there. That's how six-figure, slippage happens. That's negative slippage, right?
Okay, so how do you avoid that? You avoid that by performing point-to-point check out prior to a functional test. Please, please, please, if you hear me on two things:
- Use modes and use visual indicators that your system is switching states, so that you can satisfy the commissioning agent.
- Perform a point-to-point check on the system the day before, not the day of, the day before the commissioning agent is going to run the functional test. Just go through, command everything, make sure it all turns on, make sure it all turns off, and just get that done. At the end of the day, you do not want them having to dig any further.
So, if you do those two things, you will get through most functional tests just fine. At the end of the day, they have to build out the test plan, which brings us to another point. There are two schools of thought on this. Thought one is, the commissioning agent builds out the commissioning plan, they build out the test plan, and you just do whatever they ask. That's perfectly fine. It's not my preferred way to do things, but if you're low on manpower, maybe you’ve never written test plans before, you'll leave it to the commissioning agent.
The second thought is, you can assist the commissioning agent on their commissioning plan writing their test plans, which to me personally, is a world I like to be in. Most people know that their building automation system has some nuances. Each system has things that it does well and things it does not do well, especially when it comes to the programming tools.
So, if you are able to assist in writing the functional tests, you can write those functional tests in such a way that they really match up with your product line. That being said, my programs are going to be written in a specific way, so I may want to influence the functional test plan to match up with my programs.
So, what I hope you took from that is, know the nuances of your programming tools when you're doing commissioning, and then get with the commissioning agent during their commissioning plan development, and help them write their functional tests in such a way that it aligns with the nuances of your programming tool. While in my opinion, every building automation system is the same, it is also different in that the building automation system has their own little nuances to the programming tools. You need to be aware of these, especially when you're doing commissioning.
Alright, so there you have it. That's my approach to commissioning. Gave you a couple of really good tidbits that you can apply today, and I encourage you to apply those today.
Thanks a ton for stopping by. In our next post, we will be covering how to close out your projects. In that post, we're going to take everything we've learned up to this point, and we're going to talk about how can we close out our projects so that we get our retainer, we get into the warranty phase, and we get through the warranty phase without blowing up a project.
Thanks a ton for being here. Thanks so much. Take care.