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Building commissioning is a team effort that requires the involvement of numerous stakeholders in the process of delivering a successful building project. Individual roles, most of which, ideally, are assigned at the predesign phase, and continue from inception through occupancy. Designated team members are responsible for specific activities and documents during the various phases.
The project requirements are established and recorded in the Owner's Project Requirements (OPR) documents that are developed by the Owner and their team along with, in many cases, input from the CxP and possibly the design teams. The OPR includes the project intent, and requirements for systems, functionality, efficiency, quality, verification, and documentation. The necessary commissioning team knowledge, skills, and experience must be appropriate to meet the needs of a project's size, complexity, purpose, mission, and the Owner's risk management strategy.
The commissioning team always includes the Owner, who is ultimately responsible for initiating and approving project requirements developed with the project team, including the commissioning providers (CxP).
There are numerous ways to assemble and structure a commissioning team. For optimum project performance, a single entity should lead the Cx process from start to finish so that the overall process, principles, and objectives are consistent and functional. This CxP must be an objective advocate for the Owner, independent from other participants on the project. However, fulfilling the role and functions of the CxP will depend on the needs of each project, which are substantially driven by budget, scope, and level(s) of expertise needed.
If the CxP's firm has other project responsibilities, or is not under direct contract to the Owner, a conflict of interest may exist. Wherever this occurs, the CxP discloses, in writing, the nature of the conflict and the means by which the conflict shall be managed. Regardless of where the responsibility for building commissioning lies, it is important that CxPs maintain a position of impartiality regarding design and construction entities to assure there is no conflict of interest.
Structuring the Commissioning Team: Provider Role
Common approaches to structuring CxP roles include:
Independent Third Party CxP. An organization that has no other project responsibilities, ideally contracted directly to the Owner.
Owner's Staff Member. A qualified and experienced entity on the Owner's staff or in the organization.
A/E CxP. The USGBC LEED program, ASHRAE guidelines, and other references allow the CxP to be part of the design team for small projects (less than 10,000 and up to 20,000 SF). For larger projects the CxP may be part of the design firm, however he/she must not be a part of the actual design team for the project at hand. The CxP should be contracted directly by the Owner. If an Owner chooses to contract the CxP through the A/E team, the contract should clearly identify that the CxP reports directly to the Owner.
Construction Manager (CM) as CxP. This approach can be cost-effective and effective when the CM is independent of the contractor's team and has the needed technical experience. Many Owner groups use "not-at-risk" CMs who act as an Owner's agent to manage schedule, cost, and quality. In some cases, the CM may hire the CxP as a subcontractor, resulting in no additional contract management responsibility by the Owner. The CxP should be contracted directly by the Owner; however, if an Owner chooses to contract the CxP through the CM, the contract should clearly identify that the CxP reports directly to the Owner.
The Commissioning Management Team
There are many participants in the commissioning process, particularly in large and complex projects, and each participant and organization must understand their role and responsibilities.
The building Owner's roles and responsibilities for the commissioning process start at the project inception. They include:
Initiating the process, setting the scope of the commissioning process, selecting and/or hiring the CxP, developing Owner's Project Requirements (OPR) for new construction or Current Facility Requirements (CFR) for existing buildings and systems.
Supporting and facilitating the commissioning process during design, construction and occupancy, reviewing and approving relevant documents and Cx milestones.
Ultimately the Owner decides whether an independent CxP should lead the process, and when to begin integrating commissioning into the project. Owners also make the final decision regarding the balance of budget and level of performance assurance, typically with input from the design consultants and the CxP.
The participation and process management by the project Owner is essential to the success of the commissioning process and the project. From detailing the project requirements in the Owner's Project Requirements (OPR), along with budgets and schedules, to selection of the CxP, the Owner's role also includes review and acceptance of the many commissioning documents during the project, plus acceptance of the commissioning report, and the resultant project performance. Situations can arise that may require adjustments or changes to the commissioning activities and the Owner will need to assess the risks associated with those changes and make the final decision on whether those changes are acceptable, particularly if they contradict the OPR. These risks are often understood by the CxP, but it is the Owner's ultimate responsibility to accept them.
Documents of particular importance to the Owner are the OPR, BOD, Commissioning Plans, and Commissioning Reports. This role may be executed by the true Owner or by an officially designated Owner's representative. Because of the importance of the Owner's function, it is essential that the designated representative be available and actively engaged in the project from design through completion to meet project requirements along with schedules and budgets.
The CxP functions as the general manager of the commissioning process. This function should be selected early in the project before the onboarding of the designer and continue through design, construction field observation and testing, functional and performance testing, and building initial operation. Then, other than the Owner, the CxP is usually the only entity who participates during the entire project and thus provides continuity and technical guidance. Due to these factors, the CxP most effectively reports directly to the Owner on the project.
At the beginning of the project, the CxP assists the Owner in developing the OPR, reviews the BOD, reviews the design documents, assists in the development of commissioning specifications, and develops the initial Cx Plan.
During construction, the CxP, along with other members of the commissioning team, develops and updates the Cx Plan and system checklists, reviews contractor submittal packages pertinent to commissioned equipment and systems, conducts the commissioning scoping meetings and other meetings, audits (or reviews all depending on scope) information in the construction checklists through document reviews and field assessments, conducts site observations and witnesses contractor equipment verification and testing, produces and updates the issues and resolutions logs, creates and reviews the Systems Manual, and produces the commissioning reports. If training is included in the project scope, the CxP may prepare or review training curriculum and conduct or observe training.
Other Commissioning Team Members
Depending upon project requirements and Owner's process, many other entities participate in the project and commissioning process. Each of these commissioning team members has principal functions and often is responsible for the development and/or use of specific documents.
Each Cx team member has specific duties and functions for the activities and documents under their responsibility that can vary by project and phase. See page 4 Commissioning Documents: Process, Contents and Acceptance Documentation Matrix — Table A–1, for examples of document responsibility for input, management, acceptance, and usage.
The following section lists the major participants along with duties and functions.
The role of the project architect is to assist in the development of the OPR (or review if developed prior to their onboarding), participate in any revisions of the OPR, to lead development of the project basis of design (BOD), and to include the commissioning and system performance requirements in the design drawings and specifications, including the building enclosure. During the construction phase, the architect should respond to and manage the resolution of items relative to the project design. They will participate in the training program (if included as part of their scope) to provide valuable information on overall system design, equipment and material choices, and how these affect the building users and operators.
The role of the project engineer is similar to that of the architect. This includes assisting in the development (or review) of the OPR, participating in any of revisions of the OPR, participating in the development of the project BOD, and including the commissioning and system performance requirements in the design drawings and specifications. Because most of the systems being commissioned are designed by the engineer, it is important that the engineer be included in the commissioning team and process. This would include the development and/or review of commissioning checklists and acceptance of testing results. During the construction phase, the engineer should respond to and manage the resolution of items relating to the project engineering design. The engineer will participate in the training program (if included as part of their scope) to provide valuable information on overall system design, equipment and material choices, and how these affect the building users and operators.
The role of the project contractor or construction manager is to execute the construction process. The contractor is responsible for providing, installing, and testing all the materials and equipment in the building, including management of the verification and testing of the building elements being commissioned, and scheduling of testing. The contractor needs to manage their functions in the commissioning process and work closely with the CxP to document the performance of the commissioned systems.
Subcontractors and Installers
The role of subcontractors and installers is similar to that of the general contractor, but it is limited to one trade or system such as building controls. The subcontractor supplies the documentation for installation to the Design Team and CxP. They then assist the CxP to develop the installation, functional, and performance checklists. After installation, the subcontractor coordinates with the general contractor and CxP to schedule and conduct the required testing, including testing of integrated systems performance. All available installation, operations and maintenance documentation is sent to the general contractor to include in the Systems Manual. Completed checklists are sent to the CxP to include in the commissioning report. Operator and building user training on these systems, is provided by the subcontractor or manufacturer as required and observed by the CxP.
Manufacturers and Suppliers
The roles of the manufacturers and suppliers are simpler than that of the subcontractor. The equipment documentation usually originates with the manufacturer. This information includes, as appropriate, the instructions for installation, testing, operations, and maintenance. The manufacturer submits this information to the Design Team and CxP through the subcontractor and general contractor. On some complex equipment such as chillers and control systems, the manufacturer participates in the start-up and testing of the system and training.
LEED® or Program Administrator
The role of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) and other building rating systems or sustainability program administrators is unique in that it involves the coordination of the program with the commissioning process. Commissioning may be mandatory or optional, and the requirements of commissioning vary within each program. The administrator's function is to ensure that qualified individuals perform the commissioning tasks; the equipment and systems comply with the program requirements; and the documents meet program requirements.
Commissioning Project Management
Establish a Commissioning Approach and Scope
Commissioning scope, process, and responsibilities must be clearly defined and communicated from the OPR through the commissioning plan and construction documents. The scope addresses the equipment to be commissioned, which can vary depending on the project and programs. For example, building rating system compliance and other project requirements define the goals for energy and water consuming equipment; utility incentive programs are typically equipment-specific and must be clearly identified, depending on what has been funded; pharmaceutical facilities must comply with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA); laboratories, data centers, healthcare and other critical facilities must have their commissioning requirements clearly addressed in the commissioning scope. This scope must be included in the project OPR and project documents updated throughout the project, and carefully managed by the Owner's team and the CxP.
The commissioning process and plan should include regular meetings, program compliance, and reporting requirements, establishing and maintaining lines of communication with the building Owner, design team, contractor, and other team members. This process includes documentation and enforcement of specification and contractual provisions, identifying specialized tests, and creating schedules for commissioning activities and detailing required reports. Commissioning team members assignments and responsibilities must be included in the commissioning plans and the construction documents. The success of the commissioning process and to a large extent the project depends upon meeting these plans, specifications, and requirements.
Establish Commissioning Budgets
Commissioning costs can range widely and are dependent upon many factors including a building's size, location, function, complexity, and whether the project consists of building operations, renovation, modernization, or new construction and the scope for commissioning services and teams.
Key factors that can have a direct impact in developing a commissioning budget include:
- When the commissioning process starts (during design, construction, post-construction, or operation)
- The type, number and complexity of systems to be commissioned.
- The level of detail required during the commissioning process (does it include documenting and witnessing all equipment start-up, verification tests, spot-checking the balancing report, etc., or sampling strategies?)
- Deliverables (Owner's Project Requirements or Current Facility Requirements documents, number and scope of design and project document reviews, Commissioning Plans, project systems checklists, issues and resolutions logs, Systems (O&M) Manual review, field observation reports, final reports, ongoing commissioning plans, etc.)
- Construction contractual delivery mechanism (design-bid-build, design-build, integrated project delivery, construction-manager-at-risk, plan and spec, retrofit, public-private partnership, etc.)
See the Additional Commissioning Resources page for more information.