8 Common Myths and Misconceptions About Commissioning a New Building
Michael Della Barba | February 27, 2019
The commissioning process is an opportunity for building owners to verify that their newly completed building was designed, constructed and delivered as promised. Most often performed by a third party, commissioning provides quality assurance that building owners are receiving exactly what they paid for. This is especially important because once the building is delivered and occupied, the owner inherits all performance shortfalls and any subsequent problems.
However, not all commissioning is created equal. If your commissioning scope isn’t comprehensive, you could face unidentified issues, voided warranties and significant financial impact. To avoid these potential pitfalls, we’re here today to clear up eight common myths and misconceptions about the commissioning process.
1. An occupied and operational building has achieved its full value.
Often, facilities become occupied and operational before they are fully completed. Since an occupancy permit only requires that the verification of life safety elements of a building be completed prior to occupancy, other systems in the building may not be fully functional.
Further, even systems that are operational may not be performing to their full design. For instance, a building could have a ventilation system that is designed to use a certain percentage of outside air at different building loads (demand), but if the system wasn’t tested and balanced, it may not be performing as designed.
To achieve 100% performance verification, which is the target for commissioning, the building needs to be entirely complete with all systems fully functioning — not just occupied and operational.
2. Similar equipment will have the same completion and performance status.
A common misconception is that testing a limited number of pieces of the same type of equipment is a sufficient representation of all the units in the building, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. For example, if your new building has multiple air handling units, then the performance of each individual unit (and ultimately the entire ventilation zone or integrated system) needs to be tested. There are far too many variables from unit to unit — from manufacturing, to shipment schedules, to installation discrepancies — for one to accurately represent all. By shortcutting the commissioning process and testing only one unit, you could put your facility at risk for shortfalls that may carry a significant impact on facility performance.
It should be noted that sampling of systems is a strategy that impacts commissioning scope, budget and value. Sampling should be used wisely.
3. Manufacturers warranties are guaranteed.
While the majority of equipment comes with a warranty, that warranty is only honored if certain parameters are met. In order to ensure your warranty isn’t voided, you must follow manufacturer guidelines for how the equipment is shipped, stored, installed, started and more. Because of all these variables, an installed product doesn’t always equal the designed product. The performance of a piece of equipment is a direct result of the total installation, which needs to be tested and measured to see if it reflects the original design and performance capability.
The commissioning process verifies and documents that equipment is installed per the requirements from the manufacturer, which ensures your warranty will be honored and your equipment is performing as designed.
4. Energy usage is a product of the energy model.
In reality, actual energy usage is a product of the installation, not a product of the model. Without first confirming that equipment installation reflects your contract requirements, you can’t know how reliable the energy model will be for predicting energy usage. Plus, discrepancies between usage and the model could be because the model was completed early in the design process and never calibrated to reflect the final design. A comprehensive commissioning scope should confirm the predicted usage from a calibrated energy model.
5. Performance persistence is ensured upon initial commissioning completion.
Commissioning is quality assurance — not a crystal ball. Even though a piece of equipment has a 20-year life expectancy and is fully commissioned, that does not guarantee that the equipment will last 20 years. There are far too many variables beyond the completion of the commissioning process to account for, such as employee training, continued maintenance and facility load (usage) changes. The purpose of commissioning is to confirm you received what you paid for; beyond that assurance, it can’t predict continued performance without consideration of other persistence impact factors.
6. Schedule delays can be addressed by adding construction personnel.
Unfortunately, making up for schedule delays is rarely as simple as adding more construction personnel. Since such a big part of commissioning is testing the systems once the building is fully completed, more crew members often aren’t the solution. For instance, the fire alarm systems (fire alarm devices, electrical connections, control system integration, HVAC integration, elevator integration and architectural elements, etc.) can’t be tested if the fire alarm team is still working. While it might seem like more people working through a process would yield faster results, the infrastructure doesn’t always support this theory.
More time spent predicting issues associated with schedule impact factors (perquisites, delivery schedules, project changes, etc.) is more beneficial to controlling the construction schedule than trying to make up for lost time as project occupancy approaches. Use commissioning deliverable completion (reports) such as pre-functional check lists, equipment start-ups, controls point-to-point, air and water balancing and issue corrections as a gauge for schedule status.
7. Any level of commissioning will ensure performance.
The degree to which commissioning can ensure performance in your building depends on the level of rigor. Think back to our air handler example in the second misconception — if your commissioning budget only covers one unit, the performance of the other units can’t be ensured. It is only a comprehensive level of rigor that can provide greater confidence and assurance that all systems are working correctly.
8. Equipment start-up alone will ensure performance.
Each piece of equipment in your building is connected to larger systems (integrated system) that also need verification. Equipment or component performance can be verified but system performance might fail. Let’s return to our air handler example one last time. The unit is connected to duct work and is supplying air to a space that is made up of individual distribution components. Since each system is made up of multiple components, they all need to be tested together holistically (integrated system testing). This is the only way to fully ensure the performance of the entire integrated system.
Commissioning is designed to protect the interests of the business owner and to minimize potential future risks. Even for buildings like office spaces that may be considered lower risk than say, a healthcare facility or laboratory, the owner can still be at risk of significant financial impact when problems arise. By pursuing a comprehensive commissioning program for your new building, you can move forward with confidence that all aspects of your facility are functioning as expected.