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Owners Make The Difference

There are many factors impacting the success of any particular commissioning project. We have discovered that one of the most important of these, regardless of all other influences, is the level of Owner support for and enforcement of the commissioning process. It is safe to say that if the owner is not committed to the success of commissioning, the commissioning project will not be a success.

There are a number of facility owners who are desperate for help with their building construction projects, typically due to a long history of one non-functioning new building after another. These facility owners are also over-worked, understaffed, and constantly trying to put out fires in the buildings they have (i.e., those that never worked in the first place). When they learn a little about commissioning, some of them will grab at the “magic bullet” and charge ahead with hiring a commissioning consultant to solve all of their problems.

These owners haven’t learned enough about the commissioning process to understand that it is a team effort, not an individual consultant, that makes a building work. In fact, commissioning consultants typically have no authority whatsoever (hence, the term “commissioning authority” is something of a misnomer). They have no contractual authority to direct the designers or to direct the contractors. As such, they personally have no influence on the outcome of a project if they don’t have the designers and contractors willingly participating in the commissioning process.

An owner who expects to walk away and leave the commissioning consultant to make everything right will be sorely disappointed. It is the owner, and only the owner, who has final authority and influence over the designers and the contractors. To put it bluntly, the owner holds the purse-strings, and, especially in low bid projects, money reigns supreme in the “influence department.” This influence can take a number of forms:

Personal Presence and Vocal Support for the Commissioning Process

The first and foremost support comes in personal presence and vocal support throughout the commissioning process. The Owner needs to introduce the commissioning consultant to the rest of the project team with a strong vote of confidence and no sense of waffling on the topic of commissioning. The Owner must not walk away after doing so and expect everything to run itself but needs to be available to put in a good and strong word about commissioning on a regular basis in order to keep the designers and contractors engaged.

Schedule of Values Commissioning Task Line Items

We strongly recommend that the Owner require commissioning tasks to be broken out into at least one separate line item in the contractors’ Schedule of Values. The contractors’ monthly Applications for Payment use this Schedule as the basis for documenting work complete versus work remaining in order to justify the monthly progress payments.

The Commissioning line item should be understood to include, at a minimum, scheduling of commissioning tasks into the master construction schedule; timely O&M manual submittals; timely training delivery; timely test and balance completion; execution of various checklists and performance tests; correction of deficiencies found; and timely delivery of the as-built documentation.

Award Fees

A positive approach to encouraging contractors is the concept of assigning an award fee, over and above the contract amount, for active and meaningful participation in the commissioning process. This is the approach used at the Pentagon Renovation Program.

An award fee is a carrot instead of a stick and, as such, is a positive way in which to grab the contractors’ attention. Monthly review of the contractors’ adherence to the commissioning plan and their attitude with respect to participation in the process is translated into a certain percentage of the award fee being granted or withheld. This very quickly becomes a great vehicle through which the Owner can communicate his/her seriousness about commissioning.

In summary, the success of commissioning is directly proportional to the Owner’s commitment to the process, and every Owner considering commissioning needs to understand that they are an integral part of the satisfactory completion of the project.

 

COMMISSIONING: GETTING IT RIGHT

Engineered Systems, September, 2001

Rebecca Ellis, PE, LEED AP, CCP, CxA
President
Questions & Solutions Engineering
1079 Falls Curve
Chaska, MN  55318
rteesmag@QSEng.com