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Commissioning Retail Facilities

One market sector that is in the very early stages of considering the applicability of commissioning to their design and construction projects is Retail. From the perspective of large retail chains – on which this column will focus – there are a few unique and compelling arguments to consider the commissioning process.

The retail community is attuned to the value of standardization and having prescriptive performance requirements for their facilities. This applies not only to the look, feel, and branding of retail stores but also, in many cases, to the energy-consuming, security, and inventory control systems. The economies of scale associated with having multiple facilities that are very similar play out both in the design and construction process as well as in the long term operating processes.

Retail chains have already figured out the importance of the Design Intent Document concept, regardless of what it is called in their design and construction process (e.g., standards, acceptance criteria, program of requirements, etc.). Many retail facilities are constructed with a design/build delivery method, and one of the major responsibilities of the store owner is to define what the performance requirements are when contracting with the design/builder.

With the standardization often found for HVAC and lighting systems in a particular chain’s stores, the short and long term benefits of commissioning can be achieved more inexpensively and unobtrusively than almost any other type of building. For example, assuming there are standard types of HVAC systems prescribed for a store (with variations for geographical/climate adaptation) and standard sequences of operations, the commissioning checklist and functional performance test development needs only be completed once for each HVAC type instead of customized for each individual store. Most buildings are “prototypes” in the sense that they and the systems in them have never been built before in exactly the same way. The retail world avoids that whenever possible.

Most retail chains have long ago worked out the major design issues associated with their “standard” store designs. As such, the concept of a commissioning design review is not applicable to individual stores, unless it is simply focused on the “site adapt” features of each store. Of course, when a major design standard changes, a commissioning review is warranted but occurs at the corporate level, not at the individual store project level. Thus, the cost of that review is spread across multiple projects over time.

As far as incorporating construction-phase commissioning into the project delivery method, many retail chains already have well defined and strong quality and process control programs that could be expanded to incorporate the key elements of systems commissioning. With private retail corporations typically teaming with a small number of contractors in various geographical locations, the learning curve for adapting commissioning into their normal business processes will be much shorter than for public institutions. Public institutions incorporating commissioning into their building programs often find themselves educating a new set of designers and contractors on each new job.

New retail store commissioning can help smooth the transition from construction to occupancy in a market where first impressions and customer comfort might make or break a business investment. Large retail chains have already incorporated many standards and oversight processes, but adding systems commissioning would further reduce the chances of Opening Day problems with very little or no first cost outlay or schedule impact. The key is to incorporate commissioning activities into the standard design and construction policies and procedures instead of calling them out as a special parallel process.

Moving from new construction commissioning to recommissioning or continuous commissioning of the operating store facilities, we find more compelling reasons for retail owners to take advantage of their large inventory of stores to improve operational efficiencies in each of them. A corporate measurement and verification (M&V) program that includes strategically placed energy meters at each facility as well as trending of key lighting and environmental control points will lend itself to manual or automatic evaluation of operations.

Normalizing for factors such as store size, operating hours, and local weather conditions, a central monitoring system can identify anomalies before they become on-going energy wasters. The standardized collection of store data allows for comparison of a single store to other individual stores or to the average of all stores. Stores trending on either end of the spectrum can be singled out for special maintenance attention. Store managers can be incentivized to operate in an energy-conservative manner with “scoring” done through the M&V program. Outsourced preventive maintenance and service provider performance evaluations may also be tied to actual store performance data. All of this has the potential to add up to significant net operating cost savings over time.

COMMISSIONING: GETTING IT RIGHT

Engineered Systems, November, 2004

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