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Deciding What Tasks to Include in Commissioning

As covered in Getting it Right last month, each facility owner needs to decide what the scope of commissioning will be for each project, and the two basic questions required to define the scope are:

(1) Which Systems will be commissioned?


(2) What commissioning Tasks will be applied to those systems?

I addressed the question of which Systems last month, and this month will cover the Tasks decision.

The following are some of the factors to consider with respect to the commissioning Tasks.

1. Is the Task being performed by someone else under the client’s normal project delivery process?

If someone else is already doing the Task to the client’s satisfaction, then there is usually no need to put this into the Commissioning Provider’s scope. However, it may be something the owner chooses to include under the umbrella definition of commissioning without changing the roles and responsibilities and methods by which the Task is currently completed.

2. Historical “trouble” areas

If the owner’s normal project delivery process has historically resulted in repeated problems in certain areas, then specific Tasks may be deemed appropriate to help avoid similar problems in the future. For example, if a client has historically been plagued by inaccurate or incomplete Field Record Drawings (as manifested in poor As Built Drawings at project closeout), then the owner may see value in paying the Commissioning Provider to conduct periodic field verifications of those drawings throughout construction. The value for this service is often weighed against the on-going operations costs associated with tracking down and documenting equipment locations that are not accurately depicted on the “As Built Drawings.” These operational costs may be as simple as staff time doing the “tracking down” or as dramatic as water damage associated with a pipe leak not being shut off in a timely manner because the shut off valve could not be found.

3. What is the risk to the owner of not performing certain tasks? Each facility owner has different thresholds for pain when it comes to facility systems “imperfections” at project completion. These thresholds are also project-specific.

For example, an owner may choose not to perform a field spot check of the test & balance report for a dormitory project where the occupants are “captive” in the sense that they are not in a positive to simply leave if they aren’t comfortable. However, the same client may certainly choose to perform such a spot check in an Executive Education Center where initial air and water balancing is critical to occupant comfort, and occupant comfort (or lack thereof) has significant revenue impacts.

4. “Holes” in existing processes

What tasks are not currently required to be performed by anyone in the normal project delivery process? Every owner’s existing process has a variety of strengths and weaknesses, often a result of personnel skill sets and areas of interest. Very few, if any, facility owners do all things extremely well. Therefore, the commissioning process and the possible introduction of a Commissioning Provider to help with project delivery can be viewed as an opportunity to incorporate valuable activities that haven’t been done by anyone previously.

One example of this that came up recently was the question of Warranty Reviews. The client understood the benefit of confirming that all equipment and system warranties were delivered as required by project specifications, met the terms of the specifications, and clearly defined the responsibilities of the owner in maintaining the provisions of the warranties. However, no one had ever done this on a project before. They jumped at the chance to throw it into the “box” they were defining as “Commissioning.”

5. What has been specified but not enforced

A slight twist on the previous factor is the tasks that are clearly defined in the project specifications to be delivered by the contractors but never actually performed. How can this be? It is most often attributable to owner’s project managers not having time to know, understand, and/or enforce everything in a project contract. Regardless of the reason, it is a ubiquitous fact that contractors are being paid in full for projects that do not fully meet specified requirements.

Although not all un-enforced contractor responsibilities can logically be thrown into the commissioning “box,” commissioning offers the owner another avenue by which specific contract requirements can be overseen, documented, and measured. I am not suggesting that the Commissioning Provider be responsible for typical contractor activities, just that the Commissioning Provider (or another assigned Commissioning Team member) act as the owner’s eyes and ears with respect to confirming compliance by the contractors.

In summary, the decision regarding the breadth of commissioning activities is primarily a function of what works and doesn’t work in an owner’s current project delivery system. However, there may be special circumstances or priorities which the owner needs to consider when defining the Commissioning Plan for each individual project.


Engineered Systems, January, 2005

Rebecca Ellis, PE, LEED AP, CCP, CxA
Questions & Solutions Engineering
1079 Falls Curve
Chaska, MN  55318