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Commissioning: Who Performs Commissioning?

In this column we have spent the last nine months talking about what commissioning is and how it is performed. This month we will explore the options with regards to who provides commissioning services.

It seems as if many groups of professionals want to perform commissioning, and it’s possible that each group is appropriate for commissioning certain types of projects. This column is not intended to be a proponent of any one group over another, but an introduction of the options available to facility owners and project managers Typically, one of the following will serve as the commissioning consultant (CC) for particular projects.

  • Installation Contractor

  • Balancing Contractor

  • Design Engineer

  • Third Party Professional

  • Owner

Installation Contractor

The installation contractor is the party responsible for the final proper performance of the installed systems, and the results of verification testing are partly a measure of the contractor’s care in carrying out the contract documents. However, if the contract documents are not appropriate for achieving the owner’s design criteria, the installation contractor may not have the theoretical technical expertise to determine exactly why and what should be done about it. For similar reason, most contractors are probably not well-suited to act as the owner’s technical liaison during the design phase of a project.

In standard bid construction projects, the contractor has a conflict of interest with regards to acting as the commissioning agent. However, with a performance-based compensation approach, the onus could be on the contractor to prove that the installed systems perform to meet the owner’s requirements prior to receiving final compensation for the work.

Balancing Contractor

A certified balancing contractor should certainly be capable of performing the balancing tasks associated with commissioning, but expertise in controls is a prerequisite for CC’s which typically is not associated with balancing work. In addition, theoretical technical expertise may be limited with balancing contractors as well as installation contractors.

Balancing contractors performing commissioning can do so working directly for the owner or working for the contractor, however, the latter scenario may lead to a conflict of interest.

Design Engineer

The design engineer is probably most familiar with the systems to be commissioned, but there may be a conflict of interest if system problems turn out to be design-related instead of contractor-related. In addition, good design engineers are not necessarily good CC’s. A special expertise in commissioning is often desirable.

Third Party Professional

A third party professional is responsible only to the owner and, therefore, conflict of interest concerns disappear. A third party professional, however, may be more costly due to the learning curve time required to have the CC learn about and review the building systems. This review process, however, has proven cost-effective in many projects in which design errors, inconsistencies, and unclear specifications could have lead to a costly change-orders or improperly installed systems if not caught early enough.

A third party professional can also bring a specific expertise to a project team whose designers, although good technicians, may not have the experience or training required to work independently on special environments such as clean rooms, archives, laboratories, hospitals, etc.

Owner

If an owner’s facilities are extensive enough, an on-staff professional CC may prove be a good investment. This professional could serve as CC on all projects or could serve as CC on some projects and oversee outside CC’s on other projects. The biggest advantage to this approach is a consistent commissioning program which, if there are enough projects to warrant a full-time person, can be less costly.

In summary, the question of who should serve as commissioning consultant for any particular project or any particular facility owner needs to be carefully considered prior to embarking on a commissioning program. The factors to be taken into account include the strengths and interests of the owner’s in-house staff, the designer selections process and the owner’s relationship with the design engineers, and the owner’s comfort level and history with the installation and balancing contractors.

 

Commissioning: Getting It Right

Engineered Systems, October, 1998

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