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Commissioning of Smoke Management Systems: Preparations Prior to Final Testing

One of the main purposes and one of the strengths of commissioning is the verification of proper systems performance. The commissioning process approaches the end-product as a whole unit, not individual components. Smoke management systems contain many individual components installed by various subcontractors. Thus, a properly implemented commissioning process is well-suited for testing smoke management systems.

This column briefly describes preparation activities that occur prior to the final testing of smoke management systems. Dependent on the specific project, the commissioning consultant will probably have responsibilities with respect to:

  • Review of the system design

  • Clarification of the design (if necessary)

  • Outlining general startup processes

  • Assisting with a draft system test procedure.

This column does not discuss how smoke management systems are designed nor how the system design is approved by code officials. Obviously, design approval should be obtained prior to the initiation of smoke management system installation.

The smoke management system design is usually specified in pieces within various sections of the design documents. There is usually not a specification section titled “Smoke Management System”. A mechanical specification section may contain requirements for the smoke dampers and the fire/smoke dampers. Another mechanical specification section may contain requirements for life safety fans. An architectural section may contain requirements for smoke barrier doors. An electrical specification section may contain requirements for the fire alarm system that controls the dampers, fans and doors. Another specification section (HVAC controls, for example) may contain the requirements for wiring the components to the fire alarm system. Another specification section or drawing sheet may contain the sequences of operation for the dampers, life safety fans and doors. The HVAC controls specification section will probably have requirements for fire alarm system override control.

Understanding the system design and the expected function of the system can be challenging. Understanding which subcontractor has what responsibility can also be difficult. If necessary, the design should be clarified.

If the commissioning program requires a design intent document, then the designers will provide a narrative description of the system’s function and expected performance (perhaps including design parameters of flow rates and pressure differentials). Code officials may also require a similar document.

A master listing of all components of the smoke management system should be developed. The listing should include identification (tag numbers) and location of the components. This list can be used during construction, testing and for subsequent operations and maintenance purposes.

An event matrix should be developed by the designers. The event matrix details the response of the smoke management system to alarm inputs. One side of the matrix lists all the possible alarms. The other side of the matrix lists all the active components (fans, dampers, doors) of the smoke management system. The individual matrix elements will contain the desired actions (on, off, open, closed) of the active components as a result of each individual alarm condition. This matrix forms the backbone of the system test procedure.

A complete commissioning program includes startup activities. Startup activities include a check of individual components, not a test of the system. The startup process should be defined to include installation verification and energization of active components. Startup may also include measurement of fan air flows. Startup checklists can be developed for each component within the master component listing of the smoke management system. The startup checklists are typically performed by the contractors with oversight by the commissioning consultant. The startup activities should help to prevent component failures during the final system test.

A draft, system test procedure needs to be developed as construction proceeds (if not prepared during design). The draft test should outline what will be tested, how the test will proceed and the acceptance criteria for each step of the test. The system test will verify:

  • Alarm initiation

  • Control signals

  • Device actuation

  • Response times

  • Pressure differentials

  • Air flows (if not measured previously).

The draft system test procedure may be written by the commissioning consultant, the designers, or both.

After completion of the final draft system test procedure all parties involved need to review and discuss the draft. The parties involved will include: designers, contractors, building managers, code officials and the commissioning consultant. The contractors involved may include: electrical, mechanical, fire alarm, HVAC controls and TAB (testing, adjusting and balancing). The discussion of the draft can reveal any misunderstanding or problems with the system design and can help streamline the process by identifying more efficient test methods. It is normal during commissioning to identify problems during the development of test procedures. The person who writes the test procedure is forced to completely understand the entire consolidated system.

Next month’s column will discuss the development of the smoke management system test procedure and the performance of the test.


Commissioning: Getting It Right

Engineered Systems, June, 1999

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