Our President, Rebecca Ellis, has been writing a monthly column in Engineered Systems Magazine since 1998. Read July’s column below:

After working with the building owner to develop the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR) document for a project, one of the first major activities for the commissioning professional is conducting third-party reviews of the design team’s work. Commissioning design reviews are focused on, but not necessarily limited to, the following:

  • Compliance with the OPR
  • Clarity of the design
  • Accessibility and maintainability
  • O&M training and documentation requirements
  • Ability to test and validate system operation

Commissioning professionals document their comments in a format intended to be as easy as practical for the design team to manage. Historically, the most common format has been a table with a comment or question on each row and a column for the design team’s responses. The use of on-line databases for documenting, responding to, and tracking comments is becoming more common. Web-based collaborative design document development and review platforms are also popular, especially for large projects. In the latter everyone on the project team, including the commissioning professional, inserts their comments directly into the drawings and specifications.

Regardless of the format in which commissioning design review comments are documented, the commissioning process involves the design team responding to each of them. This is not a trivial task and requires a meaningful time commitment, usually when the design team is under deadline pressure to progress forward with their design.

We see a wide range of engagement by design teams across our commissioning projects. Sometimes the design team is effectively non-responsive, regardless of how many prompts and reminders they are given. In those cases, we have documentation of all of the commissioning review comments but no answers to questions or commitments to modify (or not) the design in future packages.

As we review subsequent design submissions, we can backcheck each of our comments to determine if the design team clarified or changed anything with respect to our issues. If there is a change that appears to meet the OPR criteria, we can close out our previous comment by noting the design modification in the commissioning documentation. However, if there is no change and the initial concern remains, we do not know whether that is because the design team did not read our comment or the design team read it and decided that it had no merit. Such issues need to remain open until the design team’s intent is clear.

We in the commissioning community believe the time and effort spent responding to commissioning comments is not only beneficial to the project and the owner but also beneficial to the design team. Respectfully submitted comments can help the designers avoid future rework and change orders or, worse, end-of-construction design-related performance issues. Next month’s column will explore options for improving the commissioning design review process.