Director of MasterSpec Specifications
"It is a growing field," says Rick Casault of Casault Engineering, a firm that specializes in building commissioning. "We've seen tremendous increase in the volume of commissioning largely as a result of the sustainability rating systems. Even through the downturn of 2008-2009, every company doing commissioning that I'm aware of was still looking for more people. It's growing so fast that we're not able to fill the demand."
This will come as no surprise to those involved in the design and construction of high performance buildings. Commissioning (usually abbreviated as "Cx") is a comprehensive quality assurance, documentation, and testing program for owners to ensure that new facilities operate as intended. Not only is HVAC commissioned, but a growing list of dynamic and static systems, including the building envelope, are included as part of whole building commissioning.
It's not perfect, but it works: commissioned buildings deliver reduced utility bills, higher occupant satisfaction, fewer construction period problems, and fewer leaks and callbacks during the warranty period. This translates to better ROI and higher prices and rents. What’s not to love?
Specifications and Cx
The most important thing to know about construction specifications and commissioning is that the construction specifications address only the Contractor (not the Commissioning Authority) and the work during the construction period. According to ASHRAE Guideline 0, "Specifications (as a part of the construction Contract Documents) should include only the Commissioning Process activities the contractors perform during the life of the construction contract, including the work required during the correction period and for warranties."
Much of the literature on commissioning is written from the perspective of the Commissioning Authority (who is the consultant leading the commissioning effort for the Owner, also known as the CxA, Commissioning Agent, or Commissioning Provider) and describes the CxA's work. However, the CxA is hired by the Owner under a separate contract. Many activities in which the CxA engages are outside the scope of the construction specifications.
Design professionals creating construction specifications for a facility to be commissioned must answer two fundamental questions:
- What additional duties and obligations can the Contractor expect during construction as a result of commissioning?
- What additional information must be placed in the project manual and where should it be located?
The following list describes additional Contractor activities during construction that may be required due to commissioning:
- Staff: The Contractor may be required to appoint or hire a commissioning coordinator to manage, schedule, and coordinate meetings; write reports; and process paperwork.
- Coordination: Additional resources will be required for coordinating submittals, meetings, tests, and demonstrations. Extra time might also be required for sequencing subtrades and other site coordination activities.
- Scheduling: Unless specifically assigned to the CxA, the Contractor is responsible for creating both a general commissioning schedule and two-week look-ahead commissioning schedules.
- Meetings: A preconstruction commissioning meeting is usually required, as well as periodic commissioning progress meetings.
- Reports: In addition to detailed commissioning and construction phase completion reports, reports such as pre-startup, weekly progress, and data trends reports may be required.
- Testing and Demonstrations: Many building material, component, and assembly tests and demonstrations are already included in the technical specification sections. Others, especially large integrated system tests and laboratory mockups, may need to be added.
- Construction Checklists: A form used by the Contractor to verify that appropriate components are on site, ready for installation, correctly installed, and functional. These checklists are more common for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems than architectural systems.
- Certificate of Construction Phase Commissioning Completion: Similar in some ways to Substantial Completion, this end-of-phase activity requires prompt correction of commissioning deficiencies.
- Systems Manual: This is an expansion of the operations and maintenance manuals usually required at the conclusion of construction.
- Warranty Period Walk-Through: Since this occurs after Substantial Completion, it is not typically included as part of the Construction Documents, but it may be added if desired for commissioned projects.
Some of these tasks, especially scheduling and reporting, may be assigned to the CxA, depending on the CxA-Owner contract. The construction specification must be carefully edited to make clear what is or is not required of the Contractor.
Location of Cx in the Project Manual
General Commissioning Requirements
MasterSpec's Section 019113 "General Commissioning Requirements" was written by ARCOM in cooperation with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) during the development of ASHRAE Guideline 0. ASHRAE uses an ANSI-compliant consensus process. Under a special license between ARCOM and ASHRAE, this section is used as "Annex L - Specifications" to that guideline.
Section 019113 addresses issues that generally apply to all commissioning regardless of what system or assembly is being commissioned and as they relate to the overall project. Here we can also define basic terms such as "commissioning"; list the Contractor's team members and their qualifications; detail the format, content, and frequency of reports; and provide other information about the Contractor's role in commissioning.
Specific technical testing requirements are not included in Section 019113.
Integrated System Commissioning Sections
The Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), in its publication, MasterFormatTM, set an organizational structure to include Cx specification section numbers within each division of specifications (Divisions 02 through 49) as well as a category of sections within Division 01 for general commissioning requirements.
The rationale for specific section numbers and titles within each technical division is to consolidate commissioning requirements for integrated systems otherwise addressed in individual technical sections scattered within a division. Such independent systems and equipment must not only be properly installed and functional within themselves, but should also be externally functional as they are integrated and perform interdependent functions.
Several sections are proposed by MasterSpec to address the commissioning of integrated systems. Section 230800 "Commissioning of HVAC" has been available for many years. MasterSpec also plans to produce additional commissioning sections numbered xx0800 in Divisions 21, 22, 23, 26, 27, and 28, some of which are currently in development.
Section 019119.43 "Exterior Enclosure Commissioning," based on ASTM E 2813 "Standard Practice for Building Enclosure Commissioning," is in the works. This number and title pairing was assigned in Division 01 because the specifications for the integrated assembly occur in many divisions, making Division 01 the appropriate venue for the Cx requirements.
Commissioning in Technical Sections
The difference between field quality control (FQC) testing and Cx testing is commonly misunderstood. Individual sections specifying systems and equipment include FQC testing that must remain whether or not Cx is employed on projects.
For example, in a piping section, the requirements for quality of materials and workmanship are specified and one of the requirements is to provide those specified materials and install them in a manner that will result in a leak-free piping system. Therefore, in the FQC article of the piping section, testing requirements are specified to test joints for leaks. These requirements must remain whether or not Cx is employed on the project. When Cx is employed, it is usually a requirement for the CxA to verify that these tests were successfully completed.
FQC testing requirements are already located in the technical sections, so it would not be appropriate to relocate these requirements to or repeat them in the Cx specifications sections.
MasterSpec anticipates that there will be no change to existing technical sections other than to add references and possibly more details to FQC articles.
Not too long ago, I attended a panel discussion on commissioning that included both Owners and CxAs. Everyone agreed that commissioning is greatly beneficial, and the earlier it starts, the better. However, the commissioning process itself is still evolving, and the reality does not always match the tidy process outlined in ASHRAE Guideline 0.
All agreed that well-executed OPRs and BoDs are as rare as functional BIM models. This is in no small part due to the difficulty of getting a CxA on board early enough: these days, by the time the Contract structure is determined, design team in place, and commissioning needs assessed, the design is often far along.
Additionally, CxAs come in many different forms. The Owner may wish to hire one architect- or consultant-based CxA, or several based on subspecialties. Many firms offering CxA services have their own forms and formats and ways of doing things that are excellent in their own right, but might vary from Guideline 0. Some CxAs may have testing capabilities or prefer to do their own tests rather than having the Contractor hire an independent testing lab; in such cases, the specifications must be carefully edited to remove requirements in the technical sections to perform these tests.
Another complexity arises with the project delivery method. The integration of commissioning into the Construction Documents for a design-build project may differ considerably from a design-bid-build project.
In all cases, the CxA should resist the temptation to pack the Project Manual with unnecessary information, schedules, and tables. Although perhaps vitally important to the project, the issue is whether to treat this type of information as part of the construction specifications, or as coordination or informational documents. Section 019113 "General Commissioning Requirements" is a good guide.
As commissioning is currently practiced, specifications will need to be highly customized to account for the many varieties of commissioning practices. It is hoped, however, that as MasterSpec helps standardize commissioning specifications, commissioning will also become increasingly common and standardized too.