As building systems become more reliant on technology, it is making building commissioning more important than ever. The jump from pneumatic controls to direct digital controls (DDC) in the 1990s was only the beginning. As technology improved, every system soon developed its own set of capabilities and controls. What many people don’t realize, and often overlook, is that these systems have to be taught to work together. Issues surrounding programming and systems integration are often the most frustrating part of the construction process and often lead to schedule delays and change orders. Imagine spending millions of dollars on a building that will support your mission, but then when you move in — nothing works. That’s why at Henderson Building Solutions we say building commissioning is one of the best risk management strategies in construction.
Building commissioning is the process that tests equipment, verifies operation, and ensures systems integration — basically, it makes sure everything works. We believe every building, no matter its stage of life, needs commissioning. For some, the idea of building commissioning seems like an extra step that may be beneficial but not a necessity. However, when we consider that the research tells us 80 percent of a building’s cost is in ongoing operations and maintenance, it stands to reason that the efforts put in place to safeguard the integration and efficiency of all building’s systems are critical. We believe there are three main reasons why you need commissioning on your project.
Buildings are more complex than ever.
Whether you’re working in an office, going to the grocery store, or sitting in a waiting room, it’s easy to not notice the lighting, temperature, and sounds within the space — unless, of course, they’re not functioning properly. To maintain an environment where these systems are simply a part of the backdrop, they must work together. The challenge is that they have to be programmed to exist in tandem, but often don’t speak the same language. During construction, there are members of the project team who create the protocols to operate these systems. The best-case scenario is that everything from their design makes it to construction and it all works as it should. However, tight schedules, even tighter budgets, contradicting priorities, and unclear expectations generally take things in a different direction.
The current level of sophistication in building systems requires intentional action toward ensuring proper operation at project closeout. And honestly, periodically repeating this action throughout the building’s life is essential. The general scope items between the engineer and contractor provide minimal effort toward proper operation but are often not enough. In contrast, a commissioning agent’s entire scope is geared toward filling the gaps to deliver optimal building performance.
Construction schedules are shorter than ever.
Many project developers are struggling to keep up with technology. Working through conceptual design can take time and once they have plans set and are ready to build, technology has advanced, and they are already out of date. In an attempt to mitigate this issue, many owners and contractors are trying to find ways to cut the project schedule. However, the faster a project moves through design and construction, the more likely it is to incur problems. This means, again, commissioning is an almost vital step for today’s projects. Just as designs should be peer-reviewed, construction should also be double-checked simply to manage risk. A well-commissioned project benefits all members of the project team.
This industry progression is normal, considering the external forces driving it, but we can’t simply do work faster and expect quality to remain the same. If we want to build smart buildings faster, then building commissioning is necessary to maintain quality in the built environment.
The technical labor force is smaller than ever.
The construction industry took a huge hit during the Great Recession. Not only did this impact building capital across the country, but many universities indicated a decline in construction-related degrees. Couple that with retiring Baby Boomers, both the construction industry and facility management fields are experiencing a labor shortage. Additionally, many Baby Boomers still in the industry are struggling to keep up with the new technologies and systems being installed in their facilities. When issues are discovered in early occupancy, it’s often up to the facility manager — if the building has one — to fix these issues. Unfortunately, these are issues that managers are often not equipped to fix.
This gap in the labor force not only indicates an area of opportunity, but it’s another reason why having a strong, well-qualified, and empowered commissioning professional on-board is more important than ever. A commissioning agent’s ability to solve these problems before they are realized helps ensure a smooth transition from construction to occupancy. To help sustain efficient operation they provide training to facility staff to safeguard efficient operation moving forward.
What started as computerized controls is becoming autonomous building operations. Everyday technology is advancing us closer to truly smart buildings, facilities that run themselves. As this shift takes place, the construction industry and building process have been forced to evolve. Building commissioning can no longer be viewed as a commodity — it is, nearly, an essential step of the building process. At Henderson, we’ve not only seen this coming, but we’re also redefining what it means to be a commissioning agent and changing the industry. If you have questions about commissioning on your project, contact us for more information.