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RFP/Q Solicitation and Whole Building Commissioning


By John Runkle, PE – Vice President, Intertek


Thanks to the hard work of many groups and individuals (e.g. BCxA, LEED), Commissioning has grown from a military nautical quality acceptance term to a practice that allows our buildings to function better. Despite this decades long growth in the practice of Cx, significant mystery remains on how to procure commissioning services. Traditional methods for procuring Cx services typically center around listing systems to be commissioned, such as Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing. Over time these systems have grown into subsystems (e.g. fire/life safety, ICT, and enclosure) with no signs of slowing down, such that the commissioning of structural systems is now occasionally being sought.

In addition to the systems to be commissioned, traditional RFPs for Cx services reference a standard or process that they like to follow (e.g. ASHRAE 202, NIBS Guideline 0 or LEED). These standards are very useful in identifying key items such as steps within the Cx process and sampling allowances, but they are not intended to provide specific guidance on how Cx services should be procured. Hence, Owners have limited tools available to them that provide support in drafting ideal language to best describe the Cx effort that suit the specific needs of their project.

The lack of guidance for Owners in how to ask for Cx services had created this culture of recycling the same systems to be commissioned list year after year. Though the list of systems has grown and the referenced standards have been enhanced and updated, a fundamental problem remains in that Owners are not able to solicit a project specific Cx engagement that is tailored to their needs with the current RFP approach.

Just like material performance is not always indicative of system performance, system performance may also be misleading compared to whole building performance. Focusing solely on system commissioning is missing the point of commissioning as Owner’s end users and stakeholders want whole building performance. Changing our mindset to focus on what we want to achieve, rather than what we have done in the past, can greatly help in this quest of achieving whole building performance. The Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR) are intended to identify the core criteria and performance that the entire Cx process is to be based on.

Looking at the systems behind each OPR item will now provide a platform for best determining a project specific RFP for Cx services. For example, if energy performance is sought, then numerous systems (e.g. mechanical, electrical, plumbing, controls, lighting, and enclosure) all need to be included in the Cx effort. Additionally, if optimal indoor air quality is desired, then systems such as mechanical, plumbing, enclosure, and interior finishes become important. This same concept can be applied to all types of performance goals and the sum of the systems required to meet those goals should form the basis of the Cx scope of work.

Whole building performance is entirely intertwined with the performance of all of the building systems. The performance of certain systems may not be instrumental to achieving the goals outlined in the OPR, however, the primary systems (e.g. mechanical, electrical, plumbing, control, and enclosure) are almost always required. When soliciting Cx services that are specific to the project, try thinking big first, then work smaller (e.g. from whole building to system to material). Also, resist the urge from simply cutting and pasting from the last Cx RFP and try to make each solicitation as project specific as possible. Remember that each system generally has an entire field of practice with different professionals, so often real Cx is a team activity with experts in each system and subsystem. For best results, list not only the systems to be commissioned but the results to be achieved in the RFP.

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