Owners: Your Buildings Are Not Getting Simpler

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By Andy Cooper, CCP, NEBB BSC, BECxP, CxA+BE, Cooper Commissioning

Have you ever been asked “Why should I commission my building?” When confronted with this type of question, I find it helpful to emphasize to building owners and operators how much buildings have changed in the past few decades.

Buildings constructed 20 or 30 years ago were less complex than buildings designed and built today. Systems and equipment were stand-alone in nature and required manual manipulation so contractors and owners could easily inspect and operate equipment; commissioning as we know it today did not exist. For example, in the past, either heat was being provided, or it wasn’t; compare that to today’s building automation system (BAS).  The BAS might call for heat in which a VAV box goes to heating airflow, opens the reheat valve, which changes the pressures in the air and water systems, causing AHU fans and heating pumps to speed up to maintain setpoints. Just for one call for heat.

Recently constructed buildings have HVAC systems that literally include hundreds of thousands of automated, integrated, electronic and mechanical components. Compounding the sheer number of components are the interactions among systems, sensors, and individual pieces of equipment. For example, interactions among heating and cooling, sensors and VFDs, occupancy sensors and HVAC, building static and relief dampers or exhaust fans, etc.

All of this feedback and interconnectedness has the potential to keep occupants comfortable and save large amounts of energy (and money!) … IF each piece of equipment is functioning properly AND the interconnected systems are all coordinated and controlled correctly. The only way to ensure that systems are installed, controlled, and functioning properly is via a high-quality commissioning process. There is simply too much complexity for a commercial building to run properly (or efficiently!) without systems being coordinated by someone looking at systems in a way that encompasses all systems.

Individual contractors, historically, have never needed to look too much beyond their own trade in the construction process. Today, each trade has its own technological advances to stay on top of within their own arena. Placing the burden of commissioning on individual contractors ignores the fact they have neither the time, experience, or processes in place to ensure the entire building is in working condition. A third-party commissioning agent is an absolute necessity.

Today’s owners should expect a quality CxP to bridge the communication and coordination gaps that occur in projects. The CxP acts as a go-between among Team Members on a project ensuring that all parties are coordinating with eachother and that the “I got my stuff in first” mentality isn’t present. A good CxP will look at the project not only from a piece-by-piece level to verify and test that individual equipment and components are installed and working as they should, but also check from a system-to-system interaction standpoint. It is the CxP’s job to be able to think both at low-level components and globally. At the end of a project, the building, as a whole, needs to function properly.

Buildings are not going to get simpler; the need for owners and operators to have a quality commissioning service in place will be ever more critical.

Check out Cooper Commissioning for further discussion on this and other topics.

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