We caught up with BCxA Member and Director at Large of the Southeast Chapter, Mar Goldstone, and asked her a few questions to get to know her better.
What life experience(s) caused you to enter the commissioning profession?
I was young and fresh out of active duty in the United States Army when I landed a position with a real estate company as a facilities maintenance engineer. I was tasked with maintaining the operation of a 12-story mid-rise building in Tucker, Georgia. The building was in a mid-life crisis as the mechanical systems were nearing 30 years old. I had the pleasure of greeting many dissatisfied tenants on my first day of employment! My most memorable life experience as a building operator was when a tenant complained of water in the main elevator lobby. Upon further investigation, every floor above had water in the elevator lobby. Water rained down the elevator shaft because the cooling tower on the roof had overflowed (anti-vortex plate obstruction). As icing on the cake, the lag chiller was surging and eventually dropped out of operation, and my Nextel radio (20 years ago) chattered with hot calls. I had to take the elevator out of service, and the building lost cooling on a hot summer day. I was in hot water – literally, in the cooling tower, trying to remove the obstruction. I learned a lot that day and decided to hang around for some strange reason. After a few years, the real estate company changed ownership, and I accepted a position with Johnson Controls (JCI) to install HVAC controls on a large CDC project. Welcome to the building industry!
When and why in your career did you first engage with commissioning?
I met my first commissioning provider (CxP) while working with a large general contractor as an MEP/QC superintendent. My primary duties were managing MEP subcontractors on new construction projects and preparing HVAC systems for testing by the Owner's CxP. In all honesty, most of the construction team disliked the CxP as we saw them as the owner's nagging QC police. It didn't take long for me to realize that their observations were justified as I took heat in meetings for not aggressively addressing their concerns. I readjusted my approach to commissioning for the positive, and my employer realigned their approach to internal quality control. We developed internal CSI checklists and watched the quality of material installation improve. From there, if a future project had a commissioning component, I was assigned as the GC's commissioning representative and assisted the Owner's CxP with supporting the effort.
What challenges did you face coming into your profession? How have those challenges changed over time?
After ten years as an MEP superintendent, I decided to leap into the world of building commissioning and eventually earned a certification. It was a challenge familiarizing myself with multiple projects at once, each with a different HVAC system. There were many HVAC systems in the world that I had never experienced during my career in construction. Chilled beams, VRF? Huh? Challenge accepted! Commissioning never gets boring, as there is always a new challenge to tackle. It keeps your head in the books and allows you to grow and gain experience. Plus, you always get to fix stuff! I feel this is why it is such an illustrious career path.
What drives/motivates you every day?
In the world of commissioning, you meet new people every day. Some are competitors, some are team members on a construction site, and some are disgruntled tenants I get to interview on retro-commissioning projects. All these relationships intermesh, and it feels great to make new friends and form new partnerships!
Describe the proudest moment in your career.
My proudest career moment was when I realized my career gave me enough knowledge to remove all the polybutylene water piping in my home and replumb it with Pex piping. Upon completion, I tugged up on the beltline of my trousers and sniffed like Deputy Barney Fife as I stood back, all proud of myself… until I realized I had no idea how to put the drywall ceiling cut-outs back in. That was years ago, and the drywall mud on my living room and kitchen ceilings still looks awful.
What advice do you have for newcomers considering entering the building-related field?
Some of the best experiences with HVAC systems can be gained from managing old, failing buildings. Take time to piece together their story. Start by touring the building's mechanical rooms and learning the systems that play a key role in keeping the building's occupants happy. Remember that poorly managed and operating buildings often come with complaining occupants. Happy buildings make happy building owners. Also, listen to the building's audiobook from time to time, told by its owner and tenants! Lastly, no space heaters under desks. You're welcome!
How do you think the commissioning field might change in the next 5-10 years?
We are beginning to see more owners familiar with the operation of building systems and the commissioning process. This familiarity will most likely become more prevalent in the coming years.