Beneath the composed and modest exterior of the tall man in a suit lies the heart of a seasoned world traveler and modern jazz lover. How does such a person become an engineer and leader in the field of commissioning and building codes and standards? Here’s the story of Gerald (Jerry) Kettler, pioneer and champion of the commissioning process:

My mother died unexpectedly when I was 2 weeks old. I was raised by my father, who owned his own company, and stepmother, who molded me to be the “keep-working” person that I still am. I started working at 10, selling newspapers in my hometown of St. Louis.

Ever since I can remember I liked fixing things; I worked at a filling station in high school, liked to work on cars and build model airplanes.

I did pretty well in high school and applied to college programs in mechanical and aeronautical engineering. I chose the Rolla, Missouri School of Mines, to get away from home as everyone does at that age. I flunked my first calculus course (too young to see why it would be so important) but ended up with an A-/B+ average in mechanical engineering, and a degree from what is now Missouri University of Science and Technology.

During that time, I was a lab assistant in the mechanics lab testing materials. I actually specialized in communications more than engineering. I was an organizer. I participated in everything, student council, student union board, all kinds of things.

Until now, I’ve worked at 11 companies … I’ve learned that it’s hard to manage and retain an entrepreneur who wants to make and fix things. So, I started my own TAB company to provide quality HVAC testing and balancing, building and systems integration, and building performance services. The firm evolved over time to include commissioning in the early 2000s, which was new then.

Now I have 3 companies that are basically integrated: Facility Performance Associates, LLC and AIR Engineering and Testing, Inc., which, came together in 2009 under the newly-created Centre for Building Performance in response to client requests for integrated, design, construction and operational services. The Centre is an umbrella organization, which was intended to be a training firm, but it never took off due to lack of time and funding.

How did you come to choose commissioning?

I’m an opportunist and an organizer; I tend to get involved in new things. I don’t get bogged down in details, so I’m not a good “maintainer.” But when I see a service that ties into what I’m doing, I’m all in for that. I started working in USGBC at their second-ever LEED conference in Montana. The Big Sky meeting was 50 people – it was easy then to get to know people. One of the LEED representatives suggested that air quality testing and energy modeling were needed, so I decided to do that.

The big thing to me is integration. Commissioning is just part of the project activity that gets integrated. Cx and Communication are part and parcel of each other. It seemed like a good idea to protect and promote the Cx industry, because I want it to grow properly and in an organized way. To me, that’s the function of the BCxA. Not many of us are active in the development of the Cx process. That’s what I try to focus on. Working with GBCI and IIBEC and ICC and committees at ASHRAE like Standard 189 – all of these should use Cx – someone needs to be there to bring commissioning to the table, and that’s me.

The whole idea is, I’m a joiner, a member of all kinds of organizations. I try to know what’s going on, and I can also report to other organizations. The challenge is keeping everyone, from a functional standpoint, on track to work toward uniform and consistent terms and activities.

As many people know, I collect certifications: PE, CCP, CIAQM, TBE, BEAP, REM, CEM, LEED Fellow, LEED AP, WELL AP, SITES AP, Park Smart Advisor, and more. Why? That’s how I can show my commitment, but also engage with these organizations at a level of knowledge and respect.

Challenges and Rewards

Challenges? Training, for both TAB and for Cx! Competition has increased, the need has expanded, but the resources for proper Cx process training aren’t generally available. There is a need for expansion and effective use of existing resources.

In terms of rewards, I like seeing results. I like to see new things all the time, making new things happen. I like fixing and making things work – together. When I see projects being successful working together for owners and stakeholder, that’s important to me.

Why did you focus on codes and standards in your professional affiliations?

It’s part of my personal commitment to see coordinated, specific and consistent action. I want codes and standards to be integrated with training for consistency. It’s happening slowly – ICC now uses ASHRAE 90.1 for base information on energy code; the International Green Code (IGCC) uses 189.1 totally. But statements about Cx are not always well defined across the industry. I’m working toward resolutions to problems in the vague, and not well quantified, way that Cx is often described in codes.

Advice for newcomers considering entering the field

  • Get training and get practice. You can’t do what we do from a book. Get your hands dirty. More importantly, find out what you like to do, and do it.
  • Get licensed or certified. Each one teaches me something. If I’m certified, I know enough about that process to go back to the program and find things when I need to. Owners, developers and finance folks for big projects are now demanding green certification.
  • Know how to write and speak publicly. No matter how good your idea is, unless you express it in an acceptable manner no one will pay any attention to you.
  • If you have a chance to go into the military, it’s good skill and includes discipline, teamwork, leadership, all kinds of training. Some of my capabilities I have to blame on the Air Force.

Describe the proudest moment in your career.

There’s more than one, but I’d say receiving the Benner Award, and being recognized at that level by the people you work with. Also, becoming the first LEED Fellow in North Texas, getting my PE license and engineering degree. From a performance standpoint, I’m proud that I can help.

What else is on your engineering “bucket list” that you haven’t accomplished yet?

Whatever comes up next! Like I said, I’m an entrepreneur and always open to new possibilities.

What’s one thing people don’t know about you?

Here are two things:

  1. When I got the draft notice for my physical, I signed up for the Air Force Reserve. After Officer Training School and becoming a Second Lieutenant, I spent 31 years in the Air Force Reserves. I liked it so much, the guys were skilled, enjoyable, organized, and I had a full spectrum of friends. Over the next 30 years, they sent me abroad 5 times – Germany, Italy, Spain, Panama – and I hung around, eventually became a Squadron Commander and a full Colonel. I was so impressed with the quality and capability of those guys at our 915 Civil Engineering, Ft. Worth Tx.
  2. During my college years, I was a radio broadcaster. The dormitories had a carrier-current station that tagged on to the electrical system in the dorms. I became a disc jockey. All jazz, but especially modern rather than Dixieland, is my favorite.

There was also a country and western station in town. When I was a sophomore, two other guys and I who weren’t fond of C&W proposed to Dean Wilson that we start a student campus radio station. We were surprised that he gave us funding and assigned an advisor. We started the first local FM radio station in 1962 (tuned to 88.5) … I interviewed people on tape, announced the basketball games play-by-play, and had a lot of fun.

People asked me when I graduated, “Why not radio?” Well, because I liked engineering a lot better.