“Every time I can help make things better it’s a reward.”
“Years ago, I didn’t know I was doing commissioning,” says Marcus Myers, CxA, CEM, LEED® AP, AIA Associate, LFA, and BCxA Southwest Chapter Board member. “I worked construction starting when I was 14 years old, later had my own business doing home renovation. Now, I’m a faculty associate teaching both Introduction and Advanced Building Commissioning at Arizona State University (ASU) Del Webb School of Construction, and Director of Commissioning and Energy Services, US West, for the global A/E firm Stantec.”
So, how did you get to now?
In 2004, I went back to school at ASU to obtain my Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and after two and a half years, I decided to switch my major and began taking classes in Architecture. I love design, but I found myself being more interested in the function over form side of architectural engineering in regard to mechanical, energy, and construction systems of the building to enhance building performance, making all the systems work together.
When I graduated, it was the beginning of the recession in 2008. I couldn’t find a job (even told people I’d work for free!), so eventually I went back to earn two Master’s degrees: one in Architecture, and the other in the Science of the Built Environment (MSBE). The MSBE focused on building energy design in architecture with a focus on Climatic Responsive Design and Sustainability. At the time, it was my mission to “never not be employable.” So, during economic downturns I would make old buildings better and during times of economic prosperity I would make new buildings run great.
Where did that mission take you?
I concentrated on high-performance smart building design, energy/carbon reduction, commissioning, and energy modeling. I loved the dynamic complexities of building energy modeling, and being able to learn from the creator and “Yoda” of eQuest, Marlin Addison, was a dream come true! Energy modeling is the foundation for providing computational assurance that systems will perform as intended, and actually achieve the energy savings they’re designed for. To me, energy modelers are the virtual CxPs, and rarely get the credit they deserve. The worst mistake you can make is not doing the quantitative analysis, including a deep dive into the envelope/enclosure systems, etc. The CxP verifies that the energy model works with specs and materiality.
That’s where it all came together for me with commissioning. I like making sure things are working optimally per the job specs and the OPR. Working closely with the design, construction, and trades to find solutions and little tweaks to make a complex system work the way it should is fulfilling. Every time I can help make things better is a reward.
One of the most important aspects of construction, second only to safety, is open communication with everyone in the field. A project is only as good and cost-effective as the respect and teamwork among the trades. As one professor told me years ago, “the difference between a $150 job and a $400 job is teamwork; when people help each other, the integrity, schedule, cost and quality of the project are optimized.”
What is the proudest moment in your commissioning career?
This is a relationship-based business. My proudest moments happen when the commissioned project is complete and I call the clients (who by now are friends) and ask “how is the building performing?”. When they respond “it’s doing great,” I’m proud. It’s like when you were a kid and you did something for your mom or dad and they liked it. I want to commission and deliver a building as though it’s my own house and I’m proud to turn it over.
What challenges do practitioners face as CxPs? What advice do you have for new entrants?
- Number one, there’s not enough education for clients, delivered in a way that they can understand what you’re talking about. Use commonly understood analogies to explain, create “visual” links between A and B in the process. For example, to explain R-Values, describe the function of sunscreen SPF numbers. To explain a controls function, have your client imagine the difference between using a lighting master switch or having to turn off 1,000 lights one by one.
- Learn how to sell commissioning services. The benefits of the third-party owner’s rep need to be emphasized. The BCxA should make a little credit card sized list of the 10 Commandments of Commissioning that CxPs hand out for owners to carry. The business of understanding how the money is made, and the salesmanship for commissioning, should be taught/learned from the outset of a Cx career.
- Diversify your knowledge, skills and capabilities. There are no job fairies, and the role of commissioning is becoming more and more complex.
- Be a passionate steward of the environment, get focused on making buildings and systems energy- and carbon-better. One of my mantras is, “optimize what’s existing; then make new better.”
- Be aware that you may sometimes be working against the mistakes of the past, or make up for the failures of the last drive-by commissioning job. That’s another place where the relationship and collaboration aspect of this profession comes in to embody excellence. So, never look for an argument, look for a solution. How we deal with the mistakes of past practitioners is to work better, provide more concise information, demonstrate the return on investment, show our value. We all know what needs to be done — the goal is to get it right, not just done!
- Being trusted and having integrity in this business is the most important characteristic one could have, both professionally and personally.
What drives/motivates you every day?
I love knowledge. When you search for and share knowledge, you can help and you get back what you give. Commissioning, in the built environment, is the glue that binds it all together; I’m not bound to the project hierarchy, just to the owner as the owner’s Representative.
How do you think the CxP role might change as a result of the current pandemic?
We need to focus on people first. Employee retention and owner’s value will depend on clean, filtered, healthy air. Adding more outside air to a building will add costs, but innovation and energy efficiency mandates from the government and industry will drive the manufacturers to improve equipment performance.
One of the most cost-effective ways to lower future building operating costs is to make sure the envelope/enclosure is designed and commissioned as well as possible. By making a building’s skin “better”, not just code minimum, one can reduce the external heat gains or losses and reduce the size of the systems that are designed. The added first cost pays itself off very quickly in relation to the 30-50 years of the otherwise higher building operating costs, with energy costs only going up each year.
I think over the next couple years, the industry could see a short transition from building new and quick to more renovation or repurposing of the existing building stock. The way we look at the HVAC systems and the airflow in general could also inform ways to help with cross contamination of the “droplets” of moisture we have heard so much about. Air flow, from the top going down, with medium to high velocity that maximizes the air distribution/spread over the space might give way to other air stratification flow types of systems, such as Underfloor Air Distribution (UFAD), from below.
What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
I played golf in high school, college, and as a professional for 3 years. I tried to make it on the PGA tour, but never did. I played all over the country, mainly up and down the eastern seaboard. At one time, long ago, I was ranked in the top 2,000 in the world. That might sound good, but those guys out there are so talented and fearless that it is just crazy how good they really are. Unless you are one of the top 200 on each continent, it is a hard life traveling and making money. Living out of your car week to week is tough, but it was truly one of the best times of my life, where I learned patience and how to overcome any kind of pressure life throws at you. I still play a little in charity events and with the guys every now and then. I have learned to try and have fun more now because I can still hit it hard—just not sure where it’s going most of the time.
Honestly, though, I really don’t have too much time to play or practice golf. I work, teach, and volunteer a lot and I love every minute of that at this time in my life. I helped to create the commissioning class curriculum at ASU in Tempe, and they’re gaining momentum. It’s one of the only programs in the country focused on commissioning, and it’s based on QA/QC, safety, teamwork, and on ASHRAE and BCxA best practices. We are working on creating a certificate program in the upcoming years which will incorporate 6 classes into the program, with the long-term goals of maybe having a commissioning and energy focused major inside the ASU Del E. Webb School of Construction.
By the way, Marcus doesn’t mind sharing that he’s an eligible bachelor …