The BCxA annual Leadership Summit met for two days in March to discuss hot topics for the Association and its members. This year, we focused on specific industry issues, and created a set of “time capsule predictions” for the Cx profession in each of six cases. President John Runkle led these panel discussions:
- Impact of technology
- Future for indoor air quality due to the pandemic
- Changing conversations on sustainability, the CxP's role in functional testing, and controls design by CxPs
- Controls design, functional testing, and risk awareness
- Defining whole building commissioning, and
- State of the economy in the Cx profession
On Day One, in person and virtual leadership attendees heard the panels provide thoughtful discussion. On Day Two, in-person attendees met in roundtable discussions to address these issues in-depth by providing comments, questions, and actions for the BCxA. They also made predictions for the future, which are now captured in “time capsules” below under each topic, to be considered over time.
Technology: How much is enough?
- We had an engaging discussion about technology with various opinions expressed regarding challenges with technology:
- Becoming too reliant on technology/digital readouts and not having the experience to check if the data makes sense
- Technology creates unrealistic expectations for project deliverables
- So much data is being generated, too much to make sense of and apply
- Lack of qualified experts and training
- Ambiguity over how technology can be implemented without creating cyber-security concerns.
However, there was also a lot of support for the further adoption of technology. Specifically, repetitive and involved data collection tasks were targeted as good opportunities to streamline services through technology. Hence, sensor technology, building information management (BIM), and even digital twin are gaining momentum. Virtual tours via smart glasses and drones are becoming more common and an accepted method for exploring spaces in 3D. Also, technology has been successfully used for fault detection but falls short of providing reliable insight through artificial intelligence.
At the end of the day, we see technology as a driver to get more manufacturers and technology (IT) specialists involved in the BCxA, and members see that this will be one of the biggest influences on our future. There is an opportunity for BCxA to develop a technology committee to provide insight on Internet of Things (IoT) integration going forward.
Technology Time Capsule Predictions:
- Monitoring Based Cx (MBCx) occurs on a majority of projects
- Technology will change Cx, but not as much as we think
- The big three in controls (JCI, Honeywell, Siemens) will be less dominant, and the open architecture firms will grow in prominence
- We can see the entire building through virtual reality goggles
- Contractors will use automated testing for most functional performance testing (FPT)
- Majority of CxPs are using tech to make FPT more efficient
- Virtual factory tests will be the norm
Indoor Air Quality: Lasting change or short-term trend, how will the pandemic change how we think about it?
Industry leaders across the Cx profession tackled this question, looking at how the last two years have shaped our industry today. All of us have seen the shift where building owners are focusing on how they ensure best practices are implemented for healthy spaces. We see parents asking about MERV13 filters at their school board meetings, and we are all thinking more about outside air exchanges than we ever have before.
Our leadership was divided on the question of how long this focus will last —some see the pandemic shifting to an endemic disease like the flu, with COVID safety measures becoming more relaxed. The pressure of rising energy are also indicators that energy efficiency and cost savings will return as the leading Cx drivers. Others see the impacts of the pandemic over the last couple of years as having a lasting effect, with IAQ remaining a strong focus of Cx efforts.
Despite which position attendees took, everyone sees changes to Cx with lessons learned and future outlooks for how we support healthy air quality, including:
- need to leverage technology to better monitor, control, and maintain IAQ in spaces (with close management of sensor calibration requirements)
- continuing challenge on projects where we balance energy efficiency and increased ventilation
- need for codes and standards to keep pace with the latest peer review science and best practices for ventilation
- increase in remote work/learning, and changing approaches to flexible building spaces, meaning that we will also need to be flexible and innovative in designing, constructing, operating, and commissioning the changing built environment.
The Indoor Air Quality discussion reminds us just how important building commissioning is – providing a critical approach to healthy buildings. So, take a deep breath and get back to testing that economizer operation on your project.
IAQ Time Capsule Predictions:
- WELL Certification for healthy buildings is the new LEED Certification
- IAQ is a trend and will be forgotten or shifted back to focus on energy
- Decrease in sensor technology costs will lead to increase in use for monitoring and controlling IAQ
Sustainability: Where are resiliency, electrification, and decarbonization heading?
This panel discussion brought in two representatives: the current ASHRAE President and Director of Sustainability for ASHE. Both shared that their constituents have demand and momentum for resiliency, electrification, and decarbonization issues. These topics are marathon issues for our building industry, and we are just beginning the journey.
During breakout sessions, the conversations varied from best metrics for measuring effective impact (carbon, GHG profile, cost savings, triple bottom line analysis) to the hurdles we face for achieving electrification and decarbonization goals. A consensus was formed on the extensive investment required in existing buildings and infrastructure, opening an increased commissioning knowledge-based need around EBCx. Bridging the gap between Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG, now required by the Securities Exchange Commission), a typical compliance/accounting-based discipline, and facility operations, is an area of learning opportunity for BCxA membership.
Specific comments/topics discussed:
- EBCx is the answer to decarbonization (or at least a great start for the low hanging fruit).
- Electrification is not a one-size-fits all approach. Many factors such as climate zone, building program, and grid composition impact a building's ability to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
- The decarbonization process is a central theme for building improvements. Whether that is measured in outputs of CO2 or GHG is still in debate.
- Momentum behind sustainability is both propelled by the marketplace and also dampened by conflicting priorities such as supply shortages. How entities respond to these forces is very project- and owner-specific.
- Resiliency is not just about the building and its systems. It is also about protecting the people and purposes for the buildings. As we think about sustainability and climate change, it's important to recognize that our buildings contribute to environmental resiliency (e.g., increased degree days, severe weather events, food and supply chain disruption).
- Building certifications are a good tool for bringing accountability to the project. However, certifications do not guarantee environmental performance.
Whether you personally are "all-in" or "on-the-fence" about these topics, including the role of the commissioning professional in this space helps assure that project requirements and understanding of the extent and limits of sustainability issues will best serve our projects and our teams.
Sustainability Time Capsule Predictions:
- EBCx and MBCx on your current facilities can get most buildings close to the finish line, if not beyond the line.
- There will be more Eco-districts
- CxP Role will be supporting education of owners with the requirement including penalties and incentives of decarbonization and electrification
- Decarbonization/electrification will be gone in 2 years, and we'll be doing something else.
- Resilience will take a prominent role in building systems designs to enable flexible modes of operation and mixed fuel sources
- WELL/Green Globes will surpass LEED
- Hydrocarbon fuel extraction will boom and ESG financial incentives will diminish
Cx and Controls: Design, Functional Testing, and Risk Awareness
This panel provided the most diverse coverage of topics but all related to the role of the commissioning provider in areas like risk awareness — the need to define the role of the CxP in managing project risk for the owner by identifying issues with the schedule or budget and being better about asking for change orders. Comments included "gold plating, scope-creep and going over schedule erase everyone's profits, adding risk to the CxPs.”
Last fall, an owner presented at our Annual Conference about their belief that the commissioning provider should do the controls design. This work would be a separate contract for the commissioning provider provided. Discussions at the roundtable produced these very different views:
- The CxP should not do controls design. However, the CxP should/can provide design guidelines to get better results.
- Controls design should be done by the CCP/PE. Hire two CxPs from one company, one to do Cx, and another to do controls design.
Should the CxP actually conduct functional performance testing? Currently, the BCxA New Construction Best Practices states the CxP provides the written functional performance test and witnesses the contractor performing the test. The following sums up the roundtable discussion:
- CxPs do not replace the installing contractor's own QA/QC pre-testing. A well-written functional performance test indicates that they verify their work first to the control’s contractor.
- CxPs don't understand that the controls contractor/programmer is an expert in programming, but not an expert in testing. As a result, the programmers do not know how to run a test, to ascertain whether they truly passed a step in the test, or to modify the test to fit the capabilities of installed equipment.
The Elusive OPR
Many attendees said they rarely saw an owner's project requirements (OPR) on a project, and the BCxA should find ways to encourage the owner to develop one as early in the project as possible. The OPR should steer the project, not be developed after the fact. Many felt the OPR is the best and most efficient approach to providing commissioning services. There was also discussion on when the OPR becomes the Current Facility Requirements (CFR), as the CFR is expected and used on EBCx projects.
Suggestions for the BCxA from the attendees included:
- Have an underwriter come and speak to CxPs about risk identification and risk management.
- Work with AIA on a better Cx contract.
- Market to owners on the value of Cx.
- Provide advocacy! BCxA has a better voice for indemnity and underwriting.
OPR Time Capsule Predictions:
- GCs step up MEP quality control, then the issues logs will shrink
- OPRs WILL get better because owners are smarter
- OPRs will not get any better in the next two years
Whole Building Commissioning: What exactly is it?
Unfortunately, there is no generally accepted definition, so the roundtable discussion started by considering what this means to the owners, CxPs, and other stakeholders. Before discussions began, it was important to agree that ‘whole building commissioning’ isn’t intended to imply that everything in the building is included in the commissioning program. The intention is to look beyond the traditional MEPFP systems. As important as it is today, it will be more critical in the future to identify what systems or assemblies would be included and what would not be included in the scope of the Cx process. There was also much discussion about who would provide all of these non-traditional Cx services, and whether to perform from within your current staff or hire specialists on the system.
Fire Life Safety. CxPs would need to work with AHJ on proper pre-test procedures and identify active and post-fire smoke control systems, fire alarm devices, elevator recall, etc., separate from NFPA testing.
Building Enclosure/Structural. There needs to be further discussion about whether Cx can replace or augment structural QA/QC process on a project. Building enclosure Cx needs to be at the forefront of all design as it influences everything else in the building. It is recommended that BCxA create a document to demonstrate the value of BECx.
Acoustics. Acoustics is not a system but the result of integrating systems and often the outcome of poor design. Typically, a specialized consultant is needed for Cx of acoustics. Acoustics is part of many wellness strategies. There are acoustic requirements with limited to zero testing required in typical specifications to confirm that they meet the OPR or other design intent documents. BCxA should look to define who these experts are in the industry.
Cyber Security. This discussion led to more questions and discovering the need for more training. For example:
- Who should perform cyber security Cx?
- Who can provide training on best practices for executing, designing, and Cx cyber security?
- Is there a liability or risk for the CxP by addressing (or not addressing) cyber security?
- Will IoT sensors shift our focus on cyber security?
- Will cyber security measures will make remote testing harder?
Stay tuned as we gather the experts to answer these questions.
No matter how you define Whole Building Commissioning, the BCxA needs to help drive the qualifications-based selection process on Whole Building System Cx. Owners will need to be extremely clear about what the expected scope of Cx is for their project. Whole Building Commissioning also offers the opportunity for the BCxA to partner with other groups who are experts on non-MEP systems—opening the door for more diversity in our training, best practices, and inclusion of different stakeholders.
Whole Building Cx Time Capsule:
- BCxA will start regular training webinars, conference presentations, and tech talks on cyber security.
- Every CxP in the BCxA will move closer to WBCx over the next two years.
- Owners' needs for Cx will be shaped by their risk focus which will dictate which systems are Cx.
State of the Economy: For the Cx Profession
This panel was presented by BCxA Past Presidents and led to many diverse topics during the roundtable discussions, starting with the discussion on the job market.
There is currently a shortage of CxPs available to deliver all the work. Pay demands are rising because of that shortage, especially among younger employees. Building a career path for new entrants to the Cx profession would rank on the priority list for the BCxA.
Supply chain issues affecting the construction industry are also affecting CxPs due to scope-creep, time delays, and direct expenses for travel and per diem. The group felt that CxPs, in general, are not good at asking for change orders when there are timeline extensions or expanded scopes.
The concept of industry consolidation took on a couple of different factions. First, the group questioned whether consolidating Cx Associations, or at least the advocacy efforts, could improve the Cx Practice overall. There is concern that economic escalation will lead to reduced Cx scopes, especially when it appears contractors are adding Cx services to their contracts at lower rates.
Commoditization is always a hot topic, and rarely is there ever a cause or good solution. However, many felt finding ways to educate owners on what they are buying and providing best practices RFQ/RFP would be a good start. We are seeing commoditization happening in other parts of the industry also. For example, the controls industry is being commoditized, offshore programming, graphics, copy-paste approach, etc., are putting more importance, effort and pressure on CxPs to "make buildings work."
Modular construction was another hot topic, including a desire to learn how others provide services, especially around off-site witness testing. What adjustments need to be made for modular construction?
The consensus was that the BCxA should take on the following actions items.
- partner with other industry associations to lead Cx
- discuss and train members about Cx scope, scope changes, and change orders.
- survey membership on Cx market trends related to labor shortages, skills (or lack of) building operations professionals, Cx advances, and Cx impediments impacting the whole built environment industry.
Cx Economy Time Capsule Predictions:
- Shifts in the built environment vertical markets will cause disruptions and significant changes to Cx - Higher Ed: remote learning, Commercial Office: remote/flex schedules, Space Flexibility
- Commissioning has "survived" commoditization and will continue to be resilient
- Continued focus on controls will shift controls responsibility to the CxP.
- We will be talking about the commoditization of controls