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Effective commissioning depends on communication

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by Jean Sorensen

Commission authorities and agents are more effective when there is greater communication on jobsites with the building owner and end-users, delegates recently learned at the Canada Green Building Council national conference in Vancouver.


Commission authorities and agents are more effective when there is greater communication on jobsites with the building owner and end-users, delegates recently learned at the Canada Green Building Council national conference in Vancouver.

Daniel Boyton, commissioning and validation specialist with Stantec Consulting, was a presenter at the conference.

He said that the communication means that commission representatives then have a direct means of ensuring that the architecture’s design and the owner’s expectations are realized in the physical construction.

“The commission authority’s overall role is to gel everyone together with the technical systems,” he said.

“We are like test pilots and we understand interaction between the parts and how the aircraft should perform. But, the keys belong to the owners, we are clearly not the engineers and don’t redesign anything.”

He added that commissioning representatives don’t compete with the general contractor, but can help the contractor, who is concerned with ensuring the performance of the sub-trades.

He gave the example of determining the validity of measurements in a building to ensure it meets target specifications.

The commissioning representative would ensure the accuracy of monitoring equipment, determining who should do the monitoring and how it should occur.

When a building is maintained for a period of 30 years, the difference in how readings are taken can affect the result.

“We are taking about five generations of people through the system,” Boyton said.

He said it has been shown that on projects, where commissioning agents and authorities are in place, there are better cost controls and problems are spotted earlier.

Commissioning representatives can address these with the owner or end-user.

Currently, commissioning representatives may be aligned as a sub-trade and concerns voiced about such meetings become lost in discussions.

The value of commissioning authorities and representatives increases when they are brought into the dialogue at an early stage, there is direct communications with the owner and there is agreement on how test verification will be done to meet the targeted objectives.

Today, commissioning authorities are required on LEED projects, where they play a role in co-ordinating many of the specialized on-site systems.

“LEED is definitely driving the commissioning process today in Canada,” he said.

Boyton added that in order to meet LEED standards today, buildings need to be “teched out” and that technology reaches across all the sub-contracts and trades and needs to be fully understood.

The difficulty, said Boyton, in LEED-driven commission requirements is that LEED doesn’t really provide a definitive explanation of a commissioning authority or agent, or a clear definition of what they should do. It only lists best practices.

There are various associations in Canada attempting to define an agent and authority, their scope of activity and requirements. However, they vary and gray areas still exist.

With expanded use of commissioning agents and authorities, Boyton said there is a growing shortage of qualified individuals to fulfill these roles.

In many cases, the term commissioning authority and agent are used interchangeably and that shouldn’t be so, he maintains.

Most commissioning agents play a role in undertaking an aspect of the contract such as electrical or HVAC.

They are on site and serve as a balance in the system, ensuring the owner’s expectations are realized, but also how their portion of the contract impacts on other systems.

The commissioning authority takes control of the whole project ensuring that the various job components mesh to meet the standards.

“There is really a two-tier system,” he said.

Boyton, along with Rebecca Holt, sustainability specialist for Stantec Sustainable Solutions, gave a presentation at the conference on The Practicalities of Meeting and Reporting on Building Performance in a P3.

The company is consulting on the Kelowna General Hospital UBC Faculty of Medicine Clinical Building and a second Ambulatory Care Centre plus the Vernon General Hospital’s diagnostic and treatment centre.

The facilities must obtain LEED Gold certification and reach certain energy efficiency targets. It has about $4 million in penalties if certain conditions aren’t met.

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