Commissioning as the key to better buildings
Name any problem in a building project, and commissioning will be the answer — or a large part of it, as Glenn Hawkins argues.
Pause for a moment and think about the built environment around you. It’s a man-made world that enables an incredibly diverse range of activities to take place each day.
Lives are saved in operating theatres. Goods are manufactured on automated production lines. Film, music and television is created in recording studios. Sporting contests are conducted in floodlit arenas. Vaccines are analysed in laboratories. Children are taught in school computer suites. Refrigerated food is sold in supermarkets. Deals are made in high rise offices. The type and variety of activities is endless.
It is also a world in which there is overwhelming acceptance that, as the Earth’s population grows, we face global problems of climate change, depletion of natural resources, noise, pollution and congestion. These problems threaten to undermine the security, health and quality of life of the earth’s inhabitants.
To meet the demands imposed on the 21st century built environment, buildings (and the ways in which they are designed and built) need to be less resource and carbon intensive. The construction industry should become more performance-driven, and recognise that whole-life value is ultimately a function of how well a building and its engineering services perform and how high performance can be sustained over the long-term.
Rather than produce technical solutions that do not function as required, are not resilient, are difficult to use, operate and maintain, consume too much energy and have detrimental effects on the environment, construction project teams need to put much more emphasis on the performance outcomes required by individuals, businesses, society and the environment.
However, there is often a gap between client expectations, design intent and performance outcomes. Furthermore, the often rigid separation between construction and operation means that many buildings are handed over in a state of poor operational readiness — particularly when programme delays have led to compressed commissioning and pre-handover periods. This becomes a serious problem where complicated or unfamiliar techniques and technologies have been used.
Clients sometimes accept buildings at handover with systems that work as per the specifications, but which do not work optimally or as expected. Some system deficiencies are never even noticed in the lead up to project handover because the completion procedures focus on items that are critical to obtaining regulatory approval and occupancy permits, without which the building cannot be operational. Deficiencies that were not identified before occupancy may come to the attention of facility-management personnel through user complaints or routine operation. Other deficiencies that can lurk below the radar of the defects team are issues of building control, energy use, equipment reliability, system durability, occupant comfort, worker productivity and environmental performance. Initial underperformance can easily remain undetected, leading to long term chronic problems that never get fixed.
Construction project teams are increasingly acknowledging that they need to adopt a quality focused process that addresses these shortcomings and which therefore enhances project delivery. Such a process should clearly define the required performance outcomes at the very earliest stage of a project and establish a plan of action to achieve the required outcomes. It then should focus on verifying and documenting that a building and its engineering services are designed, planned, installed, and tested, and can be used, operated and maintained to meet the client’s performance requirements.
The good news for these project teams is that there is a process that can fulfil this function. It is called the commissioning process.
The BSRIA ‘Commissioning job book (BG 11/2010)’ provides guidance about the management of the commissioning process on construction projects. The commissioning process enables building-services professionals, and the project teams with which they work, to produce better buildings and provide a better service to clients. Better buildings are those that are operationally ready at handover, function in accordance with user and operator expectations, and perform efficiently in use.
The ‘Commissioning job book’ employs the 8-stage construction project process established in the BSRIA ‘Building services job book (BG 1/2009)’. It draws on existing commissioning guidance, including ‘CIBSE Commissioning Code M: commissioning management’ and acts a perfect companion to BSRIA’s technical commissioning guides, such as the new ‘Commissioning water systems (BG 2/2010)’ document.
Each of the eight stages of the project process is populated with advice about the commissioning activities that construction project teams should be doing to help deliver the required performance outcomes for their clients. The appendix contains templates for assorted commissioning process documentation, such as a commissioning plan, a commissioning specification, a commissioning report and commissioning checklists.
For more information about commissioning guidance provided by BSRIA, please go to their website below.
Glenn Hawkins is a senior consultant with BSRIA.