Commissioning as the key to energy-efficient and effective buildings

Commissioning, Commissioning Specialists Association
Commissioning as the key to a satisfied client — Neil White.

After 30 years in the industry, Neil White is still confronted with the programmed period for commissioning being squeezed at the end of a contract — with very undesirable consequences.

Regular readers of Modern Building Services will be fully aware of the changes within our industry over the past decade or so to reduce the amount of energy that is required to ‘condition’ a modern office environment.

Installed plant and equipment has been designed and updated by manufacturers to give the very best energy efficiency and close control currently available. System designers are constantly exploring new (and some not so new) and green technologies such as ground-source heat pumps, natural ventilation and alternative fuels to save energy and reduce a building’s carbon footprint.

However, unless these building-services installations are successfully commissioned and continually monitored the energy and efficiency savings may be negligible. This is where the importance of correct commissioning is so crucial. We are not talking about only the correct air and water design flow rates being achieved; the correct commissioning of the building-management system is absolutely key to a building’s performance — as is the air tightness of the building and the correct operation of access points.

Who gets the blame?

I believe that most people involved in the construction process are now well aware of the importance of correct commissioning. However, all too often, it is still the case that the programmed period for commissioning gets ‘squeezed’ in the scramble to complete a project by a contractual date. This practice often leads to poor record documentation, unhappy occupants and, ultimately, much finger pointing and a disgruntled client.

I am fully aware that I have ‘banged this drum’ before with regard to realistic programming, but unfortunately we are still experiencing the same problems. The practical and achievable commissioning period gets cut in half, generally followed by the words, ‘Get more men and work 24 hours a day seven days a week!’

Time, or not enough of it, is one of the main reasons for inadequate commissioning of building-services systems.

This may have been a solution with the simpler systems of yesteryear, but it is not so easy with the complex services installations and exacting design tolerances we often face today.

The solution?

Unfortunately, there is no magic solution to this age old conundrum. I personally have been involved in the building-services industry for all of my working life, 30 years this year, and quite frankly it never cease to amaze me that we are now installing and commissioning such complex systems in periods of time that just a few years ago would have been unthinkable. I am also reliably informed by the services installation contractors that we deal with that these complex systems are being installed for prices that would also have been unthinkable — and I do not mean that in a positive way!

Commissioning Specialists’ Association (CSA)

One of our many aims at the Commissioning Specialists’ Association is the education of all parties within the construction process of the absolute necessity of a professional commissioning process which should lead to the desired end result for us all. That desired result is a building that is as energy efficient as possible, an environment that people are happy to work within, accurate and concise record documentation, and, hopefully, a satisfied client who would be happy to appoint the exact same project team on his, or her, next project!

For further information on the Commissioning Specialists Association please take a few moments to read the copy of ‘Index’, our quarterly newsletter which is enclosed within this month’s Modern Building Services.

Neil F. White is chairman of the Commissioning Specialists’ Association and Managing Director of Crosscount Limited.

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