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Who Knew? – Commissioning Design Reviews Save Money, Time And Reputations

Who Knew? – Commissioning Design Reviews Save Money, Time and Reputations

Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 41) – All IMHO:

Commissioning starts during project design phase!

Who knew? Spending 20% of the Commissioning fee during the project design phase can realize 80% of Commissioning value in the form of quality and risk management.


After 35 years of working I now recognize some patterns. I see that 80% of the problems a project will experience are “baked in the cake” within the project tender drawings and specifications.

Therefore Quality Management during design is vital to a quality outcome and prevention of cost creep. This is because, best case scenario, construction is a game of minimum compliance.

So why are design drawings and specs often incomplete with many errors and omissions? IMHO:

  1. Unrealistic budget and time allowed for design by owners;
  2. A huge, industry wide skills, management and training deficit;
  3. Low expectations culture. Incredibly, (this is a generalization so calm down), building design teams live in a world where design errors and omissions are paid for by the client and not the firm who made the error! You know the scenario, RFI, followed by change order paid for from contingency budget. Contingency budget is for client changes and unforeseen site issues, not errors and omissions. I guess you get what you are willing got put up with.

There are many good reasons for commencing Commissioning during the design phase. For example, the USGBC requirement for Commissioning design reviews for EACr3. However, LEED project or not, Commissioning starts during project design phase!

There is little understanding of design phase Commissioning within design teams. To quote a project design team leader after I was introduced to the project as CxA “who the hell are you to review my design?” Defensive, entitled, full of sh*t, maybe. This was my answer:

  • I am the Commissioning Authority, appointed by the owner and it is in my scope of work;
  • The USGBC LEED certification process requires me to undertake two design reviews;
  • I am not doing a first principles peer review, I am doing a “Commissionability design review”;
  • The design team is and will be fully responsible for the design. 

Quality can be managed into a project pre-tender for almost zero cost. However post tender, it is a game of quality control and change orders.  Therefore I strongly advocate for a minimum of two Commissionability design reviews at;

  • Completion of Design Development
  •  90% Construction Drawings & Specifications 

 
So what is a Commissionability design review? A Commissioning design review primarily looks for three things;

  1. Any obvious errors and omissions
  2. Comments on good engineering practice, e.g. abusive use of flexible ductwork (max 3 ft please), poor control valve locations etc. 
  3. Systems and building Commissionability. The fundamental question here: “are the systems and building Commissionable and consistent with the owners requirements”

 
Here are two personal real world examples of the impact of Commissionability design reviews.

  1. A hospital project Commissionability design review found that the designer had drawn a multi leaf VCD on the inlet to each VAV box. On VAV systems this is not at all required and was done by an inexperianced designer. On review the VCD’s were removed at zero cost (cost = time to delete from CAD drawing) and circa $60k was saved from the construction budget. Cost for the Commissionability design review, $5k. 
  2. A hospital project Commissionability on site review found that the design was in CMH and the VAV boxes installed (following an approved submittal) were in CFM. The outcome was ~41% less air into the space. The consequences were poor environmental performance, embarrassment, huge retrofit costs and a lawsuit. All this could have been avoided if the Commissionability review had been done during design phase. 

Commissionability design review should be considered a quality and risk management exercise. It is a technical rather than process Commissioning activity with a very high ROI. 

Commissioning starts during project design phase!

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