FM Issue: If They Build It, Facility Managers Will Inspect It

By BOMI Institute
From the August 2003 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Imagine for a moment, upper management states the company is going to need more space to house its growth and actually gives the green light for designing a new building or a renovated office facility. In all likelihood, the facility manager of the aforementioned company is either going to feel compelled to or recruited to take an active role in the construction process.

Therefore, he or she is going to need a plan to follow along with the construction. Not surprisingly, more facility executives are being charged with this responsibility of incorporating a commissioning process into the construction contracts and treating it as a requirement for completion status. The overall purpose of commissioning is to verify that the equipment meets the design intent, is installed according to the specifications, and performs as intended.

From The Beginning

Preparation for commissioning should begin during the design phase of a new or renovated building project. Formal commissioning requirements are an integral part of the design documents that form the basis of the contract with a general contractor.

Initial commissioning activities include the following:

  • Holding safety meetings;
  • Reviewing vendor contracts;
  • Documenting warranties;
  • Establishing systems and equipment protocol;
  • Documenting critical spare parts;
  • Developing site-specific procedures required to operate and maintain equipment and systems;
  • Developing commissioning checklists, schedules, and test procedures; and
  • Inspecting a building’s electrical, mechanical, HVAC, and structural systems.

The Process

During each phase, engineering and building operations and maintenance personnel should communicate regularly to ensure every step is going smoothly. That way, when it does come time to transfer the overall responsibilities of the building from the contractor to the facility manager the move is seamless. There are four key steps in commissioning a new building:

Technical Library. The first step in the final commissioning of a new facility should be to collect manufacturers’ manuals for all newly installed equipment and systems. These manuals should be organized into a technical library of information that will be available for the maintenance department. This library should contain standard operating procedures, safety procedures, and information needed to develop a preventive maintenance program. It should be used as a base to build history files for building equipment and systems. At a minimum, the technical library should contain the following information:

  • Copies of all construction drawings and specifications, including as-built drawings;
  • Copies of all vendor operating and maintenance instructions, as well as information on recommended training sessions;
  • All test reports and copies of all notes from observance reports, filed with the manuals for each piece of equipment;
  • Letters or documentation addressing individual occupant needs that are special and may not be included in the specifications or drawings;
  • A complete list of all contractors and subcontractors, with names of contacts at each business and phone numbers of each contact. A contact for emergency service should also be included; and
  • A complete list of all equipment and system warranty information. Included should be warranty certificates, vendor letters, and contracts, with clear definitions of when warranty periods begin and end.
  • Listing all recommended spare parts by equipment title. This file should also identify what spare parts are to be kept on site and where any additional spare parts may be obtained, including names and phone numbers of vendors.
  • A list of any required operating or maintenance procedures identified by each piece of equipment.

Inspection. Once the information has been gathered for the library and the proper operating parameters have been defined, the next step is to inspect the installation to determine whether it complies with the construction specifications and drawings.

This inspection includes checking for secure mounting to the building structure, proper mechanical and electrical connections, and physical accessibility for servicing and operation. Facility managers and the building owner should request a scheduled walk through of the facility with all interrelated organizations including contractors and subcontractors.

Testing and Documentation. After proper installation has been verified, the equipment is operated under normal conditions and checked for proper voltages, amperages, rotation, pressures, flows, and other measurable characteristics. Major equipment may require special start-up procedures and the presence of a manufacturer’s representative to ensure compliance to terms of the equipment warranty.

When a new system is turned on, it rarely operates exactly as specified, even if the controls have been fine-tuned during installation. Once the system is running, it must be tested to verify levels of operation and retested on a continuing basis while adjustments are being made. In addition, system performance must be reviewed on a continual basis until the systems are operating properly.

System testing should include specific performance measurements in order to verify that proposed operating parameters have been achieved. This may require a number of visits, tests, meetings, and performance measurement analysis.

Verifying the operating parameters of installed equipment must take place over time. It is rare for any mechanical system to perform at maximum effectiveness during the first year of cycles. There are always balancing problems to be worked out, sensors and thermostats to fine-tune, and so on. Energy management systems present some distinct challenges. They can be activated only when all other systems are in place and operating. Some energy management systems may not work at full efficiency until an entire cycle of seasons has passed. It may take as long as a year to fine-tune adjustments so all related systems perform at maximum efficiency.

Any contract to install automated systems and energy control systems should include a commitment to install, test, and modify the system until it is performing at the level of efficiency proposed in the original cost payback documentation.

The results of these operating tests are compared with the construction specifications. Acceptable results are reported to the facility manager and placed in the equipment history file to be used to gauge future equipment conditions. Unacceptable results are reported again to the facility manager but also to the contractor for correction and retesting.

While doing the check, keep in mind some helpful tips. UPS and emergency power systems should be tested under the actual load they will receive when activated. This is important to ensure that they perform effectively when they are used for the first time. Verification is also important to ensure that everything that should be running by emergency power is connected to the system.

It is also important to test the actual temperatures as they occur at various points in the building. For example, in some exposures, the heat gain from incoming sunlight may be greater than anticipated. The cooling system may need to be adjusted in order to compensate for the additional gain load. Punch List. This list itemizes the odds and ends that need to be corrected to close out the job, such as missing parts, vinyl-base paint smudges, nicks, and scratches. After these items have been identified, the contractor and the facility manager agree to a schedule for completing them.

The punch list inspection is usually made after the contractor files a request with the facility manager for a certificate of substantial completion.

Training Operations Personnel

After the systems are started up, a training period for facility maintenance personnel should be held. Because each system is usually aligned to suit a specific situation, training must be system specific as well.

Before deciding on the full training program, define how many and which personnel will be required to know the whole system or portions of it. Trainee selection should be based on either anticipated operating needs or the need for individuals to learn basic skills for future growth. The project plan should include budget and time sufficient to train individuals thoroughly in the operation of the new systems.

While the commissioning process is laborious, once it’s complete, there is a brand new building or facility that should run without a hitch.

BOMI Institute is the leading provider of education programs for facilities managers, property managers, and building engineers and technicians. For information about the Institute’s courses and professional designation programs, including the Facilities Management Administrator (FMA), call (800) 235-2664 or e-mail