As part of our webinar series Steve Alschuler, principal at Bath Commissioning, gave a fantastic presentation on best practices for managing a profitable and successful commissioning business. If you didn’t catch it, watch it on-demand on our resources page.
A good presentation generates a lot of questions and unfortunately we did not have time to answer all of the questions during the webinar. Steve graciously agreed to answer them after the fact and they are presented here.
Rules of Thumb
Q: How many folks are typically on a Cx team for a project?
Steve: One main project manager/technician does 90% of the work, if there are design reviews our senior Mechanical and Electrical Engineers do the reviews which is a very small part of the project, and then 5% of the project for me as the principal to supervise, review contracts, billings, collections, etc.
Q: Do you have any rules of thumb for commissioning fee estimating for owners? Per square foot? Percentage of construction cost?
Steve: Yes, I tell people for projects from 20,000 sq. ft. to 100,000 sq. ft. Cx should cost between $1/sq. ft. (low boundary) and 1% construction cost (high boundary).
Q: What industries are you seeing the highest need for Cx? Data Centers? Healthcare?
Steve: Higher Ed and Healthcare consistently seem to be our biggest and best proejcts.
Functional Performance Testing
Q: How much emphasis do you put on gaining remote access to a projects BAS? If this is something that your firm does regularly, how beneficial is it?
Steve: Not much, we always perform functional testing “on site” with the controls contractor present at the end of construction. There is risk in manipulating the control system by yourself without the BAS contractor present, if something goes wrong you would be responsible.
Q: When it comes to Functional Performance Testing in a retro-commissioning project, do you request the BAS contractor to execute the tests while you observe or do you commandeer the BAS and peform the testing yourselves?
Steve: For us it depends more on which staff we are using and how comfortable they are manipulating the controls. Generally speaking, it is a hybrid where the BAS gives us access and “shows us how to manipulate things” and then we do 80% of the work without them, and maybe 20% of the work with them.
Q: Healthcare requires confidence testing and compliance documentation that every device has been tested. How does commissioning interface with this requirement?
Steve: We test 100% of the systems we commission (generally) which is all documented in our Functional Tests which is provided to our client as an appendix to our final report at the end of the project.
Q: How often do you perform FPT before vs. after building handover? Only re-testing?
Steve: I would guess half the time before and half the time after they take occupancy. I don’t think we ever fully wrap up all testing prior to occupancy, although that would be ideal.
Q: In respect to getting paid for retesting (due to false promises, poor contractor coordination, pencil-whipped checklists, equipment failures, etc.) have you ever worked it into the Cx specs so it is the contractors liability and not the Owner’s? This goes back to your federal example.
Steve: Yes, our specs do say “the responsible contractor will be backcharged for additional testing…”
Q: Are functional tests in CxAlloy generic? Are the functional test extracted from the controls submittal?
Steve: Our functional tests are almost never generic, we write them project-specific based on the “approved” controls submittal.
[Editor’s Note: CxAlloy TQ provides ~15 test templates for common equipment such as AHUs, chillers, boilers, etc. but most customers quickly outgrow those and create or import their own tests.]
Responsibilities and Roles
Q: As subcontractors, do we have leverage if the Engineer approves a controls submittal, but the approved submittal deviates from the sequence of operation in the spec?
Steve: My opinion is that the last item approved takes precedence, so if the engineer approves a controls contractor’s submittal, that occurs after the plans and specs are issued for construction and the submittal supersedes the information in the project plans and specs, and that is how I believe it should be.
Q: You said it’s unnecessary for the commissioning professional to be present at startup. My experience in NYC is that attending them can be beneficial for different reasons: 1. Expose young engineers to what is done in the field and how it is supposed to be done. 2. Make sure that installers are not cutting corners. Some teams might falsify the results of the pressure testing or evacuation testing for VRF systems – if a CxA is present during the procedure, I think it can add to the quality assurance process that Cx is.
Steve: I agree, it can be beneficial, and we often have staff attend, but it is not a “requirement” of the CxA to be there.
Q: Many times the startup day is the only time that a startup technician will be on site. After that it becomes very challenging to get them back on site. Sometimes the CxA is able to run some functional tests but there are other tests that the manufacturer’s rep is best prepared for it and the tests are crucial to confirm the proper operation of a system. How do you handle that if you aren’t present for startup?
Steve: Yep, that’s why it is important to get good commissioning specs included in the project REQUIRING the Start-Up technician to be available whenever you need him. If he is only on site one day, you are going to waste a lot of time sitting around while he fixes things. He needs to spend a day getting it working, and the COME BACK to demonstrate that it is working.
Q: If the Engineer does not address the Cx concern should that item be marked as a closed item?
Steve: No, make the engineer address it by telling the owner not to pay him or her until it is at least acknowledged. The engineer does not have to take the Cx Provider recommendations, but we require that they at least “acknowledge” the comments we provide.
Q: The question of contractors never seeing any design issues came up. In my experience another reason is the designers never want the dirty laundry shown.
Steve: CxAlloy separated the design “dirty laundry” from the construction “dirty laundry” so the contractors do not know the dialog that has taken place among the owner/Cx Provider/Design Team.
[Editor’s Note: CxAlloy TQ projects have two separate issue logs, Design and Construction. Viewing permissions can be set on each independently and often contractors are not given view access to the design issues log.]
Q: What are your biggest heartaches dealing with the GC/EC/MC?
• Number 1, Getting Checklists Completed.
• Number 2, Getting Checklists Completed.
• Number 3, Getting Checklists Completed
Leveraging CxAlloy TQ
Q: Do you use static verification forms to verify the peformance data of each piece of equipment (make, model, serial#, capacity, etc.)?
Steve: This information is gathered by the contractor as part of our construction checklist.
[Editor’s Note: CxAlloy TQ provides a lot of functionality targeted at exactly this, including the ability to scan equipment labels for serial number, model number, etc.]
Q: Do you have checklists that you follow for O&M reviews, TAB reviews, etc. in CxAlloy?
Steve: No we do not, probably should though – good idea.
Q: Does your Cx Final Report typically contain a Systems Manual?
Steve: They used to be separate documents for the longest time, but recently we converged them into a single document. We always do a final report, we don’t always do a Systems Manual, depends if it was listed in the original scope of work for Cx.
Q: We use this software for commissioning, as well as for annual inspections. Is this common practice?
Steve: Yes, we do too.
Q: Please address your experience of CxAlloy for owners use. Is CxAlloy used for retro-commissioning?
Steve: CxAlloy has a monthly cost and I think that might not be ideal for most owners unless they are large and well-funded. We use CxAlloy for both commissioning and retro-commissioning projects but it is designed and optimized for new construction commissioning more than retro.
Q: The project you showed had 4,711 questions for the contractors on the pre-functional checklist! How big was the project?
Steve: It was an elementary school, approximately 60,000 square feet.
[Editor’s Note: The 4,711 questions was the total number of questions across all checklists.]
Q: How can we get help with those CxAlloy customizations?
Steve: I can provide independent consulting services to help set you up with CxAlloy in a way that mimics our process.
Steve Alschuler PE CCP
CO: 8506 Rogers Loop Arvada, CO 80007
NM: 5345 Wyoming Blvd NE Suite 201 Albuquerque, NM 87109
TX: 4110 Rio Bravo Suite 102 El Paso, Texas 79902
(303) 955-5616 or (505) 362-9311 or (915) 313-7200