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5 Best Practices for Critical Facility Commissioning

Ryan Wagner •

When it comes to designing, building, and implementing critical operating systems, the commissioning (Cx) process plays an instrumental role in ensuring facility owners realize the greatest possible return on their investment. But like any other task, getting the most out of the Cx process depends on what you put into it.

That said, Cx in no way needs to be an all-consuming or complicated ordeal for a facility owner. However, it is wise for the owner to put the right person in charge of the process. In doing so, and adhering to a handful of industry best practices, owners, managers, and operating staff can launch a Cx program that more than pays for itself through systems that operate as intended, and a design/build process that stays on time and on budget.

Here’s how to get the most from the Cx spend:

1. Hire the right Commissioning Authority (CxA). Owners rarely have the time to oversee all aspects of the Cx process. That’s why they hire a CxA. The right CxA can provide the guidance and advice an owner needs to make informed, strategic decisions throughout the process. The intent of the organization serving as the CxA is to deliver the facility, program, modification, or expansion while ensuring that meeting the needs of the owner is the top priority.

To avoid conflicts of interest, your CxA should be independent, especially from your general contractor and design consultant. Ideally, the CxA should be under direct contract to the owner, have a direct line of communication to the owner, and have no other project responsibilities other than Cx activities.

Owners also want to make sure the CxA has the right credentials, such as experience Cx critical spaces or mission-critical facilities. If possible, work with a CxA who is certified as a Qualified Commissioning Process Provider (QCxP) with training in Cx guidelines from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). Ideally, your CxA will also be involved with major industry associations, such as the Building Commissioning Association (BCA) and InterNational Electrical Testing Association (NETA).

2. Commit to the process. The CxA will take charge of all the day-to-day Cx responsibilities. But owners can make that job a lot easier and ensure everyone else is on board by being an engaged participant. In fact, the owner’s involvement and attitude will set the tone for all other participants. If owners make it clear that Cx is a priority and take an active role in authorizing activities, then it’s more likely the design team, general contractor, subcontractors, and equipment vendors will follow suit and be willing to collaborate to complete Cx activities per the project schedule.

3. Take a comprehensive approach to Cx. In practice, many facility owners only engage in Cx activities during the construction phase of their projects. They limit the scope of Cx to focus on acceptance testing, equipment startup, and similar services that occur once the system or assembly has been built. As a result, they miss out on much of the value that a broader approach to Cx provides. If limited to the construction phase of the Cx process, the CxA can only impact site responsibilities. Involving the CxA earlier in the project, allows for a review of the design documentation to ensure what is given to a potential general contractors or vendors is an accurate representation of the full scope of work, rather than leaving it open to interpretation. This also allows accurate proposals from competing vendors to support the procurement, installation, and operation of a new or existing facility; ultimately resulting in a reduction in change orders or schedule delays, and closer alignment to the dictated project schedule.

Many experts recommend engaging a CxA even before a design team or engineering firm. A properly vetted CxA will be an expert at helping owners articulate their requirements for the data center and will assist in creating the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR). This critical step ensures that what the owner needs and expects from their investment becomes the foundation upon which all subsequent activities are based. In other words, everything from system design, to construction, to operation schemes will map back to the OPR, helping to ensure the owner’s ultimate satisfaction and return on investment (ROI).

4. Prioritize the budget. While the entire facility and all of its systems and assemblies can likely benefit from Cx, the budget will only stretch so far. That’s why owners will want to work closely with their CxA to determine which activities will deliver the greatest ROI based on the OPR. From enabling facility availability, to promoting safety and compliance, to ensuring energy efficiency, a CxA can guide owners in specifying and scheduling the Cx services that will best meet their needs—yet another good reason to get the CxA involved early.

5. Don’t overlook the post occupancy phase. Just as early CxA engagement is a good idea, so is keeping the CxA onboard for the duration of a project. It is not until construction is completed and the project if fully operational that the CxA can truly validate that systems are operating in accordance with the OPR. At this time, the CxA can oversee any fine-tuning, deferred testing, or system optimization, as well as conduct the warranty review to make sure that critical infrastructure is primed to meet the owner’s specific project needs for years to come.

At its foundation, Cx is all about ensuring owner satisfaction. By hiring the right experts and committing to a comprehensive Cx process, owners can rest assured that their facility or system will operate exactly as intended.

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