H. Jay Enck, LEED AP, principal and founder of Commissioning & Green Building Solutions, has executed the commissioning process for more than $1 billion worth of construction projects. But, his approach for commissioning at schools, offices and several other building types goes beyond standard commissioning procedures by examining the design process and re-evaluating buildings years after they are completed.
In addition, Enck is a founding board member of the Atlanta regional chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and serves on the council’s sustainable site, and energy and atmosphere technical advisory groups. He spoke with Green Building News from his office in Atlanta .
Q: What is holistic commissioning?
A: Holistic commissioning integrates sustainability while making sure that the quality-oriented process is being delivered with what the owner’s expectations are for the facility. It includes the building envelope — building-envelope failure is one of the main reasons for lawsuits against architects — and mechanical and electrical systems, which affect greenhouse gases and indoor environmental quality. Depending on the wishes of the owner, commissioning sometimes includes security and other aspects.
It is a process that we use that starts in predesign with the development of the owner’s criteria and then it goes on through the design phase with quality control.
Q: Is holistic commissioning much different than the standard commissioning process?
A: It starts in the predesign phase, but it also follows through with design/construction and post-occupancy. Facilities are recommissioned about every three years as the efficiency of the building declines. It includes verification, helping with the performance, and educating operators in how to maintain the performance of the building. When there is a change in staff, we are here to bring new people up to speed. It’s a continuous holistic process that goes through the entire life of the building.
Q: Whereas, standard commissioning just occurs toward the end of construction?
A: Well, there are a lot of different definitions for commissioning in the marketplace. The majority of commissioning is what LEED calls fundamental commissioning and what the industry calls construction-phase commissioning, which is at the end of the project when you test the equipment to see if it meets the performance and design requirements. But, what is missed — which is really the greatest savings for a project — is the design-review process that reduces the risk of change orders and design mistakes.
Q: The holistic-commissioning process sounds like it consumes more time. Is there a big difference in price compared to standard commissioning?
A: It costs a little more and more effort is required, but it actually has a higher return on investment because when you start in predesign you establish the objectives and criteria, including LEED and sustainable goals. The teams are on a really strong foundation and they know exactly what direction they are going from the very beginning.
Because you give owners quality assurance and reviews of the process, you are helping the client tighten up their documents so they can have a much better bid because they are more defined. If you have a set of documents that is not well defined, the contractor just adds money.
Q: Where do clients that have a set budget usually make cuts to create funding for commissioning?
A: If they have a little bit of faith — and usually if they have been down the path before — there is money set aside for change orders that could be used. You really don’t have to cut because the process can pay for itself even before the end of construction. There is an upfront cost, but the return is very quick.
When we do the building envelope and mechanical/electrical commissioning, including LEED certifications, on projects of about $30 million or more, the cost is about 7/10 of a percent. There is an economy of scale. For $5 million to $8 million projects, it is probably closer to 1.5 percent.
Q: You have worked on several different types of facilities, is there much variation in how you address different buildings?
A: The process doesn’t change. What you look at specifically with commissioning is interaction between systems. You need to look at what happens from one system to another when failure occurs.
Q: What is the most difficult type of facility to work with?
A: It really doesn’t matter, the difficulty usually occurs when we are hired late in the process. We certainly like more complex projects. Because we are engineers, they are a little more challenging and fun.
If the commissioning process starts late there could be problems with designers and contractors. Another difficulty is if significant personnel change occurs in the operations department before the training period is completed.
Q: Is the training usually more intensive than the regular commissioning?
A: Absolutely. In a regular set of documents you typically don’t know what the level of training is and they don’t address the specific needs of operations and maintenance staff and their specific level of competence. It is just one or two sentences.
With holistic commissioning you define exactly what the training is and the level of training that is required. There is a different level of training for school districts and owners depending on how many buildings they have and their size. You really need to hone training to the specific owner’s needs.
Q: Is the market for holistic commissioning growing? Where does the market stand?
A: Long-term owners — state and federal governments and local municipalities — build a building for as long as they can get a useful service life out of it. They were the early adopter because most of them had buildings where they had failures and they didn’t want that to happen again. They started with just HVAC and construction-phase commissioning, but during the last 10 years it has shifted to a more holistic approach.
There are not a lot of people that practice holistic commissioning, but there are more every day. It requires a fairly diversified team and if you are doing building envelope and mechanical/electrical, you have to have a much larger team. A lot of test-and-balance firms are entering into commissioning, but their focus is really on HVAC construction-phase commissioning.
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