The Top Three Benefits of Integrated Commissioning
Commissioning is an important part of the building integration process, checking to ensure that every aspect of every system is doing what it was designed to do. GMB engineers Nate, Tony, and Trent discuss their recent commissioning project for Greenville Public Schools, and the benefits that result from the process of commissioning a building.
GMB recently completed commissioning services at Greenville High School. But what do we mean when we talk about commissioning a building? What are the benefits of this process, and when should commissioning happen?
Several decades ago, commissioning used to be reliant on the building contractors, construction managers, and the engineers to communicate with each other and check to make sure all the systems were operating properly. But because of various reasons, a thorough check of all systems and components didn’t happen.
“Early in my career, I was working on a project where we were renovating a wood shop in a high school that was about 25 years old. The shop teachers requested that the airflow be improved, that it had never been right,” says Trent. “When we removed the old system to replace it with the new, larger one, we figured out why the unit never worked properly for 25 years – the electrician had wired the fan backwards and no one checked the system before the building was occupied.”
When designing and constructing a building, we don’t always have the opportunity to prototype because every building is unique in many ways. Add to that the contractors, engineers, and construction managers who vary from project to project. Owners and occupants have expectations from temperature control to airflow and lighting comfort and energy performance, as well as technology access and speed; and all of those systems have to work together to do what their supposed to and meet expectations.
But what exactly is commissioning? As Tony says, “It’s about making sure a building operates the way it was intended to, and all a building’s systems work together for optimal performance. Besides the owner, we have so many different users in that building, including students, teachers, administration, community members, and the facilities people who keep it running – all with slightly different expectations. Checking each component and every system to be sure they’re working together seamlessly for everyone in the building is an important and often overlooked process.”
It’s somewhat like getting a home inspection before you buy a house, but on a commercial scale where a single building may have a hundred different pieces of equipment and thousands of other moving parts and control points. The mechanical engineer writes a sequence of operations for the building that specifies what each piece of equipment should do and when. The control contractor interprets, implements, and programs those sequences into the control system. As commissioners, we check each one of those commands to be sure they’re functioning as designed.
There is no wrong time to begin a commissioning project, as the primary goal is to identify and solve problems before they become large. When Tony can be involved in pre-construction meetings to understand the design intent and ask questions of the construction managers and engineers before the building breaks ground, he’s able to be proactive in resolving any issues that may arise.
“It’s a little more hands-on and a little more proactive approach, but it usually results in a win-win for the contractor and building owner alike, because they don’t have to go back and fix things.”
For some buildings that are older, and they’re being renovated or retro-commissioned to upgrade the systems, that involves bringing the airflow, mechanical, and often electrical systems up to speed to handle the technology and expected efficiencies of this decade. The team at GMB will go into a building to check and validate all the systems to be sure things have been operating properly, often evaluating data collected over time to make an assessment of the mechanical and electrical systems. Calibrating those systems for the client and often creating new sequence of operations for any upgraded equipment will help those facilities to operate more efficiently.
Commissioning a building will always include code requirements for mechanical equipment (temperature control) and electrical equipment (lighting control). GMB expands beyond that basic service requirement to make sure all the interconnecting systems are also operating smoothly. “We want to make sure these systems are talking to each other, communicating effectively, and sharing information. So we look at the overall interaction of these systems and how they’re operating to be sure they’re running efficiently.”
Here are the top three benefits of proper commissioning for buildings:
1. Comfort level. There are many facets of human comfort, but at its most basic it means the temperature, lighting levels, acoustics, and multimedia used in a room are at the right levels, enabling students and teachers to focus on learning activities. Additionally, from an interior design perspective, colors, textures, and furniture can impact comfort as well.
2. Healthy environments. A healthier indoor environment helps students to be effective learners, keeps students and teachers alike from getting sick and potentially missing school. If a student or teacher isn’t feeling well, they’re not going to be able to perform at their best. A healthy, comfortable environment ensures both students and teachers can focus on learning.
3. Energy efficiency. When a building is operating smoothly and efficiently and we’re able to minimize environmental impact, that is not only greener and better for the environment. An energy efficient building also saves the building operator incredible utilities expense.
Commissioning has many other benefits for clients and users as well. Not every building or district has the maintenance staff with the technical capability to repair, maintain and fine-tune these systems. Having a commissioning partner like GMB just a phone call away ensures our engineers can be there to run checks and troubleshoot the systems, getting your building back to optimal performance and efficiency quickly. Additionally, the proposed federal infrastructure spending plan could present a rare opportunity for most public school districts to make major upgrades to their facilities systems, making them healthier, more energy efficient, and cheaper to operate. By implementing commissioning projects for these buildings, with a federal aid to pay for the upgrades to their systems, we can ensure these facilities operate at optimal performance for students and teachers long into the future.
“There’s more value beyond just checking a building out; if we can help these building owners who have fewer staff to maintain it and fewer dollars to operate it, to make sure it’s running smoothly not just when we leave, but long down the road,” said Trent.
Want to learn more?Reach out to one of our design professionals
Trent is a mechanical designer and Certified GeoExchange Designer. He loves helping clients run their buildings efficiently, and working with them to select systems that are going to work best for their institutions over the long haul.
With more than three decades of experience, Tony has enjoyed creating and improving working and learning environments in hundreds of buildings. His passion is optimizing and maximizing energy efficiency and comfort and that is obvious when you speak to him. As a commissioning engineer, he works with our design teams through all phases of the project and he ensures a safe and orderly handover of mechanical and electrical systems to our clients.
Nate is passionate about designing sustainable, efficient, and optimized mechanical systems that solve our clients problems and exceed expectations. He has designed systems for several LEED certified projects and is familiar with many sustainable and innovative technologies.
© 2022 GMB Architecture + Engineering