Month: February, 2018
New York City requires commissioning (Cx) for most* ground-up new construction projects through the 2014 and 2016 energy codes** to build better buildings and protect owners/developers. But if you’re like many NYC developers we know, you may have mixed feelings about commissioning and are not sure what the real benefit is to you.
In the past, someone may have tried to explain commissioning to you in complex engineering terms that just left you frustrated, confused, or uninterested. We recognize that there is a lot of confusion about what exactly commissioning is, and there are many services that fall under the banner of “commissioning,” not all of which provide value beyond checking boxes. This blog will break down the commissioning process and how it can deliver maximum value to you and your projects.
Through quality commissioning, you will see tangible benefits such as cost savings in construction and operations of the building, longer life of the equipment and systems, as well as increased comfort and happiness of the future residents (and staff!).
Commissioning’s Role in Your Project
Commissioning is an essential quality assurance process that helps ensure all systems are designed optimally, installed correctly, and operate accordingly at the time of occupancy. Your Commissioning Agent manages all aspects of the process.
If done correctly, commissioning will save owners and developers the money and hassle by identifying and fixing problems long before a building is ever occupied. Far from being an annoying box to check in order to comply with code, commissioning is a crucial element of each project.
The purpose of commissioning is to make sure that the building you ultimately get meets the expectations you had for it at the start. For maximum benefit, commissioning should be performed in three phases that extend throughout the planning and construction process: Design Phase, Construction Phase, and Pre-Occupancy Phase.
A Great Commissioning Agent
Your Commissioning Agent (Cx Agent) serves as an owner’s representative for mechanical, plumbing, and electrical systems. The Cx Agent is a commissioning expert who you can trust to confirm quality, and thus should be integrated early on during the design development to perform reviews and offer feedback to the MEP Engineer. (S)he asks the essential questions that clarify the intentions of the building and ensures design decisions will achieve those objectives:
- What type of population will it serve?
- What temperatures do you want to supply to residents?
- What services or amenities will be on site?
- How will you staff the building once it is operational?
- Are the step-by-step sequence of operations of each piece of equipment appropriate?
- Are piping and duct layouts optimal?
- Will this equipment be serviced appropriately and accessed easily down the line?
- How can systems be designed to increase energy efficiency and savings?
You know you are working with a great Cx Agent if (s)he:
- Gets the project’s big picture yet, at the same time, is detail oriented.
- Anticipates challenges before they arise, often during the design phase.
- Reviews any suggested changes to the design to make sure they don’t cause unforeseen problems before the construction phase.
- Becomes a familiar face at the construction site, coordinating with the construction team to deliver quality and that all milestones are hit in a timely fashion.
- Is a clear, powerful communicator, providing clients with regular updates, and logs.
If a quote for commissioning is significantly cheaper than others, be wary. Do they have the necessary experience? Will they be in design meetings and on site often enough to have a positive impact on both the design and its execution? As with most anything else in life, you get what you pay for. Mistakes in the short term can lead to expensive complications later when tenants have already moved in.
The design phase is critical to the commissioning process. There are a lot of complexities in designing and constructing a building, and it’s important to realize that just because the design makes sense on paper does not mean it will translate that way in construction. For example, a good Cx Agent will suggest locations of isolation valves, sensors, and potential access points to enable the ability for continuous commissioning and the isolation of system components. The Cx agent will also verify that the access panels, piping, and ductwork are designed in a way that will allow for easy maintenance access. Having a Cx Agent ensure the design meets the intentions of the building through a collaborative process allows everyone to create the best design possible, from all areas of expertise. It can also save you a lot of money in the construction phase.
Unfortunately, there is only so much a Cx Agent can do if they are brought on during construction. Each time Bright Power was brought on to a project after the design phase, we found significant components of design that were either overcomplicated (and therefore more expensive than necessary to install and maintain), detrimental to optimal equipment function, or were installed in a way that prevents basic access (ex: no access hatches). Had we been involved from the project’s inception, those problems would have been identified and eliminated before the construction phase, resulting in significant savings and fewer headaches.
You might be tempted to blame such issues on the MEP or the architect. But, having worked with dozens of great design teams with top-notch professionals, I can attest that this level of collaboration necessary to avoid these sorts of problems.
During construction, the Cx Agent will work with your General Contractor and HVAC subcontractors to ensure equipment installation is correct and the start-up and operation of the equipment is optimized to the design. This requires a great deal of coordination and trust between all parties involved. The Cx Agent is there to help provide a good outcome on behalf of the whole team – not to step on anyone’s toes. To do that, they must be on site during all key points in the construction process.
Just imagine the frustration of having to open up a wall to fix a mistake when it could have been caught and corrected by the Cx Agent if they were on site. That’s not only frustrating for you, the owner, but it’s also frustrating for the team who just had to rip out completed work only to do it all again, the right way.
Once the equipment is operational, the Cx Agent will perform a series of functional performance tests designed to diagnose problems that could pop up during occupancy. If any issues are found, the Cx Agent will list them in a log and work with the relevant parties to correct the issues. The kinds of things that we have found and corrected through functional performance tests include fans installed backward; sensors in the wrong place that produce inaccurate readings; ductwork that was not properly attached, resulting in rooms with extremely cold and hot temperatures.
If the Cx Agent has done her/his job, all of the building’s equipment will have been installed correctly. While this doesn’t sound exciting, think of it this way: you just spent millions of dollars on a project that took years of careful planning, coordination, and execution. If the final step – occupancy – would be held up for a few months due to equipment issues, that delay would be both costly and maddening.
But that’s nothing compared to the hair-pulling frustration that would result from learning that commissioning typically represents less than 0.25% of a new construction project’s total cost, whereas fixing a commissioning mistake can cost you millions of dollars (and you might need to put up your new residents in a hotel while you sort out the issue).
The final phase of commissioning is to train your building site-staff so that diagnostic, operational, and maintenance procedures are second nature. As your Cx Agent, we work with your contractors to produce a training curriculum for your building operators. (S)he will then film the training for future use.
Protect Your Investment
There’s a reason why energy code requires commissioning in the first place — to build better buildings. Rather than being a trivial added upfront cost, commissioning is a critical process to protect your investment. Take it from our clients: It’s one of the best investments you can make on your new construction project.
Still have commissioning questions? Our experts are here to answer any of your energy and water-related questions. Contact us today!
*Exceptions include mechanical and service hot water systems in buildings where the total mechanical equipment capacity being installed is less than 480,000 Btu/h (140.7 kW) cooling capacity and 600,000 Btu/h (175.8 kW) combined service water-heating and space-heating capacity.
**The commissioning requirements in the NYC energy code are primarily for testing and report generation during the Construction Phase. However, in order to maximize the economic and building performance benefits of commissioning, industry best practices recommend a comprehensive commissioning process that covers all phases.
We’re proud of the intelligent, passionate, and hardworking people that make up the Bright Power team. Each month, you’ll get a chance to meet one of them, understand how they contribute to the organization, and what makes them excited to come to work every day.
Meet Jamie Bemis, Account Manager.
What are some of the things you like most about working at Bright Power?
I love the work we do here. It’s creative and challenging, and it’s closely aligned with my values. As an Account Manager with affordable and supportive housing clients in New York City, I get to wake up every day and feel like I am contributing to making the City a more resilient and sustainable place. Because I am passionate about mitigating the impacts of climate change, as well as social and environmental justice, it’s really gratifying to see our projects reduce utility burdens on low-income residents in NYC, and directly contribute to the city’s greenhouse gas reduction goal of 80% below 2005 levels by 2050. Today, cities across the globe are taking the lead towards climate change mitigation and adaptation. I’m proud to say Bright Power is helping NYC to be a leader in this effort by ensuring all new buildings we work on are built to the highest standard of building performance and each existing building we touch becomes more energy and water efficient.
What are some projects and accomplishments you’re most proud of?
I am proud of all of our clients, many of whom do not have a background in energy efficiency and sustainability, but who nevertheless spearhead innovative projects that incorporate cutting-edge techniques around high-performance building design and on-site generation. For instance, St. Nick’s Alliance just won the Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) RFP for Dekalb Commons in Brooklyn. Two of the buildings will be certified Passive House and will include rooftop solar PV systems. This will be St. Nick’s first Passive House project, demonstrating a willingness to try new things and push the envelope around high-performance building design. I find it particularly inspiring to see these types of projects in the affordable housing sector, where budgets are always tight. A few years ago, developers and city officials would have said that affordable housing couldn’t be designed with high-performance techniques due to the cost and the lack of expertise in the industry. Thankfully, this conversation has shifted dramatically in the past few years, and we’re seeing more and more developers, architects, and engineers who are excited about the opportunity to create innovative, beautiful, healthy, and sustainable residences for low-income New Yorkers. The Dekalb Commons project is a perfect example of this.I am also proud to work closely with Settlement Housing Fund, the Related Companies, Mutual Housing Association of New York (MHANY), RiseBoro Community Partnership, Banana Kelly, Workforce Housing, B&B Urban, among others.
What’s something people might not know about you and your role at Bright Power?
A lot of people don’t know that I am a mechanical engineer. After college, I worked for an MEP firm designing HVAC systems for mission critical facilities like clean rooms and laboratories. Later, in graduate school, I conducted research for the Sustainable Design Lab in MIT’s Building Technology Department. I was the only city planning student in our research group. I loved translating our building-specific research techniques onto urban-scale problems, especially trying to address the immense challenge of creating more sustainable coastal cities. Now, my engineering background allows me to have informed conversations with clients as well as with Bright Power’s engineering team.
What’s the one service offering we have that you think is the most beneficial to clients and why?
I think our New Construction (NC) service is particularly beneficial. Capturing energy efficiency opportunities during a renovation or a new construction project is a huge opportunity that is too often missed. Investments in energy efficiency during the design phase pay dividends over the life of the building, in terms of reduced O&M costs, utility cost savings, and tenant comfort and well-being. The subject matter expertise our NC team brings is critical. From Passive House to Enterprise Green Communities and more, they understand the cutting edge of green design techniques—many of which are constantly evolving—and bring this to design teams. In this capacity, our clients can rely on us to provide strategic advice that incorporates cost-effectiveness, long-term impacts, indoor air quality, maintenance concerns, risk management, and more. Part of the reason we have so many returning clients is that once they see the value of this service, they return over and over again. It’s one of my favorite services to sell because for me it’s such a no-brainer for our clients.
We hear you’re going to Germany – what are you going to do there?
Yes! In March I will be traveling to Germany as a McCloy Fellow (a transatlantic professional exchange program sponsored by the American Council on Germany) to study innovations in the built environment and climate change mitigation efforts. My hope is to meet with individuals from across the industry to explore how cities are responding to the needs of a changing climate. To answer this question, I will look at three specific consequences of global warming: global migration and growing urban populations; the shift to green energy supply and distribution; and green building design. By exploring how these specific issues are being addressed in local communities across Germany, I will gain insight on best practices, lessons learned, and key strategies that can be implemented here in the United States. I used to live in Germany, so for me, this is both an opportunity to learn from the cutting edge of our profession, while also a return to my roots in some ways. And I am thrilled to be bringing new subject matter expertise to all of our clients at Bright Power so that we can continue to push the envelope here in New York and build residences that are fit for the 21st century. You can read more about my trip here.
“In a rapidly changing, complex, and interconnected world, it is becoming increasingly important to analyze tomorrow’s challenges today. Through the McCloy Fellowships on Global Trends, the American Council on Germany is tackling overarching issues that affect communities around the world in the areas of urbanization, climate change and sustainability, technological breakthroughs, and demographics and social change.” – American Council on Germany
As a McCloy Fellow, I will be traveling to Germany for three weeks in March to better understand what is being done at the forefront of the efforts to mitigate climate change. As a former city planner and current manager of efficiency and renewable energy projects for my affordable housing clients in NY, I feel the threat of climate change on the horizon like an oncoming storm. Only five years ago, Superstorm Sandy whipped through the City, claiming lives, leaving millions without power, and wreaking havoc on homes and city infrastructure. It was the first consequence of a warming planet to really hit home, and it shattered the city’s veil of invincibility.
This sentiment is becoming a shared experience across cities worldwide. Communities have recognized their own imminent dangers that will result from a destabilizing climate. For low-income residents in New York City, who are already economically vulnerable, changing weather patterns can result in higher utility bills as residents compensate for hotter summers and unpredictable winters. Worse still, low-income residents often live in areas more vulnerable to storm impacts. In response, many cities have put forth bold plans to tackle the challenges of global warming. And still, there is more progress to be made.
Being A Part of the Solution
With a background in engineering and urban planning, I feel uniquely responsible to help address this issue. At Bright Power, we contribute to these efforts by partnering with developers to make their affordable housing developments more sustainable and resilient – like at Arverne View, where a renovation was able to reduce onsite energy consumption by almost a third while improving tenant comfort. Bright Power also developed the Resilient Power Hub as a means to provide emergency backup power in the event of a blackout – particularly relevant for affordable and supportive housing communities, which often include elderly residents and residents with medical needs.
Through the McCloy fellowship, I plan to improve our ability to contribute to these cutting-edge projects even further by learning what is being done at the forefront of the efforts to mitigate climate change, so I can advocate for these measures on a local level and contribute to the collective fight. And as a young professional, I know that our very futures depend on it.
Not many industrialized countries can surpass Germany with regards to the breadth and depth with which the issue of climate change is being addressed. Since 2005, the German government has paid explicit and consistent attention to the issue, documenting the anticipated challenges that result from climate change, as well as strategies for risk mitigation and adaptation. In 2016, Germany released its Climate Action Plan 2050, which outlines the strategies for achieving the nation’s climate goals. That same year, the “Integrated Environmental Programme” report was released, describing past achievements and outlining specific focus areas to aid the nation in reaching the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an outcome of the Paris Climate Change Conference of 2015. In 2016, Germany was ranked first in the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s international energy efficiency scorecard.
There is much that the United States—and countries around the world—can learn from German initiatives. Over the course of my three-week fellowship in Germany, I will learn about climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts from the front lines of where these efforts are being enacted by asking this question: How is the buildings industry responding to the needs of a changing climate? My research and interviews will focus on innovations in the built environment, including housing-specific initiatives and community-scale strategies, that seek to mitigate the consequences of climate change.
I look forward to sharing best practices, lessons learned, and key strategies that can be implemented here in the United States. Together we can work towards our collective well-being and a future in which we can all thrive.