How Commissioning Authorities Collaborate with Operations Staff for Successful Turnover

Two persons working next to their laptops

Much of the information in previous blog posts focused on the importance of communication and collaboration with the project team and owner from design to turnover. However, I would be remiss if not also discussing the importance of working with operations and maintenance personnel during turnover.

Operations, maintenance and staff

The unsung heroes of the built environment are the men and women working behind the scenes to ensure buildings perform properly: facilities operations and maintenance (O&M) personnel. They ensure that building occupants are safe and comfortable, and that equipment and systems are well-maintained. As you can expect, building O&M is expensive – in fact, it’s the greatest expense in owning and operating a facility over its lifecycle. However, building commissioning can ease the owner’s O&M cost burden and lessen the O&M personnel’s learning curve if O&M personnel are included in the turnover phase.

Building turnover

It’s important that O&M personnel are included in the planning and design phases of a new building project – preferably involving them in developing the Owner’s Project Requirements. Their input is valuable in terms of confirming system capabilities, providing feedback on unforeseen maintenance issues, and providing insight into how the end user will really use the building.

For example, O&M personnel may recognize that, if the building is a dormitory on a college campus, the end users consume vast amounts of hot water. Recommending a shell and tube, semi-instantaneous water heater with drain water heat recovery will outperform heat pump technology and require less maintenance. O&M personnel may also recognize a buffer tank on small chilled water systems can reduce start/stop cycle times, resulting in better performance and reduced wear on equipment.

These kind of ideas can help inform the design, support end user needs and ensure systems are only as complicated as they have to be.

Every project generates substantial documentation containing information that’s vital to the building working well long-term. During turnover, the commissioning agent should review the documentation and ensure the owner – and by extension the O&M personnel – receive a comprehensive documentation package.

The commissioning agent reviews documentation for completeness, vendor contact information, troubleshooting matrixes, availability of replacement parts, warranty, etc. The documentation package transfers knowledge of the project to the individuals tasked with ensuring the building works well.

The package should include:

  • As-built plans
  • System level O&M manual
  • Construction test plans and reports
  • Owner Project Requirement and Basis of Design
  • Commissioning final report
  • Systems manual

For example, if the project has specialized equipment such as a Konvekta high performance heat recovery system, the commissioning agent needs to confirm O&M manuals provide vendor contact information, comprehensive maintenance procedures, robust troubleshooting matrix, system parts schematic and ordering information.

The commissioning scope work should also include reviewing training content provided by contractors to O&M personnel to ensure the content adequately covers major HVAC systems. The training should be comprehensive, delving into how the systems should function, interaction of systems and consequences of not maintaining systems adequately.

Lastly, commissioning agents should deliver a user-friendly systems level manual that provides systems operators with the critical information needed to maintain and operate the systems in accordance with the original intent.

The document at minimum should provide:

  • Confirmation equipment meets specifications and installation requirements
  • System level descriptions and locations
  • Convey operational information observed during commissioning
  • Preventative maintenance procedures and intervals
  • Include pertinent as-built mechanical and control drawings

The commissioning agent should also include and review with O&M personnel a plan for recommissioning. An often neglected extension of the systems manual, a recommissioning plan provides guidance and establishes timelines for recommissioning building systems. The format parallels the project commissioning plan with a focus on functional testing and tracking results. O&M personnel can use the recommissioning plan to define when building systems require recommissioning, how to mobilize a commission team, execute functional testing as well as document results for future building managers.


O&M personnel have value to add to the design and construction of buildings they will be maintaining and operating. Their input should be requested early. The opportunity to collaborate with O&M personnel during turnover is perhaps the commissioning agent’s last opportunity to have a positive impact on the long term performance of the building.

Knowledge of the building equipment, systems and controls can be transferred to O&M personnel in the form of well-organized turnover documentation package, comprehensive systems training, and a user-friendly systems manual. Commissioning agents should use the turnover phase to positively impact the long-term performance of buildings by collaboratively working with O&M personnel and ensuring they have the up-to-date information.