Why Contractors Should not Complete Commissioning Checklists

A man in a hard hat standing in front of an electrical breaker box

My last blog covered commissioning best practices during the construction phase, including recommendations for the kickoff meeting, deficiency log, and functional performance tests.

I also wrote about why the commissioning authority (CxA) should be the one completing commissioning documentation, not contractors.

I’ll elaborate on that topic here – it’s a critical one that sets Cornerstone Commissioning apart from many others in the industry.

The CxA is typically contracted directly to the building owner and acts as a third-party, independent representative to ensure the commissioning process is unbiased, follows best practices, and helps achieves the owner’s project requirements. The CxA is responsible for assisting the project team during design, construction and acceptance phases to ensure the project is a success, but must remain independent of the design and construction team in order to maintain objectivity.

The commissioning process requires the CxA to document performance criteria and develop checklists, data forms and testing procedures. In one all too common scenario, the CxA turns these materials over to members of the project team, who pass them on to sub-contractors who then require their installation contractors to complete and return the commissioning documentation for review.

Does this seem like an unbiased commissioning process? Absolutely not.

In addition, it creates a headache for the CxA who has to hunt down project team members for pieces of documentation and review and confirm that documentation.
Contractors should not be completing the commissioning documentation – like pre-functional checklists (PFC) – for the obvious reason that they’re not the independent CxA.

If contractors are responsible for completing commissioning documentation, the owner is not benefiting from true value of commissioning. When the CxA completes commissioning documentation, it’s their responsibility to fully understand equipment selection and specifications, manufacturer installation requirements, design details, recognize future access limitations, and detail their findings in a clear and concise manner. The documentation is then provided to the project team for review during commissioning coordination meetings.

So what’s an appropriate role for contractors in the commissioning process?

They should provide the necessary equipment and start-up documents to the CxA, be available during PFC site visits, make the necessary repairs when equipment installation does not meet design and generally be left to meet their contract obligations. When the CxA performs PFC documentation, deficiencies can be realized and resolved more quickly, documentation provides greater detail and the project team can enter the acceptance phase with confidence in the unbiased quality control that a good CxA provides.

Completing commissioning documentation is not an easy task.

It requires a rich database of mechanical equipment types such as boilers, air handlers, cooling towers, expansion tanks, and every conceivable piece of MEP equipment in a commercial facility. For each piece of equipment, the commissioning authority needs to locate the nameplate – or nameplates – to correctly verify manufacturer data. This information will be used to confirm that the equipment meets the approved equipment submittal and can be used in the owners own equipment inventory database. Once the equipment is 100% mechanically installed, the commission authority needs to return and verify installation meets design requirements.

We use design details from the contract drawings, but we also have customized installation best practices for each piece of equipment. Examples include confirming the equipment has isolation valves for servicing, disconnects are labeled and accessible, pipe fittings are properly supported, protective shrouds are installed, and piping allows for coil changes. The list is comprehensive for each type of equipment. This level of detail extends to functional testing documentation as well.

Completing commissioning documentation can be a time consuming, all-encompassing endeavor even for the commissioning authority.

Imagine now how a contractor is expected to find time to accurately document each piece of equipment when they too have responsibilities to the project. Efficiency, accuracy, unbiased opinion, comprehensive verification. These are some of the reasons why Cornerstone Commissioning insists on completing commissioning documentation. Contractors are fully on board. Installers are glad to have the time to focus on their work. And owners are reassured that their project is commissioned by a dedicated professional.