Why the Commissioning Agent Should Perform System Pre-Functional Checks

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

Have you ever wondered why the commissioning checklist is so important for your construction projects?

Did you know that having the Commissioning Authority (CxA) complete the checklist adds tremendous value to your project?

Pre-functional checklists are completed to verify the proper installation of new or relocated HVAC equipment as per typical industry practices. Their primary intention is to be instrumental in ensuring that equipment is suitably prepared for performance testing. Traditionally, the contractor or manufacturer’s representative perform the testing while the CxA is not part of the procedure. With that delivery model, the CxA is essentially just the manager of documentation. Cornerstone, however, prefers to perform pre-functional checklists ourselves rather than delegate the testing to contractors.

The Quandary

About a decade ago, during a particularly challenging commissioning assignment, Cornerstone made a seemingly one-time decision not only to generate the checklists, but also to self-perform the completion in the building. For that project, I knew that the decision would improve the schedule and the thoroughness of the pre-functional checks. However, I did not foresee that it would become the standard practice for our firm. In fact, as I write this, I will admit that I was reluctant to put this idea into practice. I admitted that it was a tiresome process to wait for and hound contractors to complete checklists, a common lament in the commissioning industry, and so I conceded to let Bo, our Director of Engineering, implement his idea. Bo proposed that Cornerstone would benefit from completing the checklists ourselves.

The Results

In actuality, Cornerstone was not the only party that benefited from this methodology. After he completed the checklists, I was convinced from the results that this methodology would provide building owners with a greater sense of assurance that all systems were tested and accepted in a timely and more thorough manner.

Ultimately, my trust in my colleagues’ abilities and the positive results from this approach converted my opinion and our practices. We have proven to building owners that the CxA-performed checklist process has a vast impact on the building’s functionality and turnover date. Looking back, it is clear that adoption of this method was the right decision. We have used this approach on over 400 projects and have received innumerable positive client and contractor testimonials promoting the value of this approach.

About Cornerstone Commissioning and Checklists

Cornerstone spends significant time on site, working very closely with the contractors to ensure that pre-functional and functional performance checklists and protocol verification’s can be accurately completed on a practical, critical-path schedule. We provide the blank checklists to the contractors ahead of time, so they can prepare for what we will be verifying and documenting, keeping them from viewing us as their quality control manager

Here are the chief benefits that come as a result of Cornerstone’s PFC process:

  • Cornerstone CxA are experts who are familiar with all systems and how they function: We have years of experience dealing with systems in a variety of building environments. After viewing the systems that will be in the building, our experience and knowledge will allow us to consider how they will best fit the specific project requirements. In doing this, we familiarize ourselves with system details that might otherwise be overlooked by those who install them. After such extensive observation of systems, we will have a familiarity with the systems that may come in handy later on in the project.
  • We become valuable assets to those installing the systems: Even in cases where the buyout calls for checklist completion by the contractor, it is beneficial that we complete the checklist as part of the overall project management. With this method, the commissioning firm doesn’t have to pester the contractors for weeks for checklists to be completed to an acceptable level. This allows the contractors to focus on the installation while we check for issues and verify the correct placement and installation of the systems. Likewise, if we are not able to complete checklists, we will have to use project time to observe the system’s location and its trimmings. Having us perform checklist duties thus not only aids contractors, but also saves time and money.
  • More thorough commissioning documentation will be completed: Most commissioning firms receive pre-functional checklists back from contractors, but not until after the commissioning tests have begun, or perhaps even after testing has been completed. That information is needed beforehand to ensure system readiness and testing success. The solution: make sure that these forms are completed by the commissioning agent. We put in the necessary time to review all systems and system-related materials. This results in the improved detail of your commissioning documentation and the timeliness of its delivery. Providing the project team with the checklists in such a timely manner has never failed to aid in the process of construction. This fact is bolstered by the overwhelmingly positive feedback we have received on over 400 projects, in which this method has been used.
  • System preparedness: Systems are well-prepared for testing and functional use earlier than in most other projects, in which contractors complete the checklists.
  • The greatest benefit: This approach helps us build better relationships with the whole project team as we deliver a finely-tuned building. That is our reward for a job well-done!