As the field of commissioning has grown and evolved over the past 25+ years, it has become a valued component of building projects in the Architecture/Engineering/Construction (A/E/C) industry. There are hundreds of highly respected and qualified commissioning providers throughout the country. Many of them are part of a team within larger engineering firms. When selecting a Commissioning Provider, their relationship with the rest of the project team is an important consideration. The Building Commissioning Association (BCxA) defines Third-Party Commissioning as “a contractual relationship in which the commissioning provider (CxP) is accountable directly to the Owner and independent of any other entity involved in the project.” Sustainable or high-performance building programs sometimes specify that the CxP must be an independent third party. Many building owners also recognize the importance of third-party commissioning and seek out an independent third-party CxP on their own, regardless of certifications or programs. So why does this matter? Why should you choose a third-party CxP?

Packaging commissioning and design services can be an attractive cost-saving approach for an owner. However, hiring these services together may result in missing out on some essential commissioning tasks in the pre-design stages of a project. The best time to bring on a CxP is early in the project planning phase before design has even started. One of the first tasks for a CxP at this stage is to develop the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR). The OPR sets the tone for the rest of the project, outlining the owner’s goals, objectives, and requirements. The design team will use the OPR as a source of information when designing the project. When the CxP is hired in tandem with the design engineering firm or architect, this early task may be missed or omitted in favor of simply starting the design. Without the OPR, if the design firm doesn’t take the time to understand the owner’s requirements, there is a disconnect from the start, which can lead to complications down the road.

Packaging these services also limits the owner’s options. Perhaps firm XYZ is an excellent fit on the design engineering side, but their commissioning team is over capacity or underqualified. Alternatively, maybe their commissioning team is perfect for the project, but the design team doesn’t have the necessary experience. By selecting these project team members separately, an owner can find the firms that are the best fit for both roles.

The primary duty of a CxP is to ensure the project meets the owner’s goals and requirements. There is an inherent conflict of interest when the CxP is part of the design firm or hired by the design firm. It can be difficult for someone to separate themselves and do what is best for the owner over what is best for their employer. The only way to eliminate this conflict of interest is to choose a CxP unrelated to existing players like the architect or the engineer. It also may be difficult for this CxP to provide objective opinions. They may not want to say or do something that could jeopardize their own company’s reputation. To help them maintain objectivity, third-party CxPs are compensated directly by the owner rather than the designers. A third-party CxP provides unbiased insight into projects to protect owners from costly mistakes. They are impartial experts with no ties to the project, advocating solely for the owner.

Hiring a third-party commissioning provider is worth the investment. Finding a CxP that is the best fit for a project and bringing them on in the pre-design stage helps set up a project for success. The CxP will advocate for the owner without bias or allegiance to other parties. In addition, they can provide valuable, unbiased insights and recommendations during the project.

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Ernest Lawas

About the Author:

Ernest Lawas is the co-founder and a Managing Principal at Sustainable Engineering Solutions. He has over 25 years of experience providing Commissioning services nationwide. Ernie is a registered Professional Engineer (P.E.) in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. He is also a Certified Commissioning Professional through the Building Commissioning Association, a Certified Energy Manager and Certified Energy Auditor through AEE, and a LEED Accredited Professional.