Commissioning documents: necessary evil

ASHRAE and other authorities on building commissioning have promoted three commissioning-related documents—the owner's project requirements (OPR), basis of design (BOD), and systems manual (SM)—as valuable commissioning tools that not only facilitate effective commissioning, but also provide valuable information to operators and designers throughout the life of the building.


ASHRAE and other authorities on building commissioning have promoted three commissioning-related documents—the owner's project requirements (OPR), basis of design (BOD), and systems manual (SM)—as valuable commissioning tools that not only facilitate effective commissioning, but also provide valuable information to operators and designers throughout the life of the building.


It comes as no surprise to many commissioning experts that the OPR, BOD, and SM are mandatory commissioning documents for high-performance building programs, such as the USGBC LEED program. The LEED Fundamental Commissioning Prerequisite requires the owner to document the OPR and the design team to develop the BOD. In order to obtain the LEED Enhanced Commissioning Credit, the commissioning team must develop an SM. Unfortunately, project teams unfamiliar with the fundamental purposes and interaction of these documents frequently find them burdensome, expensive, and of little value. As a result, the OPR, BOD, and SM are widely misunderstood and underused.


Some of the confusion regarding the OPR, BOD, and SM results from the terms being used inconsistently by different organizations and publications. For the purposes of this discussion, the following definitions will be used:


• OPR: Documents the owner's functional requirements and the criteria the owner will use to determine whether these requirements have been fulfilled. Past ASHRAE and LEED publications used the title “Owner's Design Intent Document.”


• BOD: Documents the concepts on which systems are based, the methodology used to approach the design, and how the design satisfies the OPR. It is not uncommon for the BOD to be called the “AE” or “Engineer's Design Intent Document.”


• SM: Documents information to help understand and operate the systems as the owner and designers intended for them to operate. This systems-oriented document goes beyond equipment oriented operating and maintenance manuals.


When the commissioning professional introduces the OPR, BOD, and SM to the project team, the reactions vary depending on the experiences team members have had with these documents. Teams that haven't used the documents or have had bad experiences often push back. Typical and logical questions are: “That sounds like more work—who's going to do it?”, “How are we going to find the time to do it?”, and “Who's going to pay for it?”


Teams with this experience welcome the OPR, BOD, and SM as key documents that facilitate successful project design, construction, and commissioning; cost-effective tools that improve project efficiency; and documentation of the systems' functionality that provides value for operators and facility managers throughout the building's life.


In order to optimize the chance for successful commissioning, project teams new to the OPR, BOD, and SM must answer the following question: “How can we use the OPR, BOD, and SM documents as cost-effective tools for our projects?”


Understanding the OPR, BOD, and SM

To fully understand the OPR, BOD, and SM documents, it helps to understand what these documents have in common and how they build on one another. One of the most important things for project teams to understand is that all three documents consist of work provided primarily by parties other than the commissioning authority (CxA) and are best developed by the team collaboratively. The previously sited LEED requirements underscore this.


LEED for New Construction Version 2.2 requires the following regarding the OPR and BOD: “The owner shall document the OPR. The design team shall develop the BOD. The CxA shall review these documents for clarity and completeness. The owner and design team shall be responsible for updates to their respective documents.” The SM, which is required for the LEED NC 2.2 Enhanced Commissioning Credit, is compiled by the CxA. As explained in the LEED Reference Manual, however, most of the document's contents are provided by the owner, design team, and contractors.


The project team has to be prepared to share in the development and use of the OPR, BOD, and SM. The contracts must support this effort, and the owner's staff has to be prepared for participation. With advanced preparation, however, this does not necessarily require a substantial increase in fees or project schedule. Much of the content of the OPR, BOD, and SM must be known or created as a normal part of project development. A project team that understands the purpose and development of the documents can create them as a part of work already being done.


In order to efficiently develop and use the OPR, BOD, and SM, the project team must understand how the documents support and build on one another. The OPR is the foundation on which the BOD is built, and the SM incorporates and builds on the OPR and BOD.


More about OPR

The OPR and BOD are first and foremost design tools; however, many commissioning experts consider the OPR to be the project's commissioning bible. Though many commissioning definitions and goals have been published, many experts believe they all boil down to this simple concept: The fundamental purpose of building commissioning is to confirm that the commissioned systems satisfy the owner's functional requirements. It stands to reason then, that throughout the project the entire project team should have a common understanding of what those functional requirements are and how the success of their implementation will be judged. The purpose of the OPR is to document this.


Though the purpose of the OPR may be simple in concept, the value of documenting the owner's functional requirements cannot be overstated. As an example, consider the OPRs potential for minimizing conflicting owner directives. Most seasoned building consultants have received different messages regarding project priorities and expectations from different groups within a single owner's organization. The facility O&M staff may want to emphasize simplicity and reliability while the resource managers may want to concentrate on energy savings. The focus of the capital projects group may be constructability.


Developing the OPR requires these groups to reach consensus on, or at least accept, common functional requirements. For owners that are new to construction, developing an OPR may facilitate awareness of critical performance issues early on, when they can be addressed by the basis of design. This minimizes the potential for becoming aware of these issues after occupancy.


The value of the OPR is increased by not only describing the owner's functional requirements, but also clarifying how the successful fulfillment of these requirements will be judged. In many cases, the very nature of these requirements may adequately communicate the success criteria.


An effective OPR provides clarification; however, it may need to be added to the original draft through collaboration during design development. An effective OPR is a living document. As functional performance questions arise during design, the team looks to the OPR for the answer. If the answer is not in the document, a revision may be warranted to address the subject.


The question is often asked, “Who should develop and maintain the OPR?” This question is clearly answered for LEED project teams. Fundamental Commissioning Requirement 2, under LEED NC 2.2, clearly states, “The owner shall document the OPR. The design team shall develop the BOD. The CxA shall review these documents for clarity and completeness. The owner and design team shall be responsible for updates to their respective documents.” This requirement underscores how essential it is that the owner be fully engaged in documenting requirements. It seeks to avoid the unfortunate practice of the owner delegating the creation of the OPR to the CxA or the design team without being fully involved and without taking final responsibility for the documents content.


ASHRAE Guideline 0 describes one approach to this kind of collaborative process. Participants include the design team, CxA, and construction manager, as well as the owner's project manager, building operators, resource manager, and building user groups. Involving the design team in OPR development may also facilitate and expedite efficient development of the BOD.


BOD in detail

The BOD may be thought of as the design team's confirmation of the OPR. While the OPR describes the owner's functional requirements, the BOD is the design team's opportunity to confirm that they understand the requirements and describe how they intend to achieve them with the design. For this reason, there is value in involving the design team in the development of the OPR.


The BOD records concepts, design assumptions, important calculations, decisions, product selections, rationale, and other applicable regulations, standards, and guidelines the design incorporates to satisfy the OPR. It is possible to use the actual electronic OPR file to develop a BOD checklist, or even as an effective starting point for BOD document itself. These approaches automatically direct the design team to every item in the OPR. As the BOD takes form, the format may include narrative text, schematic zoning plans, one-line schematic systems diagrams, and data tables. The anticipated content of the plans, specs, and SM may drive decisions regarding BOD format.


More about SM

The SM may be the least understood among the OPR, BOD, and SM. Commissioning demonstrates that systems operate in accordance with the owner's functional requirements at the time of functional performance testing. The SM provides the facilities and operating staff, as well as the future designers of facility modifications, with information to help understand and optimally operate the systems throughout their lives. Without the SM much of this important information leaves the facility with the designers, contractors, and CxA. Because of this, some highly respected building experts believe that the SM is the most important document to come out of the commissioning process.


While O&M manuals focus on equipment, the SM focuses on the operation of systems, particularly interactions between different equipment and systems. Like the OPR and BOD, the SM is a living document. The SM, however, lives and evolves throughout the life of the building. It typically is complied by the CxA; however, it contains documentation developed by the owner, design team, contractors, and CxA as a part of their ongoing project work. The final document belongs to the owner and is maintained by the building operators and future consultants and contractors throughout the building's life.


The objective of the SM is to provide the following information:


• Document the functional intent and basis of design of the as-built systems


• Document the fundamental configuration, sequences of operation, and operating characteristics of the as-built systems


• Provide guidelines for verifying that the systems continue to fulfill the facility's functional needs.


Considering cost 

Project teams begin to appreciate the OPR, BOD, and SM once the purposes and interconnection of the documents are understood. The question, “How do I make the OPR, BOD, and SM work cost-effectively for my project?” may still remain. Applying the following simple concepts and guidelines along with an understanding of the documents has helped project teams answer this question.


It is valuable to apply some fundamental concepts that apply to effective commissioning in general. The primary reason for any commissioning process or procedure is to confirm that systems satisfy the owner's functional requirements. Rigidly following any standard process or procedure because “this is the way we do it” may compromise that goal.


A skilled commissioning professional can fine-tune his commissioning process to address the unique characteristics of individual projects and project teams. Staying focused on the fundamental purpose of commissioning, rather than some standard format, results in more useful and efficiently developed OPRs, BODs, and SMs.


Another concept that enhances any good process or document is the distinction between value and volume. To be of value, the OPR, BOD, and SM must address the important issues pertaining to the project's functional requirements, basis of design and operating characteristics.


On many projects, however, this can be done without lengthy or complex documents. For all projects, minimizing length and complexity to the extent possible, results in a more user-friendly, valuable document.


Building professionals would do well to heed the words of aviation pioneer Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “You know you've achieved perfection in design, not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away.” If something is required to achieve the fundamental purpose, we must be sure it is fully addressed. If it's not, the users and owners of the documents may be better served by leaving it out.


For the original paper and others, visit . Consulting-Specifying Engineer is the media sponsor for NCBC.


Author Information

Barber is the managing principal of Keithly Barber Assocs., a commissioning services firm. Barber has been a commissioning services provider since 1992, and is a founding member of the Building Commissioning Assn.

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