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How to Present Your Commissioning Design Review Comments Convincingly

Jan 18, 2012 5:00:00 AM

One of the biggest challenges in conducting a building commissioning design review is to get the designer to seriously consider a design review suggestion. Designers will naturally be defensive, as would any of us. Having been an HVAC designer myself, I know one of the designer’s biggest fears is seeing comments that make the designer “look bad” to the client (building owner).


Some Fundamentals

To avoid a defensive reaction and get serious consideration from a designer plan carefully for the way in which a design review comment will be presented; it’s really no different than having a sensitive discussion in a meeting or on the phone. Always maintain a positive and respectful tone. Avoid sounding too authoritative. And never, ever make the designer look bad.

A comment should state the issue clearly, then present a solution or opportunity. One of the best approaches is to present the issue and then offer a solution in a question format. A question format is highly effective and it is a non-threatening approach. Here’s an example: “The specs call for glass “stick” type piping thermometers, which are difficult to read in the field. Could easy to read, round dial-type thermometers be specified?”

“In My Opinion”

Using the phrase “in my opinion” as part of a review comment is ineffective. Opinions don’t matter; and besides, everybody has one. Opinions are subjective. But engineering is objective.

However, using the phrase “in our experience” carries much more weight. The experience of a commissioning (Cx) service provider is viable and valid. Relating problems encountered from other projects is informative and useful. A designer will seriously consider an experienced-based comment because most designers have minimal startup and field testing experience. Experience is more objective, thus much more acceptable.

Good Design Practice

Using the phrase “good design practice” is subjective and by itself is ineffective. Referencing “good design practice” in a comment works only if it can be supported with an authoritative document to support the otherwise subjective phrase.

Design Conflicts

It is not unusual to see blatant errors and conflicts in a design that has been poorly executed. A piping detail may seriously conflict with a control schematic diagram or the specifications, and you know the problem is fundamentally sloppy or careless design. In these cases, the use of review phrases in your comment solution such as “ the design progresses”, “…as the design is finalized” or “...suggest reconciling conflicts when final checking occurs” can work very well. The phrase is non-threatening because the reviewer acknowledges final checking is part of the process and no one expects an error free design when the design is only partially completed.

Heavy Ammunition

It’s not uncommon for a designer to be less than familiar with a critical code or industry standard and often the design will reflect that lack of knowledge. Using a code or industry standard, as well as the specific chapter and verse to convince the designer almost always works. Cite the specifics, such as Section, ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2007, Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings. Including a sentence or two of the exact code language in a review comments can be powerful.

Energy Efficiency Opportunities: Hidden Veins of Gold

There are very few designs which capture all of the possible efficiency opportunities. Most designers are in a mindset focused on design day conditions — extreme winter and summer conditions — and little attention is applied to part load operation. Part load opportunities are where the real gold resides because systems operate at part load 99% of the time. But to convince the designer, one has to provide calculated energy and operational cost-saving figures. Such savings estimates can quickly and accurately be created using spreadsheets. A precise estimate is not necessary to “sell” the opportunity; an average annual estimate will usually suffice. The order of magnitude of the savings is what is really important.

Reducing operating costs demonstrates the value of building commissioning to the owner.

Could I be Wrong?

Always keep an open mind to the designer’s response to a comment. There is always the possibility you could be flat wrong. If you think about what you have learned with each new project — sometimes you’ll wonder how you have survived and avoided big trouble all these years without that new knowledge.

Your goal is to get the very best building possible for the building owner. Carefully planning how you present your commissioning design review comments to the designer will make it more likely your recommendations will be accepted — and that you, the designer, and the building owner will all feel successful at the conclusion of the project.

Written by Thomas Anderson