I’m excited to have recently joined the group of like-minded and down-to-earth individuals that comprise Cx Associates, and I’ve quickly learned that all of us here have a vested interest in expanding our minds and honing our craft. A huge part of that is information sharing with one another. In that vein, I’ve had opportunities to catch meaningful snapshots of the MEP commissioning process, allowing me to reflect closely on the process as I know it for the building enclosure. Lately, I’ve been asking myself, “What can be done better on the building enclosure side?” I think one of those things is employing installation checklists.
Historically speaking, I haven’t been one to employ checklists for the building enclosure, unless required by the project. Knowing some of the other frequent building enclosure commissioning (BECx) providers in the northern New England region, I’d wager that installation checklists for most BECx projects are not commonplace. I’m not saying that no one uses checklists for the building enclosure as part of their commissioning process - they do, and I’ve seen it. After all, checklists are often referenced in industry guidelines such as those for the building enclosure by ASTM or NIBS. Vermont commercial energy code even requires checklists for air barrier commissioning. When it’s not required however, I just think we, as a collective of parties in northern New England, tend to rely on our collaborative relationships and trust in one another to get the job done.
I respect that, and it’s a huge part of why I enjoy working in northern New England, but let’s face it, we all need reminders every now and again. Schedules get busy, and projects need to be delivered. Despite everyone’s best intentions, important things occasionally get dropped or missed. Material ‘A’ was supposed to wait to go on until after material ‘B’, a crew on site didn’t catch the most recent detail revision that was sent out, or a critical test or inspection was missed and now the material is covered – to name a few examples. Not to mention, overarching performance goals can be easy to lose sight of in the day-to-day craze. Installation checklists, when utilized, benefit everyone on the commissioning team and are developed to provide these kinds of critical reminders about installation to help keep the construction process running smooth and facilitate the big picture goals of the owner and of the design. As the BECx provider, I strive to be on site at the most critical enclosure milestones, but I can’t be there every day and often the pace of envelope construction and concealment can be rapid. However, the contractor and subcontractors are there every day for their scope of work. The contractor and subcontractor’s review and completion of the checklists verifies they get those critical reminders in a timely manner, and it aids the BECx process by providing the owner additional assurances that they are getting a quality product that meets their needs and the design intent of the enclosure - especially for the parts the BECx provider doesn’t get a chance to see. After all, the contractor and subcontractors are a part of the Commissioning Team!
As a collective group of builders, architects, engineers, and consultants who appreciate each other’s trust and productive processes, I think checklists often fall off the radar because we haven’t taken the time to try to tailor what was originally an MEP process to fit the building enclosure in a tasteful manner. After all, a checklist is a form of paperwork (I readily acknowledge that), and I’d argue that the level of nuance regarding physical installation requirements for building enclosure systems is far deeper and more complex than that of many MEP systems. When you could go to the ends of the earth defining each of these nuances, the idea of a checklist starts to sound like a burden rather than a valuable part of the process.
To that end, I believe that if we’re going to employ checklists then we should do so tastefully. In other words, create a development and execution strategy that provides additional reassurances for the entire team without adding an unreasonable amount of time and effort on the contractor’s part. How do we do that? I think I’ve realized the best approach involves a few things:
- Considering the envelope size and complexity. A small and simple envelope likely doesn’t need the same level of detail as one that is large and full of geometric variations.
- Striking a balance to ensure it’s comprehensive, without being a burden. I think the latter is a fault of some of the industry guidelines out there which provide checklist annexes with unreasonable levels of information that make it too cumbersome for the contractor and the provider to work through. Additionally, there is a point in which too many items start to convey a sense of distrust which can hamper overall productivity.
- Identifying only what’s truly critical. What are the pre-installation and installation items that will have an adverse effect on the efficiency or durability of the building envelope if not followed correctly?
- Executing checklists at appropriate milestones. In the MEP world, each separate piece of equipment is assigned its own checklist. With single enclosure materials that span large surface areas, it can be unclear where or how many checklists to assign to a material. A single checklist isn’t timely enough. On the other hand, a microscopic breakdown can generate hundreds of checklists that are difficult to keep up with. I think the balance here is to go by elevation, or if it’s a very large building, elevation and building wing.
- Realizing that checklists can be confining. A checklist doesn’t equate to putting the blinders on to everything else. Often some of the most significant of challenges identified in the field are three-dimensional, multi-trade, and unable to be foreseen. In other words, not everything that is important will be on the checklist.
- Realizing that sometimes checklists may not make any sense at all. The owner’s needs and the design intent should be the primary drivers of the checklists. Depending on those things, checklists may or may not be all that useful.
As Cx Associates continues to more deeply integrate enclosure services into our work, I hope to begin to make checklists more commonplace in the enclosure commissioning process in hopes that others see the value in it as well. I hope those we collaborate with often from project to project also chime in to provide constructive feedback along the way.