Just like construction drawings and specifications, RFPs need to be specific and tailored to each project to avoid higher bids based on guessing by the bidding firms and, in the end, the Owner perhaps not getting all they wanted from a commissioning firm. RFPs for commissioning may be written by several entities; the Owner, Project Manager, or the Design Team, but the common goal to all is a building that WORKS when construction is complete. The following are items that if included in an RFP, make the bids you receive more accurate (in price, in scope of services, and proposed work plan) as well as lay the groundwork for a more specific contract between you and the commissioning firm that you ultimately select; this will help ensure that you receive all the services you desire.
Items to include in the RFP:
Give as much background on the project as possible. This helps us to understand what the project is and the building’s intended use. Additional information like building area, Owner requirements, etc. also help to better understand the unique project we are submitting on.
Identify what equipment and systems will be included in the commissioning scope. Also include the quantity of equipment (i.e., 15 air handling units, 100 VAV boxes, occupancy sensors, etc.). If your project is in pre-design or early design, then consider utilizing a request for qualifications (RFQ) instead. This allows you to select a commissioning provider based on qualifications and pricing can be negotiated later. I have personally seen this several times where an RFP comes out and I am asked to submit a price on it, but the only problem is that the project was in pre-design. There were no systems in mind, quantities, floorplans were not fully vetted, and the RFP didn’t give a clear summary of what services that they wanted; however, they were asking for a fee proposal. And what you may see is a commissioning company bidding higher than they otherwise would with more complete information.
Identify what services are desired for commissioning. Example service list can be seen here.
Specify which commissioning approach you want for your project. I’ve talked about technical vs process commissioning here where I described the differences. If you don’t specify which approach you want, you end up with an apples-to-oranges comparison when evaluating proposal submissions. Where this really comes into play is if cost is a large part of the deciding criteria. A commissioning firm who utilizes a process approach spends less time on-site as compared to a firm who utilizes a technical approach. This results in a lower fee from a process approach company; however, what most forget to consider is that the time not spent on-site by the commissioning firm performing prefunctional checklists and functional testing needs to be picked up by the Contractors. The Contractors will have to include this additional time and expense into their bids. In most cases, a dedicated commissioning firm who only performs commissioning is more efficient and proactive is executing the prefunctional and functional tasks.
Ask for a proposed work plan or project approach from firms submitting on your RFP. You can gain valuable insight into the processes of commissioning firms and can judge whether they will be a fit for your project. This also lets you know how well they understand the unique variables and challenges for your project.
Ask for some reference projects of similar usage and size of your facility from each commissioning firm bidding.
Ask for references of the commissioning firm itself.
Indicate firm and employee certification requirements such as from NEBB, BCxA, AABC, etc. This will ensure a minimum level of training and experience that submitting firms must meet. Insider tip: firms which are NEBB certified must own and maintain calibration on their testing equipment. This means that they don’t have to rely on the Contractors to provide the testing equipment.
Ask for the roles and resumes of the specific employee’s who will be performing the commissioning services for your project.
Specify a page limit (i.e., 25 page faces) for submissions. This keeps firms from submitting too much information that may not be necessary. This additional information will eat up your time during reviews.
Bonus: 3 tips for reviewing your RFP submissions from commissioning firms
Focus on the content and work plans submitted when reviewing proposal submissions. While it may be tempting to choose the cheapest provider, you owe it to yourself to thoroughly weigh variables such as experience, work plan, project understanding, and references. Like everything else, you often get what you pay for and going for the cheapest commissioning agent isn’t always in your best interest.
When in doubt, CALL and ASK the commissioning firm directly about any item that you have a question or concern about. Even if you don't have a question: have a question! ...then pay attention to the completeness and timeliness of the response from the firm: this should give you some idea of the sort of service you can expect to receive.
If you are still having problems narrowing down which firm will be the best fit for your project, hold interviews. Narrow the list of submissions down to your top 2 or 3 companies and interview them in person. This can be a great way to judge how they will fit into the dynamics of your project and the project team. You can ask for clarifications on items in their proposals, ask additional questions, etc.
While all these tips do take time, it will be time well spent because you can then choose a firm you can be confident in responding to your project in a timely, efficient, and professional manner. In addition, it sets the tone for a process that is all about the details; for example, if the bidding firm can't do a good job in addressing all the details of your RFP, it does NOT bode well for how they may handle all the details of commissioning the project itself! The effort put into a well-written RFP will more than pay for itself by weeding out firms that won't deliver a high degree of service and by making for less work later to sort out RFP vague statements.
Keep these tips in mind and you will find that the responses to your RFP’s are of better quality and more relevant to your project.
Contact us if you want a sample RFP.