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Owners - 5 items that are CRITICAL to discuss with your Design Team!

There are many variables to ensuring a successful project. Every year, as new technologies emerge, building system designs become more complex, and interactions among building systems increase. Your Design Team has a huge number of variables to consider when working on your project. All of this is great news for you as a building Owner, because with this new technology building efficiency and performance can reach new levels! The catch to this is that all this technology and great design is useless if not properly implemented – and this starts with a project’s conception. Here are 5 items that can make or break a project from the start.

Talk with your Design Team about including these 5 MUST HAVES into your project!

1. OPR/BOD Documents

The first step is clearly communicating your requirements and definition of a successful project. The Design Team must know exactly how you intend to use the building, any wants, needs, and other requirements in order to design a building that will meet your needs. The best tool to accomplish this requirement is by creating an Owner Project Requirements (OPR) document. The Design Team can then create a Basis of Design (BOD) document which addresses and confirms these requirements.

​The time spent compiling this information will pay dividends at the end of the project when you move into your new space! (If you have ever gone through a LEED certification process then these terms will sound familiar.)

Here is a (not necessarily exhaustive) list of what to include in your OPR:

  • General requirements. Describe general objectives, site conditions, building use, expected life expectancy, building specifics, etc. Is this a 25 year building or a 100 year building? Do you plan to add onto it in the future?

  • Space plan and uses. Provide an overview of specific space use and requirements for the internal spaces within the building, flexibility requirements, etc. How will you use the spaces? During what hours?

  • HVAC systems. List specifics for time schedules, climactic design criteria, code compliance, temperature and humidity requirements, tolerances, redundancy requirements, air quality requirements, system type preferences, etc. Are there any types of systems you WANT to see or DON'T WANT to see? Do you want redundancy in your critical systems?

  • Electrical systems. List any requirements for emergency power, lighting control systems, power quality, lighting levels/types, etc.

  • Sustainability. Are there any sustainability goals for the project? LEED, ASHRAE, etc.?

  • Building envelope. What do you want to see in the building envelope? List preferences for construction materials, main entrance orientations, fenestration, insulation levels, air/water barriers, building height, etc.

  • Plumbing systems. What do you want for the plumbing systems? Flush valves, fixture types, hot water generation, water usage requirements, etc.

  • Fire protection systems. Are there any special requirements regarding fire protection? Dry systems, chemical systems, wet systems, alarming, etc.

  • Commissioning. Are there any special requirements that you want for commissioning your project/building? List them here! Scope, equipment to be commissioned, commissioning rigor, etc.

2. Focus on end of project operations

You need to make sure that the Design Team fully understands who will be operating and maintaining your building. What is the Operator’s level of knowledge with the type of building and systems contained within the design? Armed with this knowledge, you need to make sure that the Design Team CLEARLY specifies to the Contractors the level and length of Owner/Operator training. We have seen numerous instances where the project wraps up and the Owner and their Facility Maintenance Staff have insufficient training and do not fully understand how to operate their building or the intent of the design. One example of this is we ran into an Owner who did not understand why the heating plant was still running during the summer after they moved into their building. We had to explain that it provided re-heat capabilities to the VAV zone boxes to allow for dehumidification and prevent over-cooling of interior spaces.

3. Coordination among trades

You need to set the standard expectation for coordination between trades (Architectural, Mechanical, Electrical, Civil, Structural) in the design documents. You as the Owner need to push for multiple submittal packages during the design process to ensure that all Design Team members are reviewing and coordinating among themselves. In case you are wondering, having a one-stop-shop or Building Information Modeling (BIM) does not remove this requirement. We have seen lack of coordination and avoidable mistakes made with all design processes. The additional time spent on these reviews more than makes up for the additional effort by delivering a more accurate set of construction documents.

4. Clear and detailed sequence of operations

You can have the most sophisticated HVAC design and state-of-the-art systems in your building design, but without clear and detailed sequence of operations indicating HOW these systems should operate and interact then your building won’t live up to its potential. During design, your Mechanical Design Team MUST clearly, and definitively spell out how the HVAC and building automation system (BAS) are to function, how systems interact with each other, what setpoints to meet, what (sensors, sequences, setpoints, etc.) controls these systems, etc. We often see a vague sequence of operations from Design Teams that leave too much room for interpretation (or misinterpretation!) by the Contractors and Commissioning Agent or Owner. This spells trouble for the Owner and Commissioning Agent as we can only test and adhere to the Design Intent/Documents. If it isn’t clearly spelled out, then it is a battle to get the building and systems to function as intended.

5. Careful review of design before final bid documents

Before the Design Team sends the final construction documents out for bid or to be built, you need to make sure that you perform a final review of the construction documents to ensure that the above listed items were fully incorporated into your building design to meet your operational needs. This review can be completed by you, or through a good 3rd-party commissioning provider who functions as your advocate on the project. Either way, we believe that this is a critical step in ensuring a successful project!

This provides the general picture of what you absolutely can’t do without during the design phase in order to have a chance for a smooth and successful project down the road. But please take this a starting point, each of the items listed above are a high-level summary.

Remember, the more detailed and concise set of construction documents that your Design Team produces, the smoother your project will go! If you have questions on any of this, let us know and we’d be happy to help!

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