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Commissioning Turns Virtual in Response to COVID-19

During these times of uncertainty and social distancing, it can be difficult to proceed with important commissioning (Cx) activities, specifically site visits and functional testing as they require travel and interaction in groups. In most states, construction is considered an essential service, but most projects are still proceeding with caution.

ESD has adapted to these times by conducting site visits and performing functional testing virtually on select projects to ensure project continuity with the commissioning process. All in all, unprecedented times have allowed ESD to be more creative in the commissioning process.

Although ESD has performed virtual commissioning successfully, ESD does not recommend virtual commissioning unless absolutely necessary. In our experience, it’s been difficult to conduct virtual commissioning based on WiFi or cellular network connection as well as access to the building automation system (BAS). It can also be time-consuming without a set agenda in place.

Proceeding with caution, ESD believes that in-person site visits and functional testing are vital as a Commissioning Authority and provides the greatest benefit to the owner. However, there are times when it may be necessary to commission virtually. With that, below is the approach ESD has followed and lessons learned throughout the process.

  1. When to conduct virtual commissioning? When it comes down to it, it is up to the owner’s discretion. Does the owner prefer virtual commissioning or would they rather have the commissioning authority on site? ESD does not recommend virtual commissioning for critical equipment and spaces such as data centers. It’s better suited for smaller projects with non-critical or smaller-scale repetitive equipment, or for verifying the installation of equipment that may cause damage to the site. For example, verifying condensate lines and pans are installed can occur virtually prior to occupancy. In addition, if the project is tied into a BAS, it’s important to make sure the Cx authority has access to it.
  2. What does a Cx agent need to conduct a virtual site visit? Screen clarity and being able to see equipment in detail is difficult when conducting virtual site visits via web conferencing.  The first step is to send the general contractor (GC) and site team a list of what you’d like documented in photos with labels (mechanical, electrical and plumbing equipment and controls). Plan an agenda for the virtual site visit and schedule a call with the GC and team to have the GC on site walking around the space (usually via phone or tablet) while you attend virtually.
  3. What does a Cx Agent need to conduct virtual functional testing? Plan a preparation call with the team (GC, subs, owner and other stakeholders) prior to functional testing to cover scope and plan and confirm systems are ready for functional testing. Gather pre-functional checklists or installation verification checklists (IVCs). Confirm remote access to BAS or screenshare with controls contractor. Confirm how functional testing is being completed (via FaceTime, Zoom, Webex or another method) and that the project team has access to that platform. Confirm contractors have equipment on site that’s necessary to complete functional testing such as an infrared thermometer gun to verify supply air temperatures. Once testing has been completed, send out an issues log to the team and ask for additional photos to confirm anything that could not be verified while testing.

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