BCA: FROM THE FIELD: Getting the Most out of the Design Review Process

Check out Bruce Pitts’ latest article for the Building Commissioning Association blog, “The Checklist.”

Read the article below or on the BCxA’s website here.

FROM THE FIELD: Getting the Most out of the Design Review Process

By Bruce Pitts, CPMP, CSBA, LEED AP, Principal, Wood/Harbinger

Of all the design phase commissioning activities, design review is arguably the most critical. The reason I say that is that this is the best forum for the Owner, design team, and commissioning provider to have a critical discussion about the systems that comprise the building. To provide overall quality assurance, the commissioning process is a sequential review of the project documents produced at each stage; in the concept and design phase, those documents are the Owner’s Project Requirements, the Basis of Design, early design documents, and finally contract documents.

Commissioning is a quality assurance program. Quality assurance comes at every project stage, from concept development, early design, final design, construction, and occupancy.

Each review builds upon the next, to maintain continuity with each project stage. Design phase review makes sure the blocks all fit together. Does the BOD reflect the requirements of the OPR? Does the early design reflect the BOD? Do the contract documents build upon them all, or do the OPR and BOD need to be updated to account for necessary modifications revealed as design progressed? By involving the commissioning provider in each of these project stages, they build a comprehensive view of the project from which to better review the associated documents.

Design review actually starts in the contract phase, defining the level of design review that is required for the specific project. As the design review process has evolved over the past 20 years, more elements have come to be seen as a “commissioning design review.” In some cases, we review not only the contract drawings, but the engineer’s calculations.

The line is starting to blur between what constitutes a commissioning design review and what is really a peer review of the design. We need to be cognizant of making sure we have consistent and thorough contract language about how and when the design review takes place, and how it is intended to improve the quality of the design and meet the intent of the OPR.

Since design review is so important, it’s critical to know how to do a good design review. There are many resources available to commissioning providers to help them do better design reviews. Here are a few recent ones:

• The APPA/BCA Building Commissioning Handbook, Third Edition published in 2017, includes a section on design review as well as a handy checklist of topics and scopes to help providers deliver comprehensive design reviews.
• BCxA Best Practices for New Construction Commissioning, updated in February 2018, includes a design review section.
• BCxA also has recorded webinars for purchase; my presentation in December 2015 “Maximizing the Value of Design Document Review,” has practical examples of how to do a design review.
• ASHRAE is in the process of updating Guideline 0 and will soon open it up to the public review process. The revised Guideline 0 will include Informative Annexes, one of which covers design review. The Annex builds on the commissioning design review process outlined in the Guideline, with more information on the “how” and “why.”

There are many other resources out there, but I believe these to be the most beneficial, providing both the big picture and detail-oriented perspectives that today’s commissioning providers need to fulfill the quality assurance goal of the commissioning process.

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