HVAC Inspections and Commissioning - How often have you heard someone complain about inspectors or code officials whose job it is to inspect mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and other trades work for safety and quality workmanship? One could argue that workmanship or even design can be horrible even if the work passes a code inspection. However, chances are if the trades have any integrity they want the job to look good whether it is for the inspector or whether it is for pride and quality of work.
HVAC Inspections and Commissioning
Commissioning is not only good for the tradesman, it can make the inspection of the job better and smoother for everyone. That brings us to the purpose of this article. There are many homes and commercial buildings out there with HVAC equipment systems and ductwork that has never been inspected for either safety and health or even quality workmanship. And yes there are problems created by this lack of quality in the workmanship of the HVAC equipment installation and ductwork. And I dare say safety, energy, and health issues. All three issues are increasingly important today. Everything from the Building Automation System to all the MEP systems to the building envelope is tested and inspected during the commissioning process. This ensures the job meets the design parameters set by the owner in addition to reliability, safety, and quality of workmanship.
Safety First – HVAC Inspections and Commissioning
The first major reason to get the job inspected is safety. Code officials are professionals at safety and many can quote you the code without even looking in the codebook for the specific code. An example is the materials used in the construction of the ductwork. Do they meet the code for flame spread, smoke, combustion, and toxic development or ratings for the materials? Some of these requirements are not in the mechanical code but in the NFPA code or in the building code or in the local code for wherever the house or building is located.
Only the local code inspector (Authority Having Jurisdiction) can tell you which code applies although many base their codes on national codes and either narrow the definitions of code or are lax on the definitions of code from the national level. All these things apply to safety and health and there is a major reason behind these codes. Some of the codes come directly from accidents which happened that resulted in a loss of property, affect of occupants’ health, or a safety hazard where someone was injured or worse. Common sense also is a reason for building codes and is applicable to ductwork code and construction.
The Ole Grandfather Clause – HVAC Inspections and Commissioning
Older homes and commercial buildings are usually grandfathered by older less stringent building codes enforced today. However, as time marches on energy use and cost becomes a factor in upgrading systems including ductwork to save energy and reduce energy costs. This results in retrofit projects where older systems are replaced to make the system more energy efficient.
The renovation of the old systems will require a new inspection and will be based on the new code for the upgrade whether it is for ductwork, plumbing, electrical systems, or HVAC equipment. It is important to have the newly renovated systems inspected for safety and health reasons. Few municipalities have energy codes except in California and a few other places in the United States and the new system and the efficiency of the system is usually reliant on the designer, the type of equipment selected for retrofit, and the quality of workmanship in installation.
Energy Efficiency = Good Design – HVAC Inspections and Commissioning
A properly designed and installed system will be far more efficient than a system that is poorly designed and installed. This brings up another facet of newly installed systems. A code inspector will inspect for code issues and safety, however, that is typical, as far as the inspections go in either new systems or renovation projects. A few years ago the system was installed, started up by the contractor or manufacturers’ start-up technician, the job was inspected by applicable code officials, and that was that.
As energy use and costs become more and more important for many people and basic economics, before a renovation or new construction job is completed, owners are requiring independent commissioning companies to commission the work completed by the contractor and/or engineering firm who designed the project. This serves many purposes, but the bottom line is a good commissioning company will find problems with the design and installation that affect energy efficiency, the operation of the equipment, and problems that create more maintenance for the owner’s maintenance staff.
HVAC Inspections and Commissioning - Conclusion
Of course, commissioning will add more cost to the project. However, the problems found and fixed in design and operation of the equipment and the job will save these cost for commissioning. Savings that will be realized over the long term. Plus there will be fewer headaches for the maintenance staff and occupants.
As a mechanical contractor, electrical contractor, plumbing contractor, or controls contractor, it is in your best interest to have someone else go over the work your crew installs. If you do quality work and are confident in the skills of your crew, then you have nothing to worry about. Even if you lack confidence in the skills of your crew, it is wise to have other unbiased people inspect the work. This inspection and commissioning process can be beneficial to you and your company during the warranty period. It will result in fewer or no warranty calls saving you and your company time and money.
In conclusion, it is imperative for safety and health to have the job inspected by code officials. It is also a requirement of local and state laws not to mention liability issues for not getting an inspection. Finally, make sure the job is commissioned to ensure the design, operation of the equipment, and other factors of energy efficiency are reviewed by a competent firm. It is imperative and in the owner’s best interest.
UPDATE: I wrote this with contractors and owners in mind. To help owners understand the importance of having an independent commissioning and inspections team check the systems before construction is complete. For contractors as I have met resistance on some job sites by contractors who look at commissioning people like they are on the site to as pariahs who want to find lots of problems and get in the way as opposed to helping resolve issues. I’ve been on both sides of the fence and understand these concerns.
As a contractor, I’ve been in meetings where the discussion was about inspectors and commissioning people. In some cases, there is a palpable fear. Even as a contractor, I have always had the attitude that there is nothing to fear from inspectors or commissioning people precisely because we are professionals and do quality work that we should be proud of doing. If that is not the attitude in the organization, then I would rather not be there. Anything counter to that attitude means there is some malicious intent involved and I never want to involve myself in anything such as that.
I received a few emails concerning this article and wanted to clarify with this update.
HVAC Inspections and Commissioning - Building & Energy Codes
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