Have you seen the new acronym “BECx” – building envelope commissioning? No, it has nothing to do with GANA’s BEC. I’m still trying to get straight in my head why this is needed. After talking to a former colleague, it seems like this is NFRC all over again, with another set of players trying to get their noses under the building envelope tent. Just last week, I saw the first set of specs that required a Building Envelope Commissioning Agent (BECxA – funny how the acronyms all run closely to and with each other, isn’t it?).
Basically, building envelope commissioning includes another player on the design team – during design development or schematic design – whose primary role is to confirm that the specifications adequately address the building envelope’s various performance requirements. That means everything, not just glass and glazing, but also brick, panel, precast and other wall assemblies, will all have to meet the same performance standards we in the glass/glazing biz have come to know and love, such as ASTM E283, E330, E331, AAMA 501.1 thru .6, etc. The building commissioning standard, ASTM E2813, is meant to address energy, environment, safety, security, durability, sustainability, and operation (Section 1.6) issues, but as of this writing it doesn’t include verification or checks for structural issues, such as seismic, deflections. Why not? I couldn’t get an answer.
The building envelop commissioning agent frequently weighs in on the design, checking envelope wall submittals, helping spec correct materials/wall systems/constructions, and then testing either with pre-construction mockup testing and/or post-construction field testing. The people making the argument for commissioning say the commissioning protocol confirms that the architect’s specs actually get delivered. Really? Doesn’t the architect or their consultant already do field checks?
I’ve yet to see a project in which there’s a wholesale change to different materials (system, glass, etc.) after field testing is completed, or after shop drawings are approved, have you? The proponents seem to think that a major switch-out for cost savings by the GC or glazing sub is “done all the time.” I certainly don’t know any architect or owner who would approve a pay request IF that were done.
For smaller scale projects where the schedule and cost of conducting a performance mockup is not justified, the frame and glass manufacturers, along with NFRC certification, provide validation for the system as a whole in previously conducted air, water, and performance testing. Field testing for air/water integrity isn’t increased or lessened over typical specifications. Unless the building commissioning agent makes them test all over again to confirm the same performance before approval of the product for a given project, the validation comes in field testing of that existing product line. Doing thermal testing in the lab is hard enough; doing it on-site is much more difficult. Isn’t NRFC certification enough to confirm thermal performance? Why go through the trouble of conducting another thermal test if it’s not?
So, the unanswered questions for me are:
- Who is advocating this?
- What value does it add to the project that justifies the additional costs over what’s now typically required?
- Is the owner willing to pay the costs of another consultant on the design team or added costs to install the walls?
Plus, the standard covering the commissioning agent certification (E2813), calls for competencies that in practice will limit the qualified people to those with more than 20+ years in the business, and who have worked for a GC or exterior wall subcontractor delivering these goods. Naturally, the more experienced the person is, the more expensive the cost of providing commissioning services will be.
For large projects, we all know mockups can prove structural, air and water performance, as well as some thermal validation. Field testing does the same, with or without a pre-construction mockup. Thermal can be proved prior to construction, notably if an NFRC-certified set of products (glass, spacer, and framing) is furnished. Does the owner really want to pay to do air, water, thermal and structural testing in the field on an installed wall if a pre-construction mockup wasn’t done? And, do we really need another player whose hand needs to be held to prove what we’re doing is what we said we’d do? Or, is it that the other wall systems (not glass and glazing) need to be validated?
Maybe the other wall systems haven’t been held to the same standard as we in the glass and glazing biz have been, and that this is the way to catch them up to our world? I’m not sure; no one’s ever explained it to me. This scenario opens up a whole ‘nother can of worms I’ll hold for a future blog.
Please, I’m slow on the pickup: just why is another player required? And what value do they add to the project? I’m not seeing the need – not yet, anyway. I’d love to hear from the advocates for building envelop commissioning.