Building Assurance: BECx Advocates Say it Ensures a Quality Enclosure

By Ellen Rogers

No one wants to spend millions of dollars only to end up with a building that performs poorly. But many buildings today are not designed and built with the highest possible performance in mind—and it’s the envelope that’s often to blame. Building Enclosure Commissioning (BECx) is intended to ensure the performance of a building. The practice has been around for some time, and while it may not be deployed on every project, it is becoming more common, particularly as owners look to ensure increasing energy and performance of their buildings.

“It’s a growing area, and we’re seeing it more often on bids,” says Bruce Kaskel, principal with Wiss, Janey, Elstner Associates in Chicago. “It’s getting to be more and more understood and a standard practice. Mechanical/electrical/plumbing commissioning is bigger, but this [BECx] is gaining traction.”

Much of the growth and interest in BECx is due to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) requirements. Commissioning has been part of LEED since before v4, which became publicly available seven years ago. In 2016 previous rating systems closed, meaning all registered projects had to be under LEED v4.

Melissa Wong, vice president with Thornton Tomasetti in New York, says BECx can help a project earn LEED points, “and many times this is when consideration for it comes up,” she says, adding the process “provides another set of eyes for the enclosure that helps ensure a tighter envelope and further minimizes any gaps in the design and execution.”

Wong explains that commissioning agents, acting as an agent of the owner, essentially provide a third-party peer review of the building enclosure.

“They are meant to be independent of the design or contractor team to ensure non-biased technical opinions are provided in the interest of meeting the owner’s project requirements.”

John Runkle, vice president of building sciences at Intertek-Architectural Testing Inc., says BECx makes up a significant number of the commercial projects in which he’s involved.

“It starts in the design phase and with the owner’s project requirements (OPR). That’s the fundamental difference in consulting and commissioning—commissioning is based on a defined process (ASTM E 2813, Standard Practice for Building Enclosure  Commissioning) and is meant to verify the building performance against the OPR,” he says. “Consulting could be based on a small scope of the work, is different one project to the next and might not be based on what the owner wants.”

Runkle explains that BECx includes reviewing design/architectural drawings against the OPR, writing a commissioning plan and a functional performance test plan.

“And almost always there will be three key things prior to full-scale construction: the mock-up (performance test), a commissioning or pre construction kick-off meeting and a review of shop drawings for enclosure systems,” he says. “As construction matures, you get into field testing, and site inspection of the enclosure assemblies, including tracking of deficiencies. It’s wrapped up in the operations and maintenance phase and that’s where we draft the final commissioning report and perform a 10-month visit to record how the building is performing.”

Quality Assurance

There are also benefits and advantages for contract glaziers.

“Glazing contractors could encounter the BECx process during either early design assist or during the construction administration phase,” Wong says. “The BECx agent will work alongside the design team during these phases by providing additional reviews of select submittals, perform select site visits during installation and attending mock-ups or field tests. They will not take the place of the design team during these phases, but are meant to supplement their reviews—submittal approvals are still the action of the design team.”

Runkle adds that contract glaziers can also see a more efficient construction schedule as a result of the commissioning process.

“The glazing is often the most complex part of the enclosure system and historically one of the later systems on the building to be installed, which meant more finger pointing at the glazier than other trades …” he says. “We’re seeing a change where the heavy cladding (i.e., bricks) is going in after the glazing. The glazing, air barrier and roofing are all part of the ‘dried in’ components and that’s happening faster, which is shrinking the construction schedule.”

Working Together

Contract glaziers are also seeing the benefits. Andy Hill, CEO of Glass Solutions Inc. in Itasca, Ill., says it’s become a necessity for new construction.

“BECx parallels the Integrated Project Delivery method, where the emphasis is enclosure, schedule and cost via a team effort,” he says. “If there was an enclosure standard such as this, owners would limit their exposure and façade companies would be required to develop/train their people accordingly. It would definitely help standardize the market.”

He adds that it could be pushed down into the construction management curriculum at the university level, helping to enhance today’s youth.

“We teach our employees this through our GSI School, a two-year program.”

As building codes continue to drive increasingly stringent performance, owners and developers will also be working to ensure their buildings not only meet, but exceed those requirements. Kaskel adds that the increasing complexity of facades is also a factor.

“It was only a few years ago that air barriers weren’t on every project and there are a lot of people who don’t understand the intricacies of a well-designed façade,” he says. “As façades become more complicated and more importance is placed on energy efficiency, there needs to be a dedicated party to assess the qualities of those elements.”

Runkle agrees this is becoming an essential part of the construction process.

“Enclosure commissioning is here to stay. As we’ve seen with all types of quality assurance, the practices of old don’t go away,” he says. “It’s been a big help toward achieving local and national sustainability initiatives and has helped us refocus where we need to be, and that’s looking at the building as a whole, not as individual components.”

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