An insider’s approach to simplifying the complex

By David Burks, Paladin Engineers, Inc.

 

 

Construction in 2022 (both new facility and renovation) has changed remarkably in many respects.  Besides the economics of a project – impacted by supply chain disruptions, ballooning budgets and worker shortages – buildings themselves are facing a rapidly increasing level of performance expectations, especially when it comes to building enclosure performance.

The sort of considerations that were once reserved for projects with budgets in the tens or hundreds of millions are now being required on projects in the $5 million range.  This means you will now be expected to know air leakage rates [is it 0.40, 0.25, 0.15, or some other rate measured in cfm/ft2?], acoustical thresholds, and the sustainability requirements of the project materials.  In short, the enclosure is being asked to do more than ever to keep operational and capital costs down while still meeting performance requirements…and being beautiful, of course.

This collision of forces can lead to anxiety as you wrestle tradeoffs and work to make informed decisions.  Luckily for everyone, the construction industry has adopted a standardized approach to help guide these decisions called Building Enclosure Commissioning [BECx].

If you’re wondering “What is BECx?” it’s a process geared toward driving your building’s enclosure performance to meet (and hopefully exceed) today’s requirements for water, thermal, air and acoustical barriers.  The BECx process achieves this by

  1. establishing the Owner Project Requirements,
  2. performing Design Reviews [ideally done by a third-party not associated with the Design team],
  3. conducting installation reviews throughout construction, and
  4. completing thorough testing of the enclosure systems.

[If you want a more in-depth outline of the process, check out ANSI/ASHRAE 202 Standard and ASHRAE Guideline 0.]

This process should be guided by a specialist who not only understands the general commissioning process, but also has mastered the Building Enclosure Core Competencies which are outlined in ASTM E2813, “Building Enclosure Commissioning Process.”  At a high level, they relate to the principles of heat transfer, water storage and transport, material performance and characteristics, architectural design principles, and structural loading.

Combined with two other invaluable resources (ASTM E2947 and National Institute of Building Sciences Whole Building Design Guide), Building Enclosure Commissioning requires a whole team to fulfill all the requirements for expert knowledge in these competencies.  As a result, your team might include manufacturer representatives/technicians, potential laboratory testing agencies, architects, multiple contractors, and more, all of whom are necessary. No single individual can be a Building Enclosure Commissioning Team, but the right team of individuals working together can form the required knowledgebase to successfully complete the BECx process.

A Building Enclosure Commissioning Professional is one who can help guide the correct team to implement the commissioning process.  Unless you plan to devote yourself to becoming a BECx expert and practitioner, your time will be best spent selecting a professional with the appropriate qualifications and experience.  You want someone who is both gifted in managing the process and has an understanding of the systems, which will help them know the right questions to ask, the right areas deserving focus, and the right areas that must perform in the final construction.

One benefit of that experience level is the awareness that the building and the program should dictate the scope and extent of building enclosure commissioning (as opposed to letting the standard dictate the scope).  Unlike the commissioning of more traditional systems (like HVAC), building enclosure commissioning has many variables that influence scope, including the facility’s purpose and programming, the testing budget, the geography, the construction methods, and even the architectural systems.

For example, we have been on projects that specified roof flood tests for buildings that do not have the structural capacity for the required volume of water.  The desired outcome – confirming water tightness of the roofing assembly – was easily, safely, and successfully completed through observation and specific testing protocols we’ve mastered. Bottom line, when the commissioning process is tailored to the needs of the facility, it will bring out the best in your project.

If you’re ready to let an expert guide your process and lead your team, it’s time to get a genuine BECx Professional involved. Whether it’s our team here at Paladin or another BECx Professional, adding an expert with a strong grasp of the complex requirements can help you and your team “push the envelope” together.