Fee often is the most important criterion in CxA selection, but it never should be the only one. The Brooks Act mandates consultant selection based on competence, and most state and local procurement laws follow this procedure. A Cx selection-criteria matrix that gives credit for lower fees as well as experience with the project's type/size, the Cx firm's location relative to the project, previous successful projects, Cx training and certification, staff availability, and other considerations, should be created.

One unique indicator of Cx ability is a firm's ownership of testing equipment. If a firm is offering to perform Cx, which is mainly field verification, but has no in-house measurement and testing equipment, the district might question whether the firm is a Cx provider or simply a consultant hanging out a Cx shingle. Typical Cx-firm equipment includes electronic/digital temperature, humidity, air-velocity, and fluid-flow meters and sensors. Remote long-term and short-term data loggers are necessary for guidance during occupancy. Basic air-balance equipment allows an independent check of a test, adjust, and balance (TAB) contractor. Volt, ohm, and milliampere (VOM); grounding; power-quality; and power-factor measuring equipment diagnose electrical performance. Blower doors and in-situ/portable moisture meters test roofs and walls. (This should be done during construction, not after.)

After receiving an equipment list from a prospective Cx provider, a school district might request calibration certificates to see who really is using and maintaining the equipment.

Although selection should never be based on fees alone, the range of fees submitted should be used as an overall guide to the success of an RFP. If the range is wider than 40 percent from the highest to lowest fee, the district should consider asking some questions, leveling the assumptions, and perhaps even reissuing the RFP. A clear, concise, and considered RFP makes all of the difference.

CxA Independence

The first rule of Cx is that the CxA must be independent of the core design and construction team. This allows unbiased judgments by the CxA as he or she checks bid documents (plans and specifications) and verifies the operation of the installed equipment. Engineers who design projects are not capable of checking plans and specifications objectively. A fresh set of eyes sees things the designer does not.

Medium- and large-size firms might be able to commission their own designs by having someone from a separate Cx group do the work. Multiple offices and partners/lines of reporting help this independence. The U.S. Green Building Council and others generally agree that acceptable unbiased judgments cannot be obtained when general contractors/subcontractors are left to confirm correct operation of systems they installed.

There are many Cx firms to choose from, and rarely is there a need to use the same firm for design, construction, and/or Cx. The Building Commissioning Association (BCA) includes a list of certified Cx professionals on its Website (http://bit.ly/cAuve0).

Cx and TAB

Some school districts issue RFPs that combine Cx with TAB. TAB consists of final piping and ductwork adjustments that ensure water and air volumes equal the levels described in plans and specifications. If TAB is not performed correctly, equipment, such as terminal units at the end of ducts and pipe runs, may be short of air and/or water and, therefore, fail to heat and cool to rated capacity. Temperature-related complaints made shortly after occupancy may be caused by insufficient TAB (and insufficient controls).

Because TAB is a critical process that occurs near the end of a project, it sometimes is combined with Cx into a single contract. Although this results in one fewer contract for the owner to administer, it is not a good idea. Just like CxAs, TAB providers have their own rules and certifying organizations. TAB should be completed first and then confirmed via sampling by the CxA.

Traditionally, TAB has been a bid service at the bottom tier of the mechanical/sheet-metal/piping hierarchy. It is better to contract TAB directly through the owner, so he or she has additional insight into the quality provided by the contractors and another chance to head off problems that otherwise may become evident only long after the facility is occupied and contractors have left the site.

Direct Communication Is Best

Lines of communication should be described explicitly in an RFP. When it comes to Cx, the best arrangement is for the CxA to report directly to the owner or a specific delegate. The delegate does not have to be an engineer on the owner's staff: Anyone with a common-sense understanding of the construction process would be appropriate. The delegate does not need to know the technical side of HVAC, lighting, and envelope performance. It is only necessary that he or she apply common sense to the CxA's technical judgment and track the process as it proceeds. Additionally, the individual must be able to reject contractor payments when needed to attain required system corrections.

If the owner does not have a person who is qualified to track the Cx process, an owner's representative (OR) can be hired to protect the owner's interests. The OR usually is someone other than the construction manager, to avoid conflicts. The OR can appoint a person to be the Cx focal point, collect documentation, and approve payments as equipment and systems are verified.

If the construction manager does not hold any contracts and has no financial contingencies in the project, he or she can represent the owner and communicate with the CxA. Medium- and large-size school districts should consider sending someone from their project team to a Cx training course to understand the process better. Again, this person does not have to be an engineer or a technician; a common-sense understanding of construction is enough. These types of courses are offered by the BCA, the University of Wisconsin, the Association of Energy Engineers, and others. This kind of training provides valuable insight into developing an accurate RFP.