How third-party commissioning can improve building construction.
Working with thousands of buildings over the last three decades, I have witnessed firsthand a critical issue in the building industry: Construction Quality. Serious deficiencies with buildings are shockingly common. These flaws are often born from a construction event — not only in new construction but also remodels and even simple equipment replacements. This quality deficiency is prevalent in all types of buildings: big and small, simple and complex, commercial and residential. Retail, restaurant, office, grocery, lodging, education, warehouse, data center, healthcare… none are immune.
As a result, we have buildings with:
- An unhealthy and uncomfortable indoor environment
- High energy use
- Soaring repair and maintenance costs
Causes of Poor Construction Quality
I have observed four key root causes of poor construction quality:
- Pressure on time and money – As a society, we want things faster and cheaper, and buildings are no exception. This puts great constraints on construction teams, forcing errors and cut corners. Important design elements are being ignored or intentionally removed from scopes of work.
- Scarcity of skilled labor – The skilled labor shortage has been a national challenge for a while now and is getting increasingly worse. Because of this, we have people installing building systems who lack the necessary training and experience. Even when intentions are good, mistakes happen.
- Lack of integrity – Sadly, personal character and ethics are undervalued by many. Frequently I see reports from contractors that claim certain tasks were done but, when checked, clearly are not so… A construction checklist indicating the presence of important equipment accessories that are in fact missing, a balance report showing airflow set to design while the components necessary to do so are not even installed, and the list goes on. Much of the construction process is invisible to the building owner and thus ripe for dishonesty.
- Absence of accountability – The vast majority of construction issues are not being caught. In the rare cases they are caught, they are not being pursued to a successful resolution. This problem is exacerbated for chain building owners who are trying to manage dozens, if not hundreds, of projects at a given time. They are unable to keep up, and their level of oversight diminishes.
Commissioning: How to Improve Construction Quality
So, what can we do about it right now? We can give construction contractors more time and money to do their job and, though that may help, that does not ensure success. The skilled labor shortage is a long-term problem and will not be solved any time soon. We can and should associate with those who have integrity, but we also must verify that our trust in them is justified.
What we can immediately do to improve construction quality is provide accountability by auditing and inspecting the construction process. In other words, we can commission the building.
An independent commissioning agent does this by working alongside the design and construction teams, objectively checking things along the way — but not replacing those teams or their responsibilities. The commissioning agent examines particular details of the building systems and also considers how those systems work together in the big picture to accomplish the primary purposes of the building. An experienced and diligent commissioning agent will uncover construction deficiencies and will work with the appropriate contractors to see those issues to a successful resolution.
Without this accountability built into our construction processes, AKA commissioning, the quality of our buildings will only continue to get worse.