In any sustainable construction job, the project team is focused on the final stage of the project – construction closeout – long before the building is completed. This fourth, and final segment, to our “Contractor’s Role in Sustainability” series focuses on the benefits of this proactive approach.
At the completion of any sustainable construction project, that project enters the construction closeout phase. This phase involves a series of steps that represent the coordinated closeout of the LEED project, leading to the submission of LEED construction credit documentation and deferred design credit documentation for review.
A LEED project validation team must verify the accuracy of the information submitted; assure that documentation claims are verifiable; and confirm that products and materials were actually installed. The team is also responsible for ensuring that the contractor and subcontractors are prepared for building flush-out and have compiled all necessary LEED documentation requirements.
It’s a big job, and one that starts long before the project is completed. The contractor is a key player in the construction closeout phase, as well as the previous phases of a sustainable construction project: predesign and design and construction.
Building Commissioning – The Importance of the Contractor
In order to comply with the requirements of the Energy and Atmosphere (EA) Prerequisite 1: Fundamental Commissioning, a Commissioning agent (CxA) will verify that the building’s energy-related systems and equipment are installed, calibrated and perform per specifications. The CxA will also ensure that the systems satisfy the owner’s project requirements (OPR), basis of design (BOD) and construction documents.
The process for verifying that these systems perform as designed, built, operated and maintained per OPR, according to LEED standards, is called commissioning. Fundamental Commissioning is a prerequisite for all LEED projects.
Projects may earn two LEED points for enhanced commissioning. The CxA must have documented commissioning authority experience in at least two building projects. Under the current rating system (LEED 2009 or v3.0) if the building area is less than 50,000 square feet, the CXA could be a member of project team with design or construction responsibilities, but they must be independent for projects bigger than 50,000 square feet.
Commissioning must be completed for the following energy-related systems, at a minimum:
- Heating, ventilating, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC&R) systems
- Lighting and day lighting controls
- Domestic hot water systems
- Renewable energy systems (e.g., wind, solar)
Prior to building occupancy, the CxA shall verify the performance of energy consuming systems and complete a commissioning report with recommendations or action items that needs to be performed by the contractor prior to accepting the commissioned systems.
The contractor assists the Commissioning Agent by accompanying him or her on walk-throughs, answering questions and performing system tests. The LEED project could earn two points under enhanced commissioning by achieving the following:
- The CxA or the contractor must develop a systems manual for all commissioned systems.
- The CxA or the contractor must verify that the requirements for training operating personnel and building occupants have been completed.
- The CxA must review the operation of the building within 10 months after substantial completion of the project.
Though building envelope commissioning is not a requirement under the prerequisite or credit, the project may earn one point under innovation and design.
Indoor Air Quality Management: Building Flush-out Before Occupancy
Before building occupancy, the contractor will conduct a building flush-out to ensure that air contaminants from construction are removed. Typically, the mechanical systems are run for two weeks minimum, using tempered 100% outside air and Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) 13 filtration media. Once flush-out is complete, the filters should be replaced.
The contractor is a vital player who is involved from the point of pre-design all the way to the final flush-out before occupancy.
The contractor will also attend a pre-closeout LEED validation meeting to:
- Ensure that building flush-out or indoor air quality testing procedures are met to comply with the construction credit under Indoor Environmental Quality: Indoor air quality management after construction.
- Review the commissioning report and determine whether action items need to be taken to meet the owner’s project requirements (OPR).
- Review LEED documentation including photographs, waste management logs and pending submittals.
- Determine if credit submissions need to be audited.
- Identify missing documentation before LEED closeout documentation is submitted.
- Mark the credits as “complete” on the LEED online platform.
On major projects, which describe most LEED buildings, efficient contractors will prepare a LEED project closeout manual or LEED documentation book which describes the documentation subcontractors are expected to submit by the end of the project. The documentation requirements include those for project compliance, code compliance and LEED compliance. The LEED documentation book will also include supporting documentation such as meeting records, site logs for waste management, commissioning reports and indoor air quality management – building flush-out or air-quality testing results.
The manual is distributed to all subcontractors early in the project to enable them to comply with LEED provisions and final submittals. This proactive approach ensures that even subcontractors who complete work well before the end of the project will meet requirements.
Many federal and Department of Defense projects require contractors to submit a LEED documentation book irrespective of whether they decide to submit the project for formal LEED certification.
Once comfortable that the LEED documentation is true, accurate, and verifiable, the LEED project administrator makes the review payment and submits the project for review. The review team usually takes less than 21 days to provide review comments, ask clarification questions and more documentation before awarding or denying a credit.
Once the project team submits additional information and documentation for review (if needed), it might take up to another 14-21 days before the project is awarded or denied the credit it re-submitted. The project team also has an option to appeal decisions on any credits that were denied for a fee.
After the LEED closeout submission, the contractor will attend a closeout meeting with the validation team to:
- Review and document LEED documentation for future projects.
- Resolve remaining issues concerning credit award and documentation.
- Document lessons learned and celebrate the success.
Running the Good Race
LEED is a voluntary rating system that has transformed the building construction industry. More importantly, it represents the revolutionizing of how we think about the possibilities of sustainable design and construction. As this “Contractor’s Role in Sustainability” series has clearly demonstrated, the project contractor plays a critical role in bringing sustainable projects to reality.
It is fine to publish a voluntary rating system, but implementing it in the real world requires talent, construction expertise, management skills, networking skills, technological skills, LEED training and a desire to meet strict requirements from design to commissioning. As was discussed in previous articles, the contractor can make or break a LEED project because successful commissioning lies in the details, from the initial design to the final documentation submissions.
Crossing the Finish Line
Ultimately, a sustainable building is designed to protect the environment as well as those who occupy it. Sustainability is an issue that will become even more important as the population grows and more pressure is placed on the environment. High-performance sustainable buildings are in a race – a race to become environmentally friendly, energy and water efficient and provide healthier indoor environments for its occupants. The contractor is in the driver’s seat during all phases of a sustainable construction project. The contractor is involved before the race starts and continues driving sustainability through all phases of design and construction to operational training, commissioning and closeout.
To read the full story, click here to download the Spring 2013 issue of Sustainable Construction.