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5 Benefits of Building Enclosure Commissioning

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2016

By Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc.


More items for Building Envelope

Building Enclosure Commissioning (BECx) is a comprehensive process that has evolved from decades of investigations, design peer reviews, material and system testing, and expertise compiled across the building consulting industry.

Over the past 10 to 15 years, an ongoing effort to standardize a review process resulted in the emergence of Guideline 3 by the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS), which was later refined into the currently recognized ASTM standards (ASTM E2813 and ASTM E2947).

Building Enclosure
Photos: WJE

Building Enclosure Commissioning helps ensure that building owners are getting a building that works correctly according to what they specify.

Despite this standardization and a growing history of proven results, many misconceptions and a general lack of understanding of BECx still plague the construction industry.

Here, we explore five key benefits which serve to demonstrate the value of BECx.

BEC

Building Enclosure Commissioning is more than just testing. Overall, the testing is considered the final step of a larger, integrated review process

  1. BECx is more than just testing. Many believe BECx is just about “testing” and that it only occurs at the end of the project. As such, many postpone consideration for BECx until well into the project or, unfortunately, eliminate it entirely. Though physical performance validation of roofing, windows, curtain walls and other enclosure systems are valuable parts of an overall BECx program, the testing is really the final step of a larger, integrated review process. To gain the most benefit from experts’ involvement, BECx should begin early in the design, including participation in development of the owner’s project requirements (OPR) and evolving into periodic reviews of the schematic design (SD), design development (DD) and construction document (CD) iterations.
     
  2. BECx improves the design.  Some owners and many architects of record (AORs) dismiss the BECx concept as redundant, claiming there is already a design architect on the project. The role of the AOR entity is undeniably critical, and even with BECx, the AOR maintains control of the final design product. However, while the AOR determines the space, function, look and feel of the project, the Building Enclosure Commissioning agent (BECxA) ensures the technical performance and detailing of the selected systems satisfies the OPR. The BECxA can provide specific experience and performance-based knowledge regarding properties such as system/product/material durability and compatibility, air/moisture/thermal control, and a general holistic integration of the enclosure with pertinent mechanical and structural systems. This coordination leads to refining design decisions, integrating adjacent and dissimilar assemblies and providing insight on the most critical, and often overlooked, system details.
     
  3. BECx can save money now and save more money later. While often viewed as an upfront cost that the project budget may not tolerate, a fully integrated BECx process can result in overall, long-term cost savings. When timed appropriately, BECx reviews of the DD and CD submissions can improve the drawings and specifications minimizing potential omissions, tightening the range and reducing bid prices. Coordination with manufacturers, preconstruction conferences with relevant trade subcontractors, and periodic construction observations by the BECxA can identify and streamline resolution for difficult construction sequencing, reducing mistakes, rework, and costly schedule delays. Design reviews, mock-up coordination and early performance testing by the BECxA can identify problems and provide solutions, minimize design and installation deficiencies, and mitigate the potential for enclosure-related failures that can often lead to air and moisture ingress and costly damages. Finally, improved enclosure performance can lead to long-term reduction in building operational costs due to improved thermal performance.
     
  4. BECx can increase LEED score and overall actual sustainability. New projects targeting LEED v4.0 certification can add credits directly via BECx by pursuing the Building Enclosure Commissioning option as part of one of the Enhanced Commissioning paths in the Energy and Atmosphere (EA) credit section. Aside from this explicitly defined credit availability, BECx can also have impact on many other LEED credits including: EA - Optimize Energy Performance; Environmental Quality (EQ) - Thermal Comfort, Daylight and Quality Views; Sustainable Sites (SS) - Heat Island Roof; and Innovation (IN). Beyond the certification incentives and the accumulation of rating system credits, the BECx process provides measureable impact on the actual performance of the enclosure as well. Upgraded/refined material selection, improved system detailing at window and door openings, integration between adjacent dissimilar materials, and coordination with mechanical systems can lead to designs that are more air-tight for pollution and infection control and overall, more thermally efficient.
     
  5. BECx helps improve the comfort of building users. There is no coincidence in the industry trend of health care owners leading the way by insisting on implementing BECx in their facility designs. Health care operators recognize and are quick to highlight programming imperatives of unparalleled patient experience coupled with strict adherence to air quality and management requirements. Fortunately, the benefits are not limited to health care applications. While AOR design may provide daylighting and outdoor views for an enhanced visual occupant experience, BECx design and detailing considerations may improve thermal performance. These measures can reduce common occupant complaints: temperature, humidity, and “drafts.” A better building enclosure makes for a better interior environment, and happier building users.

About the Author

Ross Smith

Ross J. Smith, PE, LEED AP BD+C, CDT, an associate principal with Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc., is experienced in structural evaluation, building enclosure commissioning, unique failure investigations, repair design, and construction quality control. His work also includes structural and architectural failures related to water infiltration, fire, wind, snow, condensation and material failures. You can reach Ross at rsmith@wje.com.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER

Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc.

“Solving for Why” is written by professionals at Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc. Since 1956, WJE’s primary goal has been to provide the best solutions for its clients’ new and existing construction-related problems. The firm’s highly qualified engineers, architects, and materials scientists possess a collective knowledge gained from solving, as well as helping clients avoid, thousands of problems. Author information is available at the bottom of each blog entry.

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Tagged categories: Air leakage; Architecture; Building enclosure system; Building envelope; Building interiors; Building owners; Building pressure; Moisture management; Performance testing; Specification; Specification writing

Comment from Phil Kabza, (11/17/2016, 7:56 AM)

It's long been understood in the field that testing a building for airtightness after it is built is as useful as closing the barn door after the horses have run out. That's a powerful argument for BECx and the presence on sight of experienced, objective inspection of air, water, and vapor control components before they are concealed by subsequent construction. Extending that expertise back to examining the planned interfaces between envelope elements provided by the separate installers is the easiest low-hanging fruit to pick in ensuring quality building enclosures.


Comment from Jesse Melton, (11/18/2016, 9:05 AM)

You know what BECx is missing? A marketable vocabulary. This article reads like a special activities announcement at a Naval Station. Architects and BECx related service providers know what all that means (maybe) but those people are vendors and they don't really get to decide what's important. Expecting vendors to create and maintain their own market space is, at best, risky. They always end up selling to each other. The BECx crowd needs a pocketable vocabulary that prospective clients can tote around and discuss without getting lost in the minutiae of the thing. The people who are going to sign the checks aren't going to spend the time to educate themselves on the advantages of incremental architectural design practices. They've got their hands full making sure the checks they write have funds behind them.


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