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Australia’s HVAC industry has been unable to agree on a clear, single set of requirements or standards to define the scope and objectives of building commissioning which has contributed to the prevalence of system control faults and installation errors.

RAC problems associated with poor commissioning are likely to remain high until industry reach agreement, according to the Expert Group.

The research firm has prepared a report for the federal government entitled Leaks, Maintenance and Emissions which states the intent of proper commissioning is to discover and rectify design and installation faults and control system errors that ensure the system performs well.

“One of the most important aspects of system commissioning is the provision of baseline information to inform the ongoing operation and maintenance/tuning approach, and to apply fault detection and analysis to a system,” the report said.

“Incorrect commissioning means that the system settings will be inaccurate, and operational performance will never achieve the designer’s intent.

“Even after commissioning is completed, changes may be made to systems and components (for example during defects liability period) which can negatively impact operating energy efficiency.”

The report found non-technical barriers to effective commissioning are numerous, and include insufficient time allowed in the building program, costs and lack of management understanding of the value of commissioning.

“The industry has not agreed on a set of requirements or Australian Standards to define the process for the testing adjusting and balancing of the air, water and refrigerant aspects of commercial air conditioning systems,” the report said.

Lack of information on commissioning process and methods is not the problem. The AIRAH Application Manual DA27 Building Commissioningand the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) have documented Australian industry‑endorsed building commissioning and tuning guidelines.

“Recommissioning, retro-commissioning, and building or system tuning methodologies are all potential cost‑effective solutions to the energy penalties associated with non-commissioned or poorly commissioned air conditioning,” the report said.

Some jurisdictions in the United States have mandated periodic building tuning processes while Hong Kong enforces an annual inspection of mechanical services in large buildings which includes checking system maintenance records.

Air Conditioning & Mechanical Contractors Association executive manager for policy and communications, Ben Hawkins, said this is a long-standing issue that needs to be addressed.

“For a variety of reasons, building commissioning hasn't been held in the same regard as other disciplines within the design and construction process,” he said.

“But when you really think about it, commissioning is critical because it helps to make sure a building does what it was designed to do. Not just at handover, but throughout the asset lifecycle.”

Hawkins said the lack of an Australian Standard has probably contributed to commissioning being marginalised.

Plus, he said it takes place towards the end of the construction process when time is short, just before handover.

“This means the time allocated to commissioning is often squeezed to make up time,” he said.

Working with AIRAH and other industry stakeholders, AMCA pushing for the development of a commissioning standard to be introduced via Standards Australia. 

Hawkins said the process is underway and AMCA is optimistic that the introduction of a standard will elevate the role of commissioning across the entire industry.

“We will also be pushing for a greater focus on commissioning within the training system to ensure a stronger throughput of highly skilled commissioning agent,” he said.

“These are the people that are in the best position to articulate and advocate for the value of commissioning to head contractors, clients, and other decision-makers.”

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