Making Buildings Work Better

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Attention to Detail?


by Ray Dodd

Our core business is commissioning large commercial and industrial buildings. What that means in simple terms is that we strive to make sure that, once constructed, the building performs as it was designed.

We are often accused by people with a more traditional view (before iPads) of creating pointless paperwork, being too detailed, stalling the project and adding an unnecessary layer of cost.

Unfortunately many contractors are focused on making their substantial completion date so they can pull off the job (stop spending money), and the owner can open the doors for business. If there are issues – we can deal with them later.

One situation we encounter frequently is being asked to skip the step of requiring that our checklists are completely filled out before we begin testing. The idea is to streamline the process. It NEVER works. The purpose of the checklists is to determine if the project is ready to be tested. We methodically test each system – starting with the ones that all the other ones are dependent on. We test systems – not just equipment. If the equipment works, but the interdependent parts are not finished, the whole process fails.

Before I was involved in commissioning I owned a heating and air-conditioning service business. After years of fixing systems I could point out what was wrong just by observation with a pretty good accuracy rate. When I started working for a company commissioning systems I too thought all that paperwork was unnecessary. But over time I changed my mind. With accelerated schedules and direct digital control, making sure that every single thing functions the way it is supposed to is a very complex job that requires great attention to detail.

On one of my first commissioning jobs we tested an emergency power system. We shut the main power off, timed how fast the transfer switch brought on the generator, and then looked around to make sure the emergency lights and fire alarm worked. Not much to it – a two-page test. My mentor at the time didn’t want to get too deep into the details.

Today, we have a 36-page document (authored by our electrical engineering team) just for testing the generator. We test all the parts of the emergency power system separately and then together – what’s called an integrated systems test. After all that is complete, we execute a final Pull-the-Plug-Test to make sure that everything that is supposed happen when the power goes down happens and then everything goes back to normal when power is restored. LOTS of attention to detail.

As the old saying goes: The devil is in the details. If you get the details right, the project is a success, you meet your goals, and you can move onto something else and stop spending money going back on warranty calls. Your customer is satisfied and is likely to call you back for the next project.

So I pose the question: Is there such a thing as too much attention to detail?

Ray_Dodd_CSERay Dodd, P.E., LEED AP, CxA is the President of Total Building Commissioning, Inc. in Salt Lake City, Utah. Mr. Dodd has been the owner of an HVAC service company, worked as a consulting engineer, and directed the engineering group for a large national mechanical design/ build company. Overall, Mr. Dodd has over 25 years experience in the design, construction, service, and commissioning of commercial, industrial, institutional, and high technology mechanical facilities systems and is frequently called upon as an expert witness providing easy-to-understand analysis to non-technical participants. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering, a LEED AP, is a registered Commissioning Professional through AGC, and he is a registered professional engineer in Utah and Colorado.

Category: Total Building Commissioning (Cx)

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About TBC

As a leader in the building commissioning industry, Total Building Commissioning (TBC) is a facility consulting firm that specializes in the commissioning of mechanical, electrical, controls and all other major building systems as well as LEED™ certification consulting.

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Phone: 801-401-8401
Toll Free: 877-822-9462

324 South State Street, Suite 400
Salt Lake City, Utah, 84111