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Various areas of the country have various weird oddities.  When we moved to the La Crosse area last decade, or the one before that, we found that apartments come with laundry hookups but no washer and dryer.  What the?  How about a friggin wash machine and dryer to fill that hole and plug into those pipes and wall socket?  So we went to a now defunct appliance joint and picked up an Amana washer and dryer – electric of course because a rental joint isn’t going to provide natural gas.

I think I’ve finally talked my wife into getting the front load, ENERGY STAR® machine and a natural gas dryer, which will cost a pittance to run compared to 11 cent electricity.  Is this normal?  Do guys need to talk women into new appliances?

The selection process includes visiting a couple local stores and picking up some Consumer Reports from the library.  I’m not a research freak but buying a washer and dryer is almost like getting married.  A mistake could be a pain in the keister for years and I don’t want to be ripped off.  As it turns out, washers and dryers are like toasters.  My theory with toasters is, the less sophisticated and cheaper, the better and more reliable.

We did not call Electrolux or Whirlpool to see what they recommended.  Electrolux and Whirlpool make just about everything in a major-appliance store.  It’s like bread or hotels – dominated by a couple major players with various brands under their wing.  Anyway, what sort of dupe would ask a manufacturer of anything for advice on what brand to buy?

Just last week I was reading an article on commissioning (Cx) light.  The name sounds innocuous, if not intriguing but once I got into the article, I was thinking the owner would have to be a dupe to pay for this.  In case you don’t know, commissioning is a quality control / quality assurance process where an independent third party expert with superhuman powers, knowledge, experience and skills oversees the design, construction, and post construction testing.  The total cost may be $1-2 per square foot, adding roughly one percent to the cost of a new building.  Services include ensuring the owner’s design intent is incorporated into the construction documents, built per the documents, and controlled per the documents.

The players in the design and construction game include the architects and engineers (A&E), general (or prime) contractor, their sub-contractors, and the owner.  I haven’t participated in the process and from the sound of it I don’t care to.  Engineers complain about the architects, contractors complain about them both, and typically the A&E provides project management and OK’s payment from the owner to the general contractor for doing the job they are billing for.  Everyone tries to look good to the owner while kicking each other under the table like kids at the dinner table.  When Mom and Dad leave the room the hair pulling, name calling, punching, and food start flying.

Good teams of A&Es and contractors will work together in the best interest of the owner.  While I imagine there are many decent, upstanding contractors, the evil ones will take advantage of any flaw in the design and issue change orders with sky-high costs – see, at this point, the owner is stuck with the prime, like an evil tenant like Michael Keaton’s character in Pacific Heights.  And, the prime will blame it on all the other idiots.

The Cx light ring leader in the article is a representative from the prime contractor.  Oh yeah, let’s give the concern with the biggest weapon the trigger.  In this scenario, the commissioning agent is established as the owner’s and prime contractor’s agent, and maintains continuity between engineers and contractor subs.  I have another name for the guy: Joseph Stalin.  The subs, architect, and engineers are Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Romania.

Energy efficiency services are nebulous, squishy and illusionary enough, which is why we have resorted to pre and post billing data to demonstrate savings.  All the hand waving and puppet shows in the world can’t clarify things better than that.  Building commissioning ten times less defined – you know, like 10 times colder.  What does that mean?  It’s cold.  Ok.

As an energy and occupant-comfort guy, I think the most important part of Cx is the functional testing of the building’s automation and safety systems.  There are few people in the universe that understand systems and controls well.  Is the Cx agent from the prime a controls guy?  Is Lebron James an expert in Fourier differential equations?  I don’t know but I’ll bet not.

Requests for proposals for Cx generally include a laundry list of cut and paste crap from a web page.  What owners really need is Cx agent agent.  The CxAA would determine what is in the best interest of the owner and write an RFP that precisely defines what the owner needs.  For example, interpret the conceptual design of the HVAC systems and explain their pluses and minuses to the owner.  What might be better comfort-wise, energy-wise, maintenance-wise?  Review the plans at this and that percent complete for x, y, and z.  Provide functional performance testing.  A CxAA type person is used all the time in the energy efficiency world.  The hiring agency, such as the utility or public service commission will hire someone to write RFPs and assist with the selection.

The bottom line: Cx “light” is fine but the Cx agent should be independent from the design and construction teams.  Don’t ask the line foreman at General Motors what kind of a car to buy.  Owners really need someone to write a decent, well defined scope of work to get honey crisp versus granny smith proposals.  Don’t ask for a piece of fruit.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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