March 2011

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The Handoff Between A Newly Constructed Building and Building Operations
How Not To Fumble
Jim Sinopoli PE, RCDD, LEED AP
Managing Principal,
Smart Buildings LLC

Contributing Editor

"Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it's the only thing."
Albert Schweitzer

HandoffOne reason a building may not perform as well as it should is often related to how the newly constructed structure was “handed off” to building operations. A poor transition process may mean the building operations get off to a bad start and never fully recover or only catch-up after much effort. Design and construction phases for a new building have structured processes, and the handoff activities from new construction to operations are addressed in the project specifications. Despite the clear requirements and acknowledgement of close out activities, the transition or handover is often undervalued, misunderstood and overlooked. 

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Many of the critical elements of the “handover” pertain to the building systems and the relevant data or information regarding the design and construction of the building. However, these are not the only concerns and activities in the move to building operation. Prior to the turnover the building owner will need to determine staffing for maintenance and operations, and then assign and train the staff. Prior to occupancy the owner will also oftentimes be involved with the furniture and equipment, warranties, correction periods, record documents, spare parts, extra materials and specialized operating tools.

Addressing this transition from construction to operations, specifically regarding the building systems and data will improve the initial and long term operational performance, in turn saving money and increasing the value of the building. Here are some tips on how to avoid fumbling the ball:

Give operations personnel a seat at the table with the design and construction teams. This happens frequently but not all the time. As active participants the operational personnel is able to provide perspective into the operational and maintenance aspects of materials or design and construction alternatives. This must be tempered with an awareness of the natural inclination to simply operate the new building the same as the old building, especially an issue when the operations of the existing building are sub-optimal. This interaction helps to assure the facility manager is familiar with the new facility and allows the FM an opportunity to develop its O&M program.

Specifications SectionInstall some of the facility management software applications relatively early in the construction process. Don’t do the typical thing and wait until the end of construction. Using software tools, such as system analytics, will assist in commissioning and start-up and installing them earlier in the process facilitates a longer time period for testing the tools and staff training. This initiative is consistent with a larger issue in that technology and specifically some form of an IT network should be in a building under construction earlier as well. For example, if you’re installing BAS network controllers that directly connect to an IT network, the IT network has to be installed or you can’t fully test the system. Some of the IT components (servers, firewalls, etc.) may be in the “cloud” while the building is being constructed, and then later brought into the building.

Have the general contractor or sub-contractors operate the building for a short time, and then transfer operations to the owner. While this model has generally been used on larger infrastructure projects the beauty of this approach is the incentives it provides the construction contractor to get the building operations right. The contractor has “skin in the game”. While this approach still involves an eventual handoff to the owner, the likelihood of a “cleaner” handoff is often much improved.

Insist on the use of BIM during the design and construction. Generally the transfer of data from the design and construction processes into a facility management system is inefficient and ineffective. Most of it is paper handed over in three-ring binders and boxes, supplemented with CDs of drawings and specifications. Lost in this handoff is data and information that could improve the management and operation of the building. Building Information Modeling (BIM) allows for the design and construction data and information to be transferred electronically.

The most value that operational personnel can bring to the table is their involvement in defining the requirements of commissioning, system start-up and close out procedures. The owner’s facility staff doesn’t replace the project’s commissioning agent or take on the responsibilities of the contractor. However, it is the commissioning, system start-up, demonstration of equipment operation and load testing that are at the heart of close-out activities and the turning over of the building systems. The facility staff’s involvement in these processes is essential to a smooth transition.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Identify the data, information and resource materials needed to operate the building. Operating and maintaining a new facility requires data and information. The building owner, with the participation of the design and construction teams, needs to define the data and information required for efficient and effective operation of the systems and related services during the facility design process. These requirements will be part of the commissioning and close-out activities as well. Typically a contractor provides the owner record documents. These are O&M manuals, record submittals, shop drawings, and record specifications and drawings. Whatever the requirements, they need to be part of the contract documents for construction.

The discussion of data and information needs may also spur interest in more data points, such as meters or sensors that gather data. The process can also identify the need to integrate data into the owner’s business systems. If it does, it’s a good thing as it demonstrates the project team is looking forward to operational needs.

The expectations of contractor’s requirements must change from just installing equipment to completing and leaving their work in a condition for long term operations and support. Too many times contractors will install equipment, complete their deliverables and then reduce staffing and move on to the next job prior to completion of close-out activities. The result may be incomplete work or at the least, less than optimal involvement in close-out activities. Contract requirements and the mentality of the project team needs to be focused on the most important and costly part of the building’s lifecycle: long term operations and maintenance.

Conduct a review of the transition to operations and document lessons learned. Regardless of your expertise or experience there is always an opportunity to learn from each project closeout or at least confirm that existing procedures are producing the expected results.

During the design and construction processes the focus is often on schedules and budgets. And with that process taking a couple years, building operations may seem far off and something that can be addressed close to completion. Better “handoffs” and transitions prescribe that we embed operations and maintenance into every aspect of design and construction. For more information, write us at


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