FM Articles

Open Shop Commissioning Projects Challenges


In recent years, the construction industry has experienced a myriad of changes ranging from tighter environmental and worker safety regulations to more complex demands from property owners. One constant however has been the heavy influence of union labor.

Despite unions being engrained within the construction industry due to their expertise and qualifications, we’re now seeing a significant shift toward open-shop projects that incorporate non-union labor. A trend that started with smaller residential buildings is now expanding to larger and more complex projects that have historically relied solely on union labor to complete.

Navigating the challenges of ensuring quality control is maintained in open shop projects doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, when working with the right commissioning provider, it can be simplified and create a far more efficient process for new building construction.

Challenges of Open Shop Labor
Union membership has never been a requirement for construction laborers, but access to the highly sought after closed shop union projects has historically given union participation a strong appeal. Now however, crunched timelines, skilled labor shortages, and competing costs are granting non-union construction contractors access to larger projects and are making open shop projects become more commonplace.

While the open-shop environment creates new opportunities for both contractors and the workers they employ, the broader, more diverse talent pool creates consistency challenges and concerns that traditionally have not been an issue with unionized labor. With simpler tasks, this experience gap may not be as apparent, but with more advanced and sophisticated mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering (MEP) systems, it can compromise the integrity of a project.

The installation and ramp-up of MEP systems for new buildings is becoming ever more complex in order to meet the latest energy efficiency standards. Complex control strategies and systems are being utilized to improve occupant comfort and reduce energy consumption. Additionally, for comfort, cost savings and compliance, facilities are incorporating rapidly evolving technologies into their MEP systems – including edge computing, cloud-based solutions and IIoT capabilities. These technologies can be a valuable tool if they are deployed by experts who understand how and where these technologies can be used to optimize efficiency.

The complexity of MEP systems varies depending on the building’s application, which can exacerbate the challenge of using non-union contractors to ensure the installed systems meet the unique needs of that particular facility. Each facility type has unique standards and codes that must be followed. For example, healthcare facilities have specific ventilation requirements to minimize the spread of infections, which ultimately will take precedence over energy reduction efforts. On the other hand, a commercial office building needs to reduce their operating costs as much as possible while maintaining occupant comfort.

MEP systems are designed to meet the specific needs of each building they are serving, yet the design intent is not always fully realized in the product that is delivered. With the industry requirements and changing complexity of system solutions, building owners and construction managers find it difficult to guarantee that the implemented commissioning efforts that will provide long-term savings and operational efficiency. So, what can be done?

Creating a Successful Model for Open-Shop Commissioning
To ensure success and efficiency with a new construction, building owners and contractors shouldn’t try to do it alone. Engaging an unbiased and experienced third-party commissioning expert allows non-union contractors to be utilized on complex projects while ensuring system quality is not compromised. Here, the commissioning provider plays the role as quarterback of the MEP team, acting as a helpful and impartial leader and influencing positive change.

As the industry has changed, the role of commissioning providers has changed with it. Commissioning providers have evolved beyond the hands-off stereotype they’ve often become known for, coming to formally sign-off on an installation after receiving assurances from the contractor that everything is fully functional. On non-union projects, having an outside consultant there to help drive the project over the finish line can be the difference between success and failure. As technologies, codes, and standards continue to change, commissioning providers play a critical role of driving teams to meet the goals of the project.

For optimal results, incorporating commissioning providers earlier on into the project is beneficial in several ways. When problems and deficiencies are discovered right before building turnover, schedule and financial limitations often limit the extent of corrective actions that can be taken. As opposed to implementing the best solution, building owners and contractors might be forced to make compromises that prevent the systems from meeting their full potential.

Ultimately, building owners need to know that they received what they paid for, and that the systems they chose to implement are going to be reliable and efficient long after construction is complete and the building is occupied, regardless of the type of labor that was used to build it. The proper commissioning provider must oversee the process from start to finish, ensuring that the final result matches the original intent. The associated costs of engagement of the right commissioning provider is offset many times over by the elimination of costly changes and repairs that could arise after the project is closed out, not to mention the reduction in energy costs.

Creating a successful model that can utilize both union and open shop labor, without compromising system quality, is imperative with the recent shift toward open-shop projects in the construction industry. A critical component of this is pulling in a third-party commissioning provider that takes a proactive approach, thinking outside of the box. Bringing in a consultant and commissioning liaison not only makes the process easier, it also alleviates potential challenges and ensures the proper solutions are implemented from the start.

While this successful model certainly does not happen overnight, with education, awareness, and proper guidance, an effective model can be reached.

Robert Loforte is President of Veritas Solutions Group. Visit to learn more.