Is Final Completion Really Final?

Is final completion really final?

Most people understand final completion as that point in a project when the construction is complete, the final bill can be paid, and the owner has the building to themselves. After working on dozens of projects, I have started to wonder: is final completion really final? I no longer think so, and not through anyone’s fault. A recent project illustrates this.

Clients of ours moved into their new office in October. After the big freeze, I received an email saying one of the areas in the building was cold; the heating system was jus not keeping up. The rest of the building was fine.

The good news was the all-electric heating and cooling system was working. We designed a system using a single heat pump that fed three zones. It seemed there was an issue with a single zone. The area in question was served by an air handler with an electric resistance heating coil for when the heat pump was not adequate. After a visit by the mechanical contractor and the mechanical engineer, we discovered the electric resistance coil had been installed, but not wired. The electrical contractor remedied the situation, and that was that.

We had gone through a typical end of project process with substantial completion, a punch list, more walkthroughs, and a final completion. The mechanical contractor had turned on the mechanical systems, and walked the owner through a system training. Still, we missed the fact that the electric resistance coil had not been wired. Why? The coil would only turn on when the temperature dropped below zero. That did not happen in October. It happened the first week of January.

Mechanical systems are particularly susceptible to quirks, but so are building envelopes, fire and life safety systems, lighting controls

A more thorough quality assurance program between the design team, the construction team, and even a commissioning agent could have potentially caught this problem. Then again, even a more intensive effort might have missed it. This was an issue that really required letting the building run, and watching how it behaved through the year.

Is final completion really final? I think for owners, designers and contractors, to think so would be misleading. Much can and should be done as projects wind down to make sure systems work the way they should. Mechanical systems are particularly susceptible to quirks, but so are building envelopes, fire and life safety systems, lighting controls, and a host of other systems. Recognizing this, we should all be willing and prepared to stay with a project for the year following final completion, or at least until the building has been fully tested.

Follow Mike Sealander, Maine Licensed Architect:

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Principal at Sealander Architects, Ellsworth Maine. Revit guru. Married with 3 children. Avid gardener. Lived in San Francisco for nine years. Master in Architecture from Columbia University Bachelor of arts in religious studies, Wesleyan University. Graduated Staples High School, Westport CT. Hope to spend some time in Hokkaido before all is said and done.

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