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This article was published in ASHRAE Journal, June 2010.

Copyright 2010 American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. Posted at This article may not be copied and/or distributed electronically or in paper form without permission of ASHRAE. For more information about ASHRAE Journal, visit

The Design Review Process

By Bennett C. Carlin, P.E., Member ASHRAE

nsuring an effective design review process may not be a high priority for most designers and owners. However, there are many reasons why it should be. Cost is a big reason. When design documents are returned for revision and resubmission that could have been avoided: Design consultants bear the cost of doing tasks twice or more; Bidding and construction are delayed, and on a large project, even a small escalation amounts to a lot of the owners money; and The design professionals chances of being hired for the owners next project might be diminished.

Differing Perspectives

While predesign programming establishes what should be in the project, design review provides the only opportunity (outside of costly change-orders during construction) for the owner to confirm the finished product meets his needs. For the design professional, receiving criticism from an owners reviewer is rarely easy. And, although everyone knows the basics (designs must be technically correct, code conforming, and unambiguous), documents sometimes still go back and forth in an extended cycle of comments and responses that adds time and cost to a project. Therefore, its helpful for the project to have a well-structured design review process that is collaborative, non-adversarial, and adds value. Design reviews combine owner perspective, designer perspective, and project requirements, and it is not possible to create an all-encompassing list of absolutes that apply universally. At the same time, my experience on both sides of the table (as a consulting engineer designing projects, and as a member of an owners staff reviewing them), provides insights into practices and common situations that, handled properly, result in a smoother review process.
Interaction is the Key

Certainly, many elements of a successful design review process are checklist items of responsibility for either the owner or the design professional, and examples of those are addressed later. However, another large contributor to effectiveness, or the lack of it, is the interaction between owner and designer. And, the most important characteristic of effective interaction is that it starts early and continues throughout the projects design. At the start of the project, while programming and other basic concepts are being defined, both the design professionals and the owners reviewers should be present at all design-related meetings. Potential problems are avoided if the designs basic
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assumptions are effectively coordinated this way. For example, are cooling load calculations for a room with 50 computers based on heat gain from desktops or the much lower heat gain from laptops? The first assumption leads to a very different design than will the second, yet either could be correct. The designer and reviewer must create a coordinated understanding of all program requirements. The owner also must provide a clear understanding of what is expected at each submission phase. Skipping this step can easily create havoc throughout the entire review process. For example, if the designer normally generates equipment room sections for a 90% submission but the owner considers them essential for a 60% submission, the result is a rejection and resubmission cycle that could have been avoided through better communication. Published submittal standards also allow design professionals and their sub-consultants to integrate internal resource allotments to each other and to the owners project schedule. Any owner without published submittal standards would do well to generate them. This leads to another question that should be coordinated before design starts: are all the review phases necessary for this project? A projects size, relative simplicity, etc., may mean fewer review phases will suffice. Design consultants should explore this with the owners who should stay reasonable and flexible. These early discussions have special importance in the rapidly growing area of sustainable design. Sustainability goals can vary widely, and meeting those goals costs much less when theyre understood by all parties in the projects early stages. More importantly, many myths about sustainability still exist among building owners, and the need for client education in this area remains a challenge and an opportunity for design professionals. The discussions provide a particularly fertile setting for designer-owner interaction. Another area of communication that can provide great benefits, particularly on larger projects, is for designers and reviewers to meet a week or two before documents are submitted to discuss the designs progress. This improved coordination between the work of the designer and the expectations of the reviewer goes a long way toward preventing time-consuming problems when the documents are later reviewed. After documents are submitted and review comments issued, the design consultant should provide written responses describing what changes, if any, will be made. Resubmitting revised documents without written responses forces reviewers to hunt down the changes. It also creates the possibility that changes the designer thought would satisfy the owner, dont. Often, detailed written responses can help avoid the need for a resubmission. Other practices relate more to designer activity than to owner-consultant interaction, but are still important elements of a beneficial design review process. June 2010

Measure Twice, Cut Once

This woodworking proverb reminds us of the importance of making a final check before taking action. It applies as much to submitting documents for review as it does to cutting costly timber. Many design review comments are simply the result of the reviewer taking time to look at the drawing more closely than did the designer. These may involve coordination between disciplines (e.g., mechanical drawings call for an architectural enclosure around piping risers in a finished space, and no such enclosure is shown on the architectural drawings); coordination within a discipline (e.g., a 3 in. [76 mm] pipe on the floor plan is labeled 4 in. [102 mm] on the riser diagram); or general items such as illegible text or incorrect drawing cross-references. Design schedules can be tight, but time invested here by the consultant can pay big dividends.
Avoid As Required

unless its also clear by whom and for what. On a competitively bid project, open-ended items can easily lead to headaches at best, and change-orders or litigation at worst.
Plans and Specifications as Legal Documents

Another common design review comment involves using as required or similar language in contract documents. There are proper places for using that phrase, such as when specifications call for the contractor to repair as required existing building surfaces damaged in carrying out the work. When misapplied, however, as required language places part of the design responsibility on the contractor. This is almost always a bad idea, and, in certain cases, also violates regulatory requirements. Heres good advice I received years ago: never use as required

Some review comments are simply proofreading observations, and the temptation by reviewer and designer is to dismiss these as trivial. This tendency should be resisted. While plans and specifications are the only official means of communicating technical information and project intent to the contractor, their role as legal documents must also be well understood. If the cover sheet lists drawing M-1 as First Floor Plan, and the title block on drawing M-1 reads, Ground Floor Plan, a contractor probably will not have a problem with the discrepancy. However, if the design consultant has to defend those documents in court, it will be hard for him to convince a jury the documents were carefully prepared after the opposing attorney makes an issue of the discrepancy.
The Computer Age

Computer-aided drafting has provided many improvements to the drafting process, but also has made possible new potential document deficiencies as conveying technical information and operating the drafting program compete with each other for the designers attention. Look out for the following:

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June 2010

ASHRAE Journal


Where a floor is shown on multiple drawings with match lines, tag notes sometimes appear on a different drawing than the items to which they refer; Misaligned layers show items in the wrong location; Note lettering placed on top of background lettering renders both illegible; Symbols from computerized menus are sometimes oriented incorrectly; and Standard details are inserted without being edited for the project. Another potential problem area involves computer-generated calculations. Its tempting to think results from purchased software must be correct because they were done by computer. This can create a problem if the designer doesnt understand the particular calculation process the computer is automating. It is imperative that the software-user understands the programs default values and other assumptions, and what each output figure really represents. Selecting equipment using third-party software is another good idea with some potential pitfalls. Is the computer taking into account everything an experienced designer would? For example, a pump manufacturers catalog will generally yield several models, all of which (at least on paper) provide the required flow rate and system head. Which model is best? The computer might select the one with the highest efficiency without considering that the

performance point is dangerously near, though not quite in, a region of unstable performance. The designer using the computers output needs to understand exactly what went into it.
Dj Vu All Over Again

If a reviewers comment indicates a problem in a design consultants master specification section or master detail, its best for the consultant to fix it in the master when its pointed out. An example from my own experience involved a specification that in one paragraph referred to shop drawings being stamped No Exceptions and in another as being stamped, No Objections. After it was corrected for that project, the same mistake had to be corrected on the consultants next project, and on the project after that. (And, yes, it had to be corrected on the project after that, too!) Related to this is an item that at first seems obvious, but that experience shows bears stating: before revised documents are resubmitted, the designers written responses to the review comments should be used as a checklist to verify all promised changes were made. As with the uncorrected master specifications, by-rote will comply responses that repeatedly arent addressed may place the design consultants commitment to quality in an unfavorable light. Bennett C. Carlin, P .E., is a senior engineer at the Dormitory Authority State of New York.

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ASHRAE Journal

June 2010