Understanding Building and Systems Commissioning
By Samantha Davidson
By Samantha Davidson
Why is commissioning important? In short terms, commissioning (Cx) is a structured quality assurance process intended to ensure a building or interior space meets the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR) upon turnover. The OPR document can be seen as the holy grail for the Cx process. The document establishes the ideas, objectives, and criteria that the owner considers important to be required in the design of the project. The need for traditional Cx is more important than ever as a greater emphasis is placed on creating healthier, safer, and more environmentally friendly work environments. Many building owners and managers are seeking the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED certification, WELL Building certification, net-zero energy, or other sustainable building options for new or existing sites, making commissioning an essential part of the short-term process.
In long term, Cx is much more. If commissioning is pursued, the process supports with helping the project to be both designed and built to satisfy the vision and requirements of the owner and stakeholders. A successful commissioning effort, initiated during the design phase of a project, can lead to a reduction in energy consumption, operating costs, and contractor callbacks, while improving occupant productivity, providing smarter building documentation, and verifying that the systems perform in accordance with the design intent and owner’s requirements. The Commissioning Authority (CxA) acts as a third eye for the owner by verifying the owner’s requirements are met in all phases.
Historically, the term “commissioning” may have roots in the shipbuilding industry where a vessel was required to pass a series of quality assurance inspections at specific points during construction before being “commissioned” as a seaworthy craft. Today, the building industry applies very specific meanings to various types of commissioning, including traditional new construction commissioning, retro-commissioning, re-commissioning, value re-commissioning, and ongoing commissioning. While each has unique objectives that go beyond the scope of this article, they all share a common general approach.
To better understand what commissioning is, it is important to note what it is not. Specifically, commissioning is commonly believed to be limited to the functional testing that occurs at the end of a project. In reality, proper commissioning is much more. While functional testing at the acceptance stage at the end of construction is important, Cx ideally starts much earlier in the process. Involving a CxA early can offer many benefits. Finding the right commissioning provider (CxP), independent of the contractor, is a critical step in establishing a third-party, unbiased set of eyes to help develop the OPR. Ideally, the CxA should be involved in virtually every step of the construction process from pre-design through occupancy.
The bottom-line best reason to include commissioning in a project is the very real impact it can have on a company’s financial bottom line. Cx usually addresses new or upgraded building systems such as mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP), as well as renewable energy, building controls, security systems, and more. Making the assumption all these systems are designed and integrated as planned can be a costly mistake. Involving a qualified CxA early in the process can help avoid expensive and time-consuming problems and issues. Early collaboration with the owners, architects, engineers, contractors, and other key stakeholders helps the CxA close communication gaps and ensure a smooth-running project with a better chance of being completed on-time, on-budget, and within project specifications. A well-designed and constructed project is also more likely to be easier to operate, more energy-efficient, and easier to maintain in the future.
As previously noted, there are a number of different types of commissioning pursued for different reasons. Here are a few of the better known Cx approaches:
The fundamental goal of commissioning is to deliver a building or interior space that meets the functional needs and requirements set by the owner and stakeholders. Partnering with the right CxP provides a trained technical advisor at every stage of the project from design to construction and into occupancy. It also offers you and your business an independent advocate focused on your project’s success. All in all, commissioning provides great benefit to the owner and operations staff. Whether the project is pursuing IECC, LEED, or a specialized commissioning track, involving a CxA as part of the project team is highly recommended from the design phases into occupancy.
In addition to her responsibilities on commissioning and retro-commissioning projects, Samantha Davidson contributes to ESD’s mission to improve society through the built environment with her extensive background in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
To learn more about commissioning and how ESD can help, contact us.
As offices rebound from the global pandemic, ESD’s Practice Leader for Commissioning and Energy+Eco Saagar Patel says now may be the perfect time to reevaluate office systems. (Read more about the benefits of retro-commissioning.)