A commissioned building provides optimized levels of energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and occupant comfort, as well as reduced operation and maintenance costs.
Commissioning is arguably the single most cost-effective strategy for reducing energy, costs, and greenhouse gas emissions in buildings today.
Historically, the term “commissioning” has referred to the process by which the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system of a building was tested and balanced according to established standards prior to acceptance by the building owner. The HVAC commissioning did not include building systems that did not directly affect the performance of the HVAC systems. Total building commissioning is a process for achieving, validating, and documenting that the performance of the total building and its systems meets the design needs and requirements. Because all building systems are integrated, a deficiency in one component can result in sub-optimal operation and performance among other components.
Commissioning assures that the design conforms to the owner’s established occupancy requirements, and that all systems are installed and operate as intended. The process should involve the owner’s maintenance and operations personnel early in the project, and should seek their input to provide thorough training while generating a feeling of ownership.
When conducted by building commissioning professionals like those at PBA, the commissioning process ideally begins early in the design phase of the project and continues through the construction and operations phases, culminating in the functional testing of the installed systems and continuing through the contractor’s warranty period.
Commissioning does not function as an additional layer of construction or project management. It is the owner’s way of confirming that the planning, design, construction and operational processes are meeting established goals and delivering a high-quality building. As building systems have grown more complex and reliant on system integration for a number of vital functions due to stringent code requirements and building owner desire for interoperability, building owners have been increasingly turning to commissioning providers in the design, construction, and operations stages of a project.
Want to know all there is to know about building commissioning and what makes PBA a leading building commissioning firm? Download our Building Commissioning Playbook.
New building commissioning is a thorough quality assurance process that begins during a building’s design phase and continues through construction, occupancy, and operations stages. Commissioning ensures that new buildings operate according to the original design and the owner’s intent and that the building staff is prepared to operate and maintain its systems and equipment.
Retro-commissioning is the application of the commissioning process to existing buildings; it seeks to determine how a building’s equipment, systems and maintenance procedures can best function together to enhance overall performance. Retro-commissioning can correct issues that occurred during design or construction, or address problems that have developed throughout the building’s life as systems and equipment age and no longer operate at their highest levels. For an example of what retro-commissioning can do, download "Meeting the Energy Challenge", which describes describes a project we did for Michigan State University.
Re-commissioning is a commissioning process for buildings that have already been commissioned. The decision to re-commission may be triggered by a change in building use or ownership, the onset of operational problems, or some other need. Ideally, a plan for re-commissioning is established as part of a new building’s original commissioning process or an existing building’s retro-commissioning process, with an owner planning to re-commission a building every few years to ensure equipment and processes continue to operate at their optimal level.
A typical building project features many contractors and sub-contractors, each of whom are focused solely on their portion of the project and will only conduct testing on the equipment for which they are directly responsible. A commissioning provider will test all equipment in an integrated manner to assess how well different systems and processes are functioning together.
Even properly designed and constructed buildings can benefit from commissioning, as providers will run a system through every operating scenario it will undergo during its lifetime and make sure that its actual operation complies with the basis of design.
As system controls grow in complexity to meet increased interoperability, energy, and ventilation code requirements, accompanying value engineering and substitutions increasingly result in last-minute design changes that can have adverse and unintended impacts on building performance and energy usage.
The commissioning process is a safeguard against these unintended impacts. Existing building commissioning examines and fine-tunes building systems to ensure that they are designed to operate in a reliable manner. It also looks at how mechanical and electrical systems are integrated with building management systems in order to deliver optimal performance and reduce energy consumption.
Commissioning goes well beyond the standard scope of work for design and construction phases. Identifying and correcting deficiencies during the commissioning process will not only deliver a far more functional building to the owner, it will provide long-term cost savings, reduced construction cost overruns, construction schedule overruns, reduced number of issues an owner deals with during occupancy.
Commissioning providers also facilitate training and educating a building’s facility staff on the proper ways to administer the consistent upkeep that will assure a building’s systems continue to operate as designed.
One of the main reasons for retro-commissioning or re-commissioning is system degradation. It is estimated by researchers that as much as 20% of the energy used in an average commercial building is wasted due to poorly operated systems. Buildings systems under-perform for several reasons:
Retro-commissioning or re-commissioning can help rectify these issues.
Although your building has been commissioned initially, over time a building may have undergone minor renovations or usage may have changed, and issues common to older buildings start to creep in. System calibrations start to falter, components get out of adjustment, making re-commissioning necessary. Changes in facilities staff necessitate training of new staff so that building operation is optimized.
Retro-commissioning an existing building can also provide significant operations and cost benefits, especially in buildings that exhibit high energy usage and comfort problems.
Every building will benefit from retro-commissioning or re-commissioning. Even though many older buildings had simple heating systems installed, there are opportunities that can be discovered through this process to improve energy efficiency and thermal comfort, as well as identify items that don’t meet code and/or indoor air quality requirements.
If you’ve noticed rising energy costs or consumption, or have systems that run when unnecessary (such as when the building is unoccupied), your building could benefit from retro-commissioning.
As equipment and systems age, they will require more maintenance and upkeep to keep them operating at desired levels. While commissioning can help identify issues and areas of improvement, it can also assure that systems are functioning properly and integrated together right from the start.
Commissioning authorities will also provide necessary training to building staff so that employees will have the knowledge and ability to maintain building systems and operations.
If you hear occupants complaining about the temperature inside a building, or about lighting, or air quality, or others issues, retro-commissioning can help deliver solutions and programming to get all systems operating as intended.
Retro-commissioning can produce significant cost savings in existing buildings. Savings vary depending on the building size, age and location, and the scope of the retro-commissioning process. A study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showed that the costs of retro-commissioning activities range from $0.13 to $2.00 per square foot, while payback ranges from 0.2 to 2.1 years. Overall energy savings can reach approximately 15 percent.
The Pre-Design Phase lays the groundwork for the project, defines the plan for commissioning, and begins the essential team building process. During this phase the design and commissioning teams are assembled and the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR) and the building program are developed. All decisions made in ensuing phases should be made with reference to the OPR.
During the design phase, the commissioning process confirms that design documentation (plans, specifications, Basis of Design (BOD), etc.) are consistent with each other, include commissioning requirements and meet the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR).
Successful construction phase commissioning is a well-coordinated quality assurance and control process that encompasses installation, start-up, functional testing, documentation and training. During the construction phase the commissioning team works to ensure that equipment, systems and assemblies are properly installed, integrated, and operating in a manner that meets the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR). Functional testing and documentation provide valuable performance benchmarks, acceptance criteria and a baseline for the future operation and ongoing commissioning of the facility.
The Occupancy and Operation Phase normally begins at Substantial Completion when the building is turned over to the Owner, though some construction phase activities may still be in process. In the Occupancy and Operations Phase all uncompleted activities from the construction phase are finished (project closeout activities) as well as the long-term processes for ensuring building performance over time being developed and put into place (ongoing maintenance and performance activities).
Project Closeout Activities
The objectives of the Planning Phase are to develop/confirm the Owner’s needs and requirements for the facility and document through the development of a CFR document and to develop an EBCx Plan to define the commissioning process for the facility. If a 3rd party consultant will be utilized as the CxA for the project, the Contract with the consultant would be prepared and executed based upon the Owner’s CFR and the required scope of services.
The objective of the Investigation Phase is to conduct the site investigation to compare the actual building conditions and system performance with the Owner’s current operational needs and requirements defined by the CFR. This phase concludes with the completion and review of a Master List of Findings that identifies Facility Improvement Measures (FIMs) that upon implementation will improve building and system performance to meet the CFR, reduce energy and O&M costs and/or improve the indoor environmental quality.
The intent of the Implementation Phase is to implement the Facility Improvement Measures (FIMs) that are selected from the Master List of Findings and to verify that the predicted results and system performance are achieved.
The intent of the Turnover Phase is to ensure a smooth hand off and transition from the commissioning process/team to the personnel responsible for operating and maintaining the building over its life-cycle (the O&M personnel). Successful transitions ensure that all necessary documentation, knowledge and systems are provided to the O&M personnel, that the O&M personnel demonstrate the effective use of these tools, and that the implemented improvements become a part of the standard operating practice so that the CFR is met and the positive results persist into the future.
The intent of the Persistence Phase is to ensure that all the Facility Improvement Measures continue to perform properly over their life cycle and that systems and tools are provided and employed to facilitate the continuous improvement of facility performance to meet the Current Facility Requirements.
All projects are unique, of course, but in general the commissioning team will consist of the following members:
Providing occupant safety in public facilities has been a driving force to deliver and commission facilities with enhanced building safety measures. Commissioning of security systems, advanced IT systems that integrate into security systems, fire life safety systems that are also integrated into IT, and HVAC systems will need additional scrutiny when commissioning.
Building projects are increasingly requiring performance certifications such as LEED, Green Globes, ENERGY STAR, and others. The project team must discuss and decide on certification requirements in planning and design phases so that commissioning for certifications procedures and documentation can be included in the OPR and Commissioning Plans.
The benefits of ongoing commissioning are well documented in annual energy savings in studies conducted by many institutions. Risks to operational/business continuity, occupant safety, and health and systems degradation and inefficiency often warrant the added expense of ongoing commissioning.
Commissioning in the Building Code is becoming more prevenient at all levels. It is the CxP's responsibility to understand what is required to meet code for commissioning in the jurisdiction in which the building is being built.
Smart Building technology is entering the mainstream of the building industry on a daily basis. This technology requires integration of most, if not all, of the building systems.
Randy Wisniewski, Retro-Commissioning Lead. Randy Wisniewski is a principal with Peter Basso Associates and director of PBA’s Contract Administration/Commissioning Group. Randy’s 40-plus years of experience includes systems design and commissioning for new construction and renovations of a variety of building types. Randy has particular expertise in retro-commissioning and energy audits, which includes extensive field experience, and identification of energy conservation opportunities, operations and maintenance issues, and facility improvement measures. Randy oversees the firm’s involvement as a preferred Service Provider with the Consumers Energy Smart Buildings Program and the DTE Energy Retro-Commissioning Program.
Phil Saoud, PE, CCP, Mechanical Commissioning Lead. Phil Saoud, a 39-year industry veteran, is a Vice President and the Assistant Director of the firm’s Contract Administration/Commissioning Department, with a focus on new building and LEED ™ commissioning. He is a Certified Commissioning Professional through the Building Commissioning Association. Phil’s commissioning expertise includes development of project commissioning specifications and manuals, witnessing functional testing, and the development of building owner Operation and Maintenance manuals. He serves as the liaison between the owner’s representatives and the various team members, including contractors, subcontractors, manufacturers’ representatives and any required specialty consultants, and he works to assure clear lines of communication are maintained at all times. Phil has commissioned a variety of building types including multi-story hospital patient towers, K-12 school buildings, automotive proving ground facilities, higher education facilities, labs, office buildings and data centers.
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