Commissioning and Retro-Commissioning Services

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What is building commissioning?

 
Commissioning is a process that checks and documents the design, installation, testing and execution of a building's systems according to the requirements of the owner's facilities and training of the owner's facilities in order to understand and operate the building systems efficiently.

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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.

Building Commissioning Download

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Types of building commissioning

 
Commissioning services can be applied to new construction projects or buildings that have been in service for decades. Commissioning projects will fall into one of the three following categories.

New Building Commissioning

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

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

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.

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The need for commissioning

 
Commissioning is a part of overall building management. Duct leakage, heating and cooling waste, and lighting inefficiency are major issues that exist within any building infrastructure. Building commissioning can help solve issues like these and lead to more sustainable buildings, lower operating costs, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and improved operating expenses for building owners. Building commissioning is not an interim " fix " for some temporary aberrations in the design / construction processes; rather, commissioning is a necessary ingredient for a successful building.

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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:

  1. They were never properly configured
  2. The design did not account for all sources of building efficiency
  3. The building is not properly maintained
  4. The use of the building has changed over time

Retro-commissioning or re-commissioning can help rectify these issues.

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Benefits of commissioning

 
Commissioning will result in lower operations and maintenance costs over the lifetime of a building. According to the U.S. General Services Administration, 2 industry sources indicate the operating costs of a commissioned building range from 8 percent to 20 percent below that of a non-commissioned building. The one-time investment in commissioning for a building (ranging from 0.5-1.5 percent of construction costs) can result in reduced operating costs over the life of the building. Having a building commissioning plan in place is important. Recent studies indicate that on average the operating costs of a commissioned building range

The main objectives that commissioning seeks to accomplish for a building owner are:

  • Assisting during the design process to achieve systems that are efficient, maintainable and meet or exceed the owner’s expectations.
  • Confirming that the new equipment meets current energy code standards (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers).
  • Early identification of any non-conformance issues which require corrections by the contractor.
  • Optimizing operations to reduce operating costs.
  • Verifying that new facilities and equipment are ready for occupancy and use.
  • Training staff in the operation of new equipment and safety procedures.
  • Receipt of all warranties, procedure manuals, and all specified close-out documents.
  • Assisting with addressing operational issues that may arise during the warranty period.

Commissioned buildings realize a number of specific benefits:

  • Greater energy efficiency leading to lower utility bills
  • Improved staff training
  • Better workplace performance and less absenteeism
  • Increased occupant safety
  • Less time and money invested in maintenance and repairs
  • Greater health conditions and occupant comfort
  • Improved indoor air quality
  • Documented maintenance requirements
  • Lower overall first costs and lifecycle costs
  • Green building commissioning contributes to reduced carbon footprint and environmental impact

The US General Services Administration identifies the following benefits of commissioning:

  • Improved building occupant productivity
  • Lower utility bills through energy savings
  • Increased occupant and owner satisfaction
  • Enhanced environmental/health conditions and occupant comfort
  • Improved system and equipment function
  • Improved building operation and maintenance
  • Increased occupant safety
  • Better building documentation
  • Shortened occupancy transition period
  • Significant extension of equipment/systems life cycle
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Reasons to implement re-commissioning or retro-commissioning

 
What is retro-comissioning of a building? Retro-commissioning will assure that a building’s systems are functioning at the optimum levels defined in the building’s original commissioning process. If the building had not been previously commissioned, retro-commissioning can fix systems that may not have operated properly since installation and will help adapt the building’s systems to changing usage and occupant needs.

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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.

Here are some signs that your current building could use retro-commissioning or re-commissioning:

  • Your building is using too much energy

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.

  • You are spending more time and money on maintenance issues

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.

  • Occupants are complaining about comfort issues

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.

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Benefits of re-commissioning and retro-commissioning

 
These processes provide the building owner/facilities manager with a final report (“road map”) summarizing findings, conclusions and recommendations, along with an opinion of probable construction costs associated with the recommendations that help owners to make informed decisions on system upgrades based on cost, energy savings, code compliance, maintenance, or return on investment. Many items identified through these processes have short-term or immediate payback.

The main objectives that re-commissioning and retro-commissioning seek to accomplish for a building owner are:

  • Evaluation of symptoms to identify root cause and recommendations to correct.
  • Development of current facilities requirements document (CFR) to help determine how the building currently meets desired requirements and matches intended use.
  • Identification of non-compliant code issues.
  • Identification of deficiencies that result in lack of thermal comfort control, increased energy usage and increased maintenance.
  • Identification of operations and maintenance staff training opportunities.
  • Identification and development of a list of recommendations for future capital improvements with respect to energy conservation measures (ECM) and facility improvement measures (FIM).
  • Compilation of building documents such as as-builts, shop drawings, control sequences, TAB reports.
  • Final report summarizing all findings, recommendations and improvement opportunities.

Re-commissioned and retro-commissioned buildings realize a number of specific benefits:

  • Operating cost savings
  • Greater energy efficiency
  • Prioritized maintenance scheduling
  • Reduce the building’s carbon footprint and environmental impact
  • Increased thermal comfort
  • Improved indoor air quality
  • Extended equipment life
  • Systems calibrated to the building’s current use

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.

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The phases of commissioning

 
For new construction projects, the whole building commissioning process can generally be divided into four phases, as described by the Building Commissioning Association’s (BCA) best practices guidelines.

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Pre-design phase

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.

  1. Owner designates a party to act as their project representative for commissioning
  2. Owner selects /designates a Commissioning Provider
  3. Develop the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR) for the Project
  4. Define the commissioning scope, schedule and budget
  5. Incorporate commissioning into the project budget and schedule
  6. Develop the Commissioning Plan
  7. Develop the Issues Log format and protocols
  8. Review the Building Program
  9. Prepare the Pre-Design Phase Commissioning Report

Design phase

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).

  1. Update the commissioning plan and scope
  2. Conduct a design phase commissioning kick-off meeting
  3. Develop a Basis of Design (BOD)
  4. Review the OPR and BOD for completeness and clarity
  5. Ensure the OPR and BOD documents are updated
  6. The CxP provides focused design checklists
  7. Perform commissioning-focused reviews of the design submissions
  8. The CxP confirms that facility operator training requirements are in compliance with the OPR and are included in the construction documents
  9. Develop commissioning specifications to ensure that commissioning requirements are included in the construction documents
  10. Near the end of Design, the Cx Plan and design documents should be updated to be consistent with each other
  11. The commissioning plan, OPR and BOD should be provided to the contractor during bidding

Construction phase

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.

  1. Update the Cx Plan, BOD, and the OPR, as needed
  2. Each project should be evaluated and when sufficiently advantageous to the success of the project, utilize electronic and cloud-based Cx management processes
  3. Integrate the Commissioning Schedule into construction schedule
  4. Conduct construction phase commissioning kick-off meeting
  5. Review submittals
  6. Hold construction phase controls integration meetings.
  7. Develop the master list of commissioned equipment, systems and assemblies
  8. Develop list of special requirements
  9. Complete development of project specific Construction Checklists
  10. Develop functional testing procedures and test data forms
  11. Maintain Issue Log
  12. Conduct regularly scheduled commissioning coordination meetings
  13. Execute Construction Checklists
  14. Conduct regularly scheduled site visits
  15. Assist project team with resolution of issues
  16. Review Start-up Reports
  17. CxP reviews requests for information and change order
  18. Review the Testing, Adjusting and Balancing (TAB) plan and report
  19. Confirm Functional Test Readiness
  20. Coordinate, execute and document functional testing
  21. CxP reviews contractor as-built documents, warranties and O&M Manuals
  22. Compile the Construction Phase Commissioning Report
  23. Finish Preparing the Systems Operations Guide
  24. Prepare the Commissioning Record
  25. Assemble the Contractor’s Project Turnover Documentation
  26. Verify training of the owner O&M personnel and end users

Occupancy and operations phase

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

  1. Provide timely addressing and tracking of performance problems
  2. Conduct and verify completion of outstanding O&M personnel training
  3. Complete seasonal and deferred functional testing
  4. Conduct periodic check-ins with Operation and Maintenance staff
  5. Optimize systems
  6. Conduct an occupant survey
  7. Perform a Building Operations Review
  8. Compile a Final Commissioning Report
  9. Evaluate project success
  10. Update the Project Documentation Systems Operations Guide.

Ongoing Activities

  1. Provide an Occupant User’s Guide
  2. Develop a preventive maintenance plan
  3. Develop and begin implementation of the Ongoing Commissioning Program.
  4. Implement new construction commissioning when appropriate
  5. Update the OPR and Systems Operations Guide
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The phases of retro-commissioning

 
Existing buildings are serviced by the retro-commissioning process, which can be divided into the following phases, as defined by the Building Commission Association’s best practices.

Planning phase

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.

  1. The roles and responsibilities of all EBCx participants
  2. Define Scope of Work, Schedule and CFR
  3. Define EBCx Goals
  4. Define the CFR
  5. Preliminary Building Benchmarking
  6. Review Existing Building Documentation
  7. Interview Key O&M Personnel
  8. Perform a Cursory Walk-Through
  9. Develop EBCx Plan
  10. Develop a Customized Building Operation Plan

Investigative Phase

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.

  1. Commissioning Coordination
  2. Documentation Review
  3. Site Review/Survey
  4. Building Occupant Interviews
  5. Facility Performance Analysis and Performance Baseline Establishment
  6. Systems Diagnostic Monitoring
  7. Test Development
  8. System Testing
  9. Simple repairs or improvements
  10. Master List of Findings
  11. Performance Assurance

Implementation Phase

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.

  1. Analyze, Prioritize and Select Facility Improvement Measures
  2. Prepare an Implementation Plan
  3. Implement Selected FIMs
  4. Verify Successful FIM Implementation
  5. Execute the Measurement and Verification (M&V) plan
  6. Plan for Ongoing Commissioning

Turnover Phase

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.

  1. Update O&M Manuals and As-Built Documentation
  2. Develop Final Report & Update Documentation
  3. Compile or Update a Systems Manual
  4. Establish a Plan for Operational Sustainability, Ongoing Commissioning and Continuous Improvement
  5. Develop Training Plan
  6. Hold a Lessons-Learned Meeting

Persistence Phase

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.

  1. Implement the Plan for Operational Sustainability and Ongoing Commissioning
  2. Benchmark the Building Energy Use
  3. Monitor and Track Energy Use
  4. Monitor and Track Non-Energy Building Performance Metrics
  5. Trend Key System Parameters
  6. Document Changes with an Operator’s Log
  7. Implement Persistence Strategies with The BAS
  8. Consider Automated Fault Detection & Diagnostic (AFDD) Tools
  9. Implement Personnel Training Plan
  10. Implement the Commissioning Process Again (Re-Commission)
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Who Makes Up the Commissioning Team?

 

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All projects are unique, of course, but in general the commissioning team will consist of the following members:

  1. owner
  2. end user [if applicable]
  3. architect
  4. mechanical design engineer
  5. electrical design engineer
  6. commissioning agency
  7. general contractor or construction manager
  8. mechanical contractor
  9. electrical contractor
  10. controls contractor
  11. sheet metal contractor
  12. testing, adjusting, and balancing agency
  13. owner’s operations and maintenance staff
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Trends and emerging issues in commissioning

 
Building commissioning is becoming more commonplace, and it has plenty of room to grow. Three decades ago, around the time energy efficiency was gaining traction, electric utilities began requiring commissioning on all energy efficiency installations. Since then, commissioning has become a popular and growing professional practice due to the push towards reducing operating costs through whole building energy efficiency management. Commissioning’s growth and continued success are due to several factors.

Increased Emphasis On Occupant Safety and Security

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.

Certification Programs and Standards

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.

Benefits of Ongoing Commissioning

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 Being Included in Building Codes

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.

The Rise of Smart Buildings

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.

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Why Choose PBA for Commissioning?

 
Peter Basso Associates is a leader in commissioning, retro-commissioning and peer review services. We have been involved in more than 450 commissioning projects

PBA Commissioning Leads

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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.

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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.

PBA Key Commissioning Projects

Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital LEED® Commissioning | Grand Rapids, Michigan

Peter Basso Associates commissioned the 11-story, 441,000 square foot Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital to meet requirements of LEED v2.2 EA Prerequisite 1 Fundamental Commissioning and EA Credit 3 Enhanced Commissioning, with the goal of achieving LEED® Gold. Learn More...

Commissioning for EMU's Pray-Harrold Classroom Building | Ypsilanti, Michigan

Eastern Michigan University retained the services of Peter Basso Associates for commissioning of it's 237,108 square foot classroom building. Learn More...

Radiology Building Mechanical Systems Retro-Commissioning | East Lansing, Michigan

Michigan State University contracted Peter Basso Associates to perform mechanical systems retro-commissioning for its Radiology Building and provide a summary report. This is MSU’s “flagship” project for retro-commissioning 120 buildings on its main campus. Learn More...

Ferris State University Gold Optometry Building

Peter Basso Associates provided commissioning services to Ferris State University for its 90,000 square foot Michigan College of Optometry and Collaborative Health Education Center, with a target goal of achieving LEED Gold. Learn more…

“PBA’s findings during retro-commissioning of our facility were a great benefit to our organization. They discovered incontestable evidence for needed upgrades and infrastructure replacements. Those discoveries and our decision to implement those repairs have insured our Hospital will thrive into the future.” - Scott Brown, Facilities Manager, Hillsdale Community Health Center

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