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Building Commissioning

by the WBDG Project Management Committee and Commissioning Leadership Council

Last updated: 09-24-2014

Introduction

Building Commissioning is a rapidly growing professional practice that is being embraced by public and private organizations because buildings that are delivered according to the owner's intent, typically have fewer change orders, tend to be more energy efficient, and have lower operation and maintenance cost.

This section of the WBDG organizes commissioning information, guidance, and resources under three broad principles including Determine Project Performance Requirements, Plan the Commissioning Process, and Document Compliance and Acceptance. It is important to note that all three principles are applied over the lifespan of a capital design and construction project, and that it takes a multi-disciplined effort involving owners, design professionals, construction managers, and commissioning providers (CxP) to achieve optimal results from the commissioning process.

It is important to start the commissioning process in the pre-design phase. This early involvement is critical for the timely and useful development of the Owner's Project Requirements (OPR), the subsequent design team Basis of Design (BOD), the Commissioning Plan, and the beginning of the Operations & Maintenance (O&M) Systems Manual. If these tasks are left until later in the process and "reverse engineered" to match the design, their usefulness as catalysts for dialog, cost and risk management, and quality tracking tools is lost.

Appointing the CxP at the beginning of the project allows the CxP to become familiar with programming documents and proceed immediately to the OPR workshop and the development of the whole building criteria that match the project needs. The OPR should be developed during the pre-design phase. When the Systems Manual also is started at this early stage, the inclusion of O&M requirements is ensured. The inclusion of O&M planning in the early phases is key to the long-term persistence of energy efficiency, equipment longevity, and whole building performance strategies built into the design.

The OPR is the foundation document of successful Cx. It is critical in ensuring the commissioning process meets the owner's goals. The OPR defines the expectations, goals, benchmarks and success criteria for the project. The OPR must be developed with significant owner input and ultimate approval. The CxP typically assists the owner in identifying the facility's requirements regarding such issues as energy efficiency, indoor environment, staff training, and operation and maintenance. An effective OPR incorporates input early in the project from the owner, design team, operation and maintenance staff and end users of the building, and is updated throughout the project.

This section provides an overview of commissioning drivers, benefits, goals, and principles as well as general commissioning guides, standards, and resources.

Definition

ASHRAE Standard 202-2013, The Commissioning Process for Buildings and Systems, and ASHRAE Guideline 0, The Commissioning Process define commissioning as:

"A quality-focused process for enhancing the delivery of a project. The process focuses upon verifying and documenting that all of the commissioned systems and assemblies are planned, designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained to meet the Owner's Project Requirements."

Commissioning is an all-inclusive, quality assurance-based process for working with project teams and documenting the planning, delivery, verification, and managing risks to functions performed in, or by, facilities. Commissioning ensures building quality using design review, and in-field or on-site verification. Commissioning also helps to maximize energy efficiency, environmental health and occupant safety. The process improves indoor air quality by making sure the building components are working correctly and that the plans are implemented efficiently and effectively. Commissioning delivers preventive and predictive maintenance plans, tailored operating manuals and training procedures for all users to follow. Essentially, the commissioning process formalizes review and integration of all project expectations during planning, design, construction, and occupancy phases by inspection and functional and performance testing, and oversight of operator training and record documentation.

Commissioning Goals

The primary goal of commissioning any project is to ensure that a clear mission is defined for the building and that the building works as intended to fulfill that mission. The definition accurately depicts commissioning as a holistic process that spans from pre-design planning to occupancy and operations at a minimum and should also include ongoing commissioning. Accordingly, the goals of commissioning are to:

  1. Deliver buildings and construction projects that meet the owner's needs.
  2. Prevent or eliminate problems inexpensively through proactive quality techniques.
  3. Verify systems are installed and working correctly and benchmark that correct operation.
  4. Lower overall first costs and life-cycle costs for the owner.
  5. Provide documentation and records on the design, construction, and testing to facilitate operation and maintenance of the facility.
  6. Implement trend logs, automated and semi-automated Cx tools to enable O&M staff ongoing Cx.
  7. Maintain facility performance for the building's entire life cycle.

Benefits

Commissioning assists in the delivery of a project that provides an efficient, safe and healthy facility; optimizes energy use; reduces operating costs; ensures adequate O&M staff orientation and training; and improves installed building systems documentation.

Commissioning benefits owners through improved energy efficiency, improved workplace performance due to higher quality environments, and prevention of business losses. The cost of not commissioning is equal to the costs of correcting deficiencies plus the costs of inefficient operations. For example, in mission critical facilities, the cost of not commissioning can be measured by the cost of downtime and lack of appropriate facility use.

Drivers

There are many reasons to include commissioning in project design and they vary by owner and by building type. For example, mission critical facilities like data centers need to ensure their building systems will operate with little to no down time. Institutional buildings will operate with less maintenance and greater reliability. Private and public building owners want energy efficient buildings that provide safe and comfortable space for occupants. The main drivers for owners to use commissioning include:

  • Energy efficiency
  • Building performance rating systems
  • Efficient and cost-effective maintenance
  • Code compliance
  • Internal sustainability programs

In addition to energy efficiency and overall performance drivers, another factor driving demand for commissioning is the owner's desire to obtain certification through building performance rating systems. These rating systems have been developed to improve the design, construction and performance of energy efficiency and environmental conditions in buildings. A building certified to these rating systems can include highly efficient gas, power and lighting systems, solar photovoltaics and other distributed energy resource technologies. From an owner's perspective, investment in these and other sophisticated building technologies must be accompanied by rigorous design and construction quality assurance and performance verification measurement, which are provided holistically through the commissioning process.

Research indicates sustainable design helps reduce building costs while providing for a more comfortable indoor environment. Investing in sustainable construction pays for itself 10 times over, according to an October 2003 study prepared for a group of more than 40 California government agencies. The study, conducted by the Capital E Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory with input from a number of state agencies, reflects the most definitive cost-benefit analysis of green building to date.

Determine Project Performance Requirements

Every new project goes through Pre-Design and Design Stages that establishes an owner's needs, goals, scope, and design solutions for a proposed project. Proposed designs and constructed work can only be evaluated against objective criteria and measures that are embodied in a well-documented OPR. Project development is a learning process where building performance decisions are refined to successive levels of detail over the course of a project's life cycle. These decisions should be documented throughout the project and in the OPR.

Once a project delivery team has determined critical project goals and requirements, these questions must be answered: how will the systems be tested, inspected and documented and should an independent CxP be retained. Creating The Commissioning Plan will answer these questions. Key commissioning activities include:

  • Assign team members and responsibilities
  • Establish Goals for Quality, Efficiency, and Functionality (part of Project Management)
  • Establish a Commissioning Scope
  • Establish Commissioning Budgets
  • Establish Commissioning Plans
  • Establish Commissioning Schedules
  • Establish Testing and Inspection Plans
  • Develop Commissioning Specifications
  • Determine Special Testing Needs
  • Establish Existing Building Commissioning Plans

Document Compliance and Acceptance

The purpose of commissioning documenting is to serve as the historical record of the "what, why and how to" of key delivery team decisions throughout the planning and delivery process. Commissioning documents the establishment of standards of performance for building systems, and verifies that designed and constructed work meets those standards. Key commissioning deliverables supporting Document Compliance and Acceptance include:

  • Owner's Project Requirements
  • Basis of Design
  • Commissioning Plan
  • Functional Tests
  • Systems Manual
  • Training Documents
  • Final Commissioning Report

Application

All new or renovation building programs can benefit from some level of commissioning. Recent case studies conducted in private sector facilities have shown that commissioning can improve new building energy performance by 8% to 30%. Similar results can be expected in other facilities. For complex building types with highly integrated building systems, commissioning will provide compounded benefits.

Industry Standards and Guidelines

This section of the Whole Building Design Guide is based primarily on the commissioning process recommended in ASHRAE Standard 202-2013, The Commissioning Process for Buildings and Systems and ASHRAE Guideline 0-2013. It is highly recommended that project teams who employ commissioning should follow the process outlined in ASHRAE Standard 202-2013. This Standard has been adopted by the Building Commissioning Association and NIBS. It does not focus upon specific systems or assemblies, but rather presents a standard process that can be followed to commission any building.

Conclusion

Commissioning should be considered a whole building quality assurance process and can be customized to suit project needs. However, it always requires clear definition of performance expectations, rigor in planning and execution, thorough testing, staff training, and documentation.

Additional Resources

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