Determine Project Performance Requirements  

by the WBDG Project Management Committee & Commissioning Leadership Council



A proposed building's scope, schedule, and budget are developed in pre-design stage programming documents. In this stage, the level of project and/or systems criticality must also be determined, based on an owner's project requirements (OPR) and risk management strategy for the activities and mission housed in a building. It is essential that the pre-design stage programming documents also include quality assurance strategies and budgets to verify that delivered systems and assemblies meet performance expectations.

The Commissioning Process involves a systematic means of verifying that the critical systems are designed, installed, functioning, and maintained in optimal condition. In organizations with in-house planning staffs, the commissioning program is initially scoped at the same time that the owner's team determines initial project performance requirements. In organizations without an in-house planning staff, a commissioning provider (CxP) with experience in the building type can be instrumental in determining initial requirements and performance objectives.

This WBDG page provides guidance and resources on determining commissioning needs and requirements.

The OPR defines the Owners project goals, measurable performance criteria, cost considerations, benchmarks, success criteria, and supporting information for the project. The OPR must be developed with significant Owner and/or Owner's representative input and ultimate approval. The CxP typically facilitates the process for the Owner in identifying the facility's requirements regarding such issues as energy efficiency measures, environment and sustainability issues, security, and operation and maintenance of the building. An effective OPR incorporates input early from the design team, operation and maintenance staff and end users of the building and is updated throughout the project by the CxP. An effective OPR is developed utilizing accepted methods for obtaining input (e.g. questionnaires, or Nominal Group Technique, workshops, etc.) Once the OPR is development the Basis of Design can be developed and evaluated to the OPR.


Understand Needs of Special Building Types

The focus for commissioning varies based on the purpose of the building. Health care facilities are highly sensitive to temperature and relative humidity, as are museums, libraries, and archives. Laboratories require fume hoods to operate correctly, while data centers demand reliable power. Some government and private sector facilities have special requirements for access control, internal security, and communication technology that are essential to their function. Sustainable buildings with highly energy efficient mechanical, lighting, and control systems must be designed, constructed, and operated properly to achieve their projected energy and water savings. Of course, some buildings must meet more than one of these requirements.

Virtually any building project will have building systems, assemblies, or performance features that could benefit from commissioning. Commissioning can be applied to all building types.

Determine Key Program Goals and Objectives

All commissioning projects require detailed planning for project success. The CxP should involve all key project personnel in the planning of the project commissioning to ensure the identification of all key program goals and objectives. Once these goals and objectives are identified, the Commission Plan must be developed by the team. Team makeup, key tasks, and team member responsibilities should be identified and the commissioning schedule should be developed. Team communication protocols should be decided for the project and clearly communicated to the team. The Commissioning Plan, like the OPR, is a living document that will need to be updated throughout the project by the CxP.

Programming for commissioning requires going beyond the simple allocation of space, enclosure, finish, and equipment to examine business goals and facility mission as determinants of its programming goals and objectives. Design objectives and functional characteristics that need commissioning to verify building performance may include:

Define Threats, Risks, and Consequences

In order to determine performance expectations and measures, the project team must have a clear understanding of overall key business objectives. The project owner must guide the project team in establishing and documenting (in the OPR as well as elsewhere) priorities by which project success will be measured. It is important for the owner or qualified experts to define business risks, occupant threats and risks, hazards, consequences, and impacts that a system failure may have on the overall mission performance of a facility, so that the CxP considers these defined priorities when reviewing and verifying integrated systems performance.

Recognize Systems' Criticality to Achieving Goals

System criticality, and the need for its performance verification through commissioning, is determined by examining how each system, assembly, or building feature, and the integrated aggregate systems, support key program goals and facility mission. For example, buildings with a high risk of airborne contamination must be designed for enhanced occupant safety measures. This may necessitate high-performance HVAC system design that provides constant airflow direction and pressure differentials between interior spaces under all operating conditions. This type of building functionality can only be achieved through both systems and whole building-based planning, design, construction quality assurance, and commissioning testing and verification of the operating systems under various conditions.

Five photo examples of special building interiors

The GSA Program Goals Matrix in Facilities Standards for Public Buildings, P-100 indicates critical program-system relationships that must be addressed within building systems programming directives to designers. View enlarged

Routine quality assurance is needed for all building components. Usually the decision to commission specific building systems is made during the design development phase of a project, but may also occur in pre-design as project performance requirements and design intent documentation evolves.

Conduct Key Commissioning Programming Activities

Many design and construction programs execute careful planning and programming that is embodied and encompassed in master plans, building engineering reports, special studies, feasibility studies, and program development studies. Yet, some building programs execute planning and programming only minimally. For commissioning to be successful, programming documentation must summarize or include the OPR that are both general and specific to critical requirements. The OPR is a summary of critical planning and programming requirements and owner expectations that is updated by the commissioning team as the project evolves. If program or mission elements change during the span of project delivery, the OPR should be updated to reflect changes in building performance requirements. ASHRAE Standard 202-2013 (Annex D) and Guideline 0-2013 (Annex J) provides a general format for developing an OPR which includes:

  • Project schedule and budget
  • Commissioning scope and budget
  • Project documentation requirements (submissions and formats)
  • Owner directives
  • Restrictions and limitations
  • User requirements
  • Occupancy requirements and schedules
  • Training requirements for owner's personnel
  • Warranty requirements
  • Benchmarking requirements
  • Operations and Maintenance criteria
  • Equipment and systems maintainability requirements
  • Quality requirements for materials and construction
  • Allowable tolerances for facility systems operations
  • Energy and water efficiency goals
  • Environmental and sustainability goals
  • Community requirements
  • Adaptability for future facility changes and expansion
  • Systems integration requirements
  • Health, hygiene, and indoor environmental requirements
  • Acoustical requirements
  • Vibration requirements
  • Seismic requirements
  • Accessibility requirements
  • Security requirements
  • Aesthetics requirements
  • Constructability requirements
  • Communications requirements
  • Applicable codes and standards

Note: This is a general list of programming documentation that will vary by project depending on scope, size, complexity, and budget. The Bullitt Center, a WBDG Case Study and SBIC Beyond Green High-Performance Building Award Winner provides an example on how many of these OPRs were addresses.

The Basis of Design (BOD) is a narrative and analytical documentation prepared by the design architect and engineer along with design submissions to explain how the OPR is met by the proposed design. It describes the technical approach used for systems selections, integration, and sequence of operations, focusing on design features critical to overall building performance. An OPR is developed for an owner/user audience while the BOD is typically developed in more technical terms. The CxP will review the BOD and provide review comments to the design team. The design team should work with the commissioning team to verify that the BOD complies with the OPR objectives. In some cases the OPR may need to be updated to comply with the BOD if the design team identifies approaches that better satisfy the owner's needs.

Commissioning Specifications Requirements are developed to outline commissioned systems and equipment performance benchmarks, system integration details, submittal requirements for commissioned systems, initial construction contractor inspection procedures, tests, start-up, turnover procedures, owner training, and final documentation requirements. These documents must clearly define the contractors' responsibilities in supporting the commissioning efforts for the project. The commissioning team should hold a commissioning kick-off meeting with the construction team to review these documents and the construction teams' involvement in the commissioning effort. Any questions the construction team may have regarding the process as it applies to a specific project should be handled in this meeting.

Systems Manual Requirements—When determining commissioning requirements, it is also important to define documentation needs that will facilitate and support operation of commissioned systems. O&M Manuals are typically prepared by the construction contractor at the turn-over phase of a project, but are often inadequate to fully explain how a complex facility should be operated. ASHRAE Guideline 1.4-2014, Procedures for Preparing Systems Manual, recommends that a "Systems Manual", containing commissioning and commissioning documentation be prepared for commissioned buildings. Systems Manuals should provide all the information needed to understand, operate, and maintain the systems and assemblies. The Systems Manual should be the repository of information on updates and corrections to systems and assemblies as they occur during the Design, Construction, and Occupancy and Operations Phases. A best practice is to develop a Systems Manual Outline simultaneous with selection, design, and specification of the commissioned systems.

Training Requirements—An important element in the commissioning process is ensuring that O&M personnel are properly trained in operation, care, adjustment, and required maintenance of commissioned systems and equipment. O&M personnel must be trained in the knowledge and skills needed to operate a facility in conformance with its design intent. Training needs must be addressed in the early planning stage to inform operating personnel about staffing budgets and hiring, qualifications, O&M contracts planning and procurement, construction contract training specification development and commissioning authority contract responsibilities.

One approach to training the O&M staff involves the O&M staff being integrated into the Cx team. As part of the Cx team the staff is involved in the start-up and functional testing of the facility system; this involvement provides the staff with detailed operational knowledge that is difficult to transmit in a classroom environment or via a manual.

Some owner groups are beginning to task commissioning providers with operating facilities for up to one year after turn-over to conduct seasonal testing and systems optimization, allowing for an overlap in O&M contract start-up and training.

Emerging Issues

Increased Emphasis on Occupant Security/Security

In the post 9/11 environment, providing occupant safety to visitors and workers 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. This trend is not expected to decrease, but will likely increase the standard of care necessary in the design and operation of all forms of public and corporate buildings.

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. USGBC has developed additional certification standards for Existing Buildings, Commercial Interiors, Schools, Core and Shell, Health Care, Retail, Neighborhood Development, and Homes.

Ongoing Commissioning

The benefits of ongoing commissioning or monitoring based commissioning (MBCx) are well documented in annual energy savings in studies conducted by many institutions. Fewer studies are available to demonstrate the cost benefits of commissioning new construction. However, threats and risks to operational/business continuity, occupant safety, and health and systems degradation and inefficiency often warrant the added expense of ongoing commissioning.

Commissioning in Building Code

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. It is still up to the Designer of Record to follow all the other relevant Building Codes for that jurisdiction. The CxP is only required to ensure that the building is built to the OPR and follow the Cx Code requirements for that jurisdiction.

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. Pre-planning by the Cx team for testing of the integration requires a high level of knowledge in IT structure, communication protocols, system registries, and system interactions. An in-depth knowledge of life-safety codes can be critical if these systems are integrated into the Smart Building approach.

Relevant Codes and Standards

Additional Resources