Building Commissioning

By Sam Khalilieh

For a long time, commissioning was predominately associated with the process of testing and balancing (T&B) heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems based on specific standards prior to turning the building over to the owner. But commissioning has come a long way, and today it is a more formal and meticulous quality-assurance process of articulating and verifying that all of the building’s systems perform as they were intended.

In addition, commissioning recognizes the integrated nature of building systems and impacts on energy savings, environment, public health, workplace productivity and security.

There are different types of commissioning. It can range from a single piece of equipment (simple commissioning) to the commissioning of an entire building’s systems.

Some typical types of commissioning include:

1. Basic Commissioning: A process of performing functional testing of systems and equipment at the time of start-up.

2. Re-commissioning: A periodic commissioning exercise of repeating the original commissioning procedures

3. Retro-commissioning: A process for improving and optimizing a building’s O&M procedures beyond their original plan and specifications after construction and focuses on energy-using equipment.

4. Ongoing Commissioning: A process conducted continually for the purposes of maintaining, improving and optimizing the performance of building’s systems after initial commissioning or retro-commissioning.

5. Continuous Commissioning: An ongoing process to investigate, collect and address operating deficiencies, improve comfort, optimize energy use and identify solutions.

6. LEED Commissioning: A process offering an additional credit for “enhanced commissioning” (EC), which involves a more meticulous, integrated approach.

7. Total Building Commissioning: A process for achieving, validating and documenting that the performance of the total building and its systems meet the design intent and requirements of the owner.

Commissioning professionals are trained to understand and evaluate buildings’ systems to ensure their efficient operation and that building operators are properly trained in operation and maintenance procedures. That is crucial because equipment can be undermined by the human involvement and cause unintentional or improper use.

The benefits of commissioning include articulating and verifying design intent; optimizing energy performance, efficiency and safety; enhancing safety and risk management; and lower overall project cost.

Additional benefits are construction observation and warranty enforcement; reducing contractors change orders and call back; and addressing design and installation issues before they morph into major and expensive problems.

Quicker occupancy, better indoor air quality environment for the employees and customers, document operation criteria for use as a baseline for future; adjustments and troubleshooting; and extension of equipment life complete the list.

The need for commissioning cannot be overstated. It helps to identify common deficiencies, such as design flaws, construction defects, malfunctioning equipment and, in some instances, deferred maintenance. The cost varies depending on the size and complexity of the project. Showing occupant productivity gains in a well-commissioned building, versus a building that is not commissioned, is extremely difficult.

Studies have shown that the types of problems found during commissioning, left uncorrected, resulted in sub-optimal building performance, which could lead to sub-optimal employee performance. Consequently, commissioning can and will produce lower construction costs and lower operating costs.

Commissioning is the backbone of every project in that it ensures the different building’s systems perform according to the design documents. The bottom line is simple: A properly commissioned building is likely to have fewer complaints from occupants, lower energy costs, improved indoor air quality and improved equipment.

Sam Khalilieh is senior VP architecture & engineering at WD Partners, Columbus, Ohio. He will present a session on commissioning, “Building Commissioning: A Golden Opportunity for Operational Excellence and Reduced Energy Costs,” at Chain Store Age’s SPECS conference on Tuesday March 11, 2014 (specsshow.com).