The practice of building commissioning (Cx) has quickly become standard practice for real estate owners and developers who want to maximize their investment because it delivers improved energy efficiency, workplace performance, and operational efficiency.

Building commissioning is the professional practice that ensures buildings are delivered according to the Owner’s Project Requirements. Buildings that are properly commissioned typically have fewer change orders, tend to be more energy efficient, and have lower operation and maintenance costs.

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 a holistic process that begins in pre-design and continues through to occupancy and operations. The goals of commissioning are:

  1. Deliver buildings and construction projects that meet the owner’s project requirements.
  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.

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

The three most common types of commissioning are:

  • Fundamental Cx: Supports the design, construction, and eventual operation of a project that meets the Owner’s Project Requirements for energy, water, indoor environmental quality, and durability. Fundamental Cx addresses HVAC, lighting and daylighting, domestic hot water, renewable energy systems, and electrical distribution systems. The process includes a review of the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR) and Basis of Design (BOD) (including building enclosures); a review of the design documents; development of commissioning specifications and a commissioning plan; verifying the installation and performance of the building systems during site visits and functional testing; and the delivery of a final Commissioning Report, Current Facility Requirements, and an O&M Plan.
  • Enhanced Cx: Includes all the requirements of Fundamental Cx, and also requires the Cx Authority to review contractor submittals, develop a systems manual, verify training for building operating personnel, develop the ongoing commissioning plan, and review building operations within 10 months of substantial completion.
  • Retro-Cx: A process to improve the efficiency of an existing building’s equipment and systems and ensures they function properly to meet the current building operations. Retro-Cx can resolve problems that occurred during design or construction, or address problems that developed during the building’s life as equipment aged or building usage changed. Retro-Cx involves a systemic evaluation of opportunities to improve energy-using systems.

Why does the USGBC require commissioning?

The USGBC requires Fundamental Commissioning and encourages Enhanced Commissioning to, “support the design, construction, and eventual operation of a project that meets the owner’s project requirements for energy, water, indoor environmental quality, and durability.” (source)

LEED v4.0, the 2012 International Energy Code, and the 2010 Guideline for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities all contain requirements for building systems commissioning. There has also been an increase in demand for building commissioning from local jurisdictions.

With LEED v4.0, USGBC began to require that the Commissioning Agent (CxA) is engaged early to review the Design Development (DD) documents before the end of the DD phase. Additionally, any project that is larger than 20,000 sf must have a third-party CxA. And the CxA must complete a technical review of the building envelope during the fundamental commissioning design review.  If a project intends to pursue the enhanced commissioning credit, the USGBC currently requires that a single commissioning agent manage both the Fundamental and Enhanced commissioning scopes.

USGBC is now offering three to six points for enhanced commissioning compared to the 2 points that were offered in previous versions.

Selecting a Commissioning Agent (CxA)

Projects should engage a third-party CxA so that the person/team that designs a building’s systems is not also the person/team that confirms that they operate as expected. Eliminating any potential conflict of interest increases the credibility of commissioning results.

The CxA should have a breadth of systems experience and should be able to create a positive working relationship across teams. Ask your potential CxA about their communication processes, how they manage project expectations, and how they distribute responsibilities. In the case of a CxA, because they intersect with multiple disciplines, how they operate is as important as the work they perform.

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In order to improve the overall commissioning process, your CxA should also use appropriate technologies to commission a project. Software and technology solutions might include online commissioning software, data analytic software, trending capabilities and numerous other tools and equipment.

Note: The terms Fundamental and Enhanced are primarily associated with LEED. Anyone pursuing commissioning outside of the LEED certification process would follow the standard commissioning process regardless of the LEED guidelines.

When to engage your Cx agent

Engage the commissioning agent during the pre-design phase, particularly if you are pursuing a LEED certification. Early involvement allows the CxA to assist the Owner in developing the Owner’s Project Requirements and provide more input into the design process., It also helps to establish an important dialogue between the operations and design teams.

The CxA uses the early DD review period to identify possible operation, installation, testing, and performance issues long before the project begins construction when it is expensive and complicated to make system changes.

Paladino’s approach to Cx

After spending years and millions of dollars designing and constructing their building, owners deserve the satisfaction and savings that come from a building that performs as it was intended. Paladino’s dedicated commissioning practice area takes a holistic approach to commissioning and other performance analysis and benchmarking services such as energy auditing, energy modeling, and measurement and verification.

Our Commissioning Authority acts as the owner’s representative for quality assurance throughout design and construction to ensure goals are met.

Our commissioning team engages first during the design phase to inform the team of any opportunities to increase efficiency and operations, then we perform functional tests to ensure equipment is installed and operating correctly during construction. Once the project is completed, we ensure the owners and operators are trained on how to properly use the systems and evaluate building operations to identify any final issues.

Paladino uses a combination of technology, analytical process, and site visits to analyze building performance. We provide recommendations on operational set points, sequences, schedules and more to optimize HVAC equipment. The result is an efficient, customized commissioning or retro-commissioning process that provides the highest value to the owner.

With a specialization in energy management, our commissioning team members have successfully acted as the commissioning authority for hundreds of projects across a range of building types, ranging from 10,000 to more than 1,000,000 square feet.

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