Energy matters: Building commissioning
Michael Chonko, PE, CEM
SMRT Architects and Engineers
Laboratories—and the very brick and mortar buildings we work in and man- age—are really living structures, with the
performance of their systems and building
components changing over time. Often to
the detriment of lab performance, operating
budgets, occupant comfort and the environment. There’s an antidote to performance
decline and creeping cost escalation, one
which can also ensure that a new, greenfield
building functions optimally from day one.
The silver bullet: building commissioning.
A DEFINITION (OR T WO)
What, exactly, is building commissioning? Simply put, commissioning is
a quality assurance process, which also
delivers monetary returns, occupant comfort and operational benefits. A definition
advanced by the U.S. Department of Energy:
“Commissioning is a systematic process
of ensuring that a building performs in
accordance with the design intent, contract
documents and owner’s operational needs.”
Basically, commissioning is a process that
helps ensure buildings are properly designed,
constructed, operated and maintained.
Commissioning for new construction
is nicely summed up by the preceding sentence; ideally, the certified commissioning
agent is an integral part of the design and
construction team early in the process. Retro-commissioning focuses on existing facilities,
examining the building components and
systems to ensure they’re performing optimally. Re-commissioning revisits buildings
which have been previously commissioned, to
address the erosion of building system performance over time.
WHAT IT’S NOT
While the value and ROI from building
commissioning are well-documented, there
are still some common misconceptions
about exactly what building commission-
ing is, and how it works:
• Commissioning is not a value engi-
• Commissioning is not an energy
• Commissioning is not testing, adjusting or balancing of building systems.
• Commissioning is not construction
administration (CA), nor final punch listing a construction project.
• Commissioning is not an exercise to
whereby a commissioning agent assumes
the duties of the architects, design engineers, contractors or subcontractors.
• Commissioning is not a blame game,
nor is it acceptable for the commissioning
agent to engage in finger pointing or creating an adversarial atmosphere.
– A commissioning agent is an integral part of the team, focused on delivering a facility performing to its highest
design intent, while working on the
building owner’s behalf.
• Commissioning is not a “one and
– Whether commissioning a green-
field laboratory (where the Cx agent
should be involved early in the design
process), or to maintain existing build-
ing performance, excellent commis-
sioning is process delivered.
• Commissioning is not a code requirement (yet N. Y. is requiring it now, per their
IBC 2015 adoption with amendments).
WHAT CAN BE COMMISSIONED?
At its most basic level, any building
system or laboratory/manufacturing
process can be commissioned. The focus
of this article is on the building and
its systems which tend to fall into four
main categories: mechanical systems,
electrical systems, plumbing and building envelope. The chart below outlines
the major components included in these