Commissioning Basics: Questions You Might be Asking
By Mark Lehman, Director of Commissioning Services
Perhaps you are an owner who has a new facility that you need designed and constructed in the near future, and you have decided to get your new facility LEED certified, or you have determined that you want a third party to verify that the systems in your new facility are functioning as designed prior to your occupancy of the facility. For LEED certified projects, you are required to bring a third party commissioning group on board to commission your facility. You have never utilized the services of a commissioning firm before. In fact, you don’t really know why you need commissioning or what type of services you are paying for. From our vast experience in commissioning we have worked with many owners who have had the same questions. We hope to answer many of your questions and hopefully give you a number of reasons to select Applied Engineering Services for your next commissioning project.
Why is commissioning important?
The purpose of commissioning buildings is to provide documented evidence that building systems function and perform in accordance with the Owner’s project requirements and the design intent as set forth in the Project Documents. Commissioning of an existing building requires the establishment of the Owner’s requirements, a design intent, and an evaluation of the system’s current operation and performance before implementing improvements.
The commissioning process for new buildings will reduce change orders, RFIs, call backs, and warranty issues; ensures proper system selection; improves system performance; and produces an operational building from day one. The commissioning process provides building system documentation for future operations and maintenance and verifies that building and system operators have received appropriate training.
Mark Lehman, RCDD, CxA, is an Associate at Applied and is also the Director of Commissioning Services. He has been involved with commissioning projects for clients such as Wishard Health (Eskenazi Health), IU Health, Ivy Tech Community College, Purdue University, and Indiana University.
Who is best suited to commission a facility?
An independent commissioning provider who has no conflict of interest on the project is best suited for commissioning a facility. A commissioning firm with certified commissioning agents and professional engineers on staff that understand the complex building systems and can assist the owner in meeting his/her operational needs is the best type of commissioning agent.
How cost effective is commissioning?
Although commissioning has becoming increasingly common, many building owners still don’t fully understand what commissioning involves, or are skeptical of the cost effectiveness claims made by commissioning professionals. A study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, may go a long way toward changing the minds of decision makers who are sitting on the fence when it comes to commissioning. In fact, the study concluded that commissioning is one of the most cost-effective means of improving energy efficiency in commercial buildings.
What does commissioning really cost?
The study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that for new construction, median commissioning costs were $1.16 per square foot, representing 0.4% of total construction costs with a whole-building energy savings of 16% and a payback of 1.1 years. For existing buildings, the researchers found median commissioning costs of $0.30 per square foot with a whole-building energy savings of 13% and a payback of 4.2 years.
Lessons learned from past projects.
Here are just a few of the lessons we have learned from past projects that may improve how your future commissioning projects can be improved.
• Incorporate commissioning into the construction schedule.
• Make commissioning part of substantial completion.
• Ensure the contractor performs a dry run of the functional performance tests prior to the commissioning agent witnessing the test.
• Recognize that loss of power problems usually occur on transfer from standby power back to normal power.
How should your Commissioning firm be selected?
Commissioning services are professional services and ideally should be selected on a qualification basis like other professional services, such as design services. We live in a RFQ world, and a well written RFQ is an excellent way to find and select potential candidates to interview for your project. We believe selecting a firm to provide commissioning services based first on the qualifications of a firm and then negotiating a fee for services with your chosen firm will provide you with the highest quality commissioning services at a fair price. Selecting commissioning services based only on price can turn a value service into a commodity, and erodes many benefits that should be provided with commissioning services.