A Brief Guide to Building Commissioning

Discover how building commissioning works and how it ensures a reliable, energy-efficient structure for your business needs.

commissioning agent doing final building checks

Published 8 Jul 2022

What is Building Commissioning?

Building commissioning is a systematic process to test a facility’s overall design and functionality before its occupancy. Commissioning agents involve themselves in several activities for both new and existing buildings, from planning and design to operations and testing. Doing so ensures that a building is at its optimal state and conforms with the building owner’s requirements.

Building commissioning is critical for facilities wanting to be compliant with regulations and obtain sustainability certifications such as LEED and ENERGY STAR. Commissioning agents work together with the project architects and contractors to perform the following tasks:

  • Examine and cross-check construction documents
  • Assess claims about construction materials
  • Test and validate equipment upon installation
  • Check if Operations and Maintenance (O&M) personnel receive adequate training
  • Follow good documentation practices for building systems

Why is it Important?

Building commissioning is an integral element of a successful construction project. Certain green energy laws even require this process to ensure the readiness and reliability of a building for occupancy. But how exactly does it benefit property owners and construction teams?

Improving Energy Usage

Energy efficiency is one of the major advantages of building commissioning. This process offers a cost-effective way to minimize energy and water use in buildings, allowing owners to conserve energy and boost their environmental performance.

Identifying Gaps in Construction

Architects, contractors, and project managers handle a huge bulk of the construction work. Even so, many details can get lost in the process if things are left solely in their hands and without proper coordination that building commissioning can provide. There arises a need for another set of eyes to monitor, document, and verify regulatory compliance and building quality.

This is where commissioning agents come into the picture. It’s their job to spot and resolve deficiencies early in the design and construction phase before opening the facility for public use.

Minimizing O&M Costs

Building commissioning also helps decrease operational and maintenance costs. Incorporating it in the construction process allows owners and managers to detect issues early and avoid potential expenses if caught later.

A study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Building Commissioning Association (BCxA) reported that commissioning led to lower construction costs per square foot and in totality for newly-built facilities.

Enhancing Overall Building Performance

Ultimately, building commissioning is all about optimizing building systems for better performance. Research shows that building commissioning elevates an existing facility’s performance by:

  • enhancing thermal comfort;
  • improving the air quality inside the building;
  • streamlining O&M systems through documentation;
  • meeting the expectations of the property owner; and
  • addressing and mitigating risks associated with poor building performance.

Building Systems for Commissioning

Building commissioning often includes a thorough check of the building’s internal and external systems. Commissioners must ensure that the following systems function as intended and are in their best condition before signing them off to the owner:

  • MechanicalHeating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems, elevators, building automation systems
  • Electrical – switches, transformers, generators, and emergency power sources
  • Lighting – energy-efficient lighting sources and lighting controls
  • Plumbing – pipes, water supply channels, and more
  • Building envelope – wall assembly, foundation, roofing, and window glazing
  • Laboratories – toxic gas monitoring, gas distribution, and process cooling water systems
  • Life safetyfire extinguishers, alarms, sprinklers, and smoke detectors

Building Commissioning Process Documents

Documentation is crucial to the success of a building commissioning process. Not only does it demonstrate regulatory compliance, but it also serves as reference material for the entire project team throughout the building construction process.

The U.S. Department of Energy provides a list of documents you must prepare at every stage of the building commissioning process.

Conceptualization

  • Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR)
  • Design bid specifications document
  • Project design intent documentation

Baseline Development

Final Design

  • Construction bid documents
  • Pre-functional checklists

Construction

  • Functional performance test procedures
  • Functional performance test checklists

Verification

  • Commissioning report
  • Training materials
  • O&M manuals
  • Recommissioning management manuals

Operations

  • Post-occupancy optimization report

Challenges in Commissioning Buildings

After walking through the process and necessary documents, it’s time to discuss the challenges with commissioning buildings. Here are four common obstacles that building owners and commissioning agents alike might encounter during the building commissioning process.

Aligning Owner and Tenant Goals

At their core, most commissioning projects compose of ready-made buildings for tenants. The builders have already added the necessary systems and furnishings to make the building functional. However, the tenant might have different goals in mind when occupying the facility.

For example, a facility will have basic electrical and airflow systems. But the tenant might want to use it for storing food items, as per the regulations of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Thus, they might require additional fixtures to transform their space into an FDA-approved facility.

Adhering to Building Commissioning Regulations

Aside from the OPR, building commissioning must also follow various national, regional, and local laws. These laws often entail different sets of requirements that might be difficult to keep track of.

Proper documentation at all stages is key to solving this problem. This helps commissioning agents determine if they are incorporating these regulatory requirements into the entire commissioning process.

Documenting Building Performance

Building performance is essential for green building rating programs such as LEED, BREEAM, Green Globes, and ENERGY STAR. And these standards come with varying performance requirements that commissioning agents should assess during the entire process.

For this reason, it’s a must to document every step of the building process. However, doing so can become tedious given the complexities of building performance reporting.

Fortunately, digital systems such as iAuditor by SafetyCulture contain features for streamlining these tasks while minimizing human error and improving accuracy.

leizel estrellas safetyculture content specialist

SafetyCulture Content Specialist

Leizel Estrellas

Leizel Estrellas is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture. Her academic and professional training as a researcher allows her to write meaningful articles that create a lasting impact. As a content specialist, she strives to promote a culture of safety in the workplace through accessible and reader-friendly content. With her high-quality work, she is keen on helping businesses across industries identify issues and opportunities to improve every day.

Leizel Estrellas is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture. Her academic and professional training as a researcher allows her to write meaningful articles that create a lasting impact. As a content specialist, she strives to promote a culture of safety in the workplace through accessible and reader-friendly content. With her high-quality work, she is keen on helping businesses across industries identify issues and opportunities to improve every day.