Commissioning: A Primer
I commission buildings. And while commissioning in the AEC profession isn’t a new concept (by a couple of decades), I still have people ask me what commissioning is. So I’m going to answer that question as simply as I can in this article.
To start, consider this: If you and your family were buying a boat to sail around the world, would you just take one off of the assembly line and head straight out to sea? Or would you instead choose to have an expert test the craft to make sure everything is working correctly and even train you in its proper usage before you set out? I’m confident that any sane person will choose the latter option.
I’m starting with this analogy because the term actually originates in shipbuilding. A commissioned ship is one that has had its materials, systems and staff successfully complete a thorough quality assurance process. They go through this process because a ship comprises diverse moving parts, complex equipment and technologies, and construction standards that are critical to staying afloat. The AEC profession adopted this process because today’s buildings are no less complex - and in their own ways, no less critical in their operations than that of a boat staying above the water. For an energy-efficient school to run effectively, the engineering systems need to be tested and calibrated; for a prison to stay secure 24/7, the operators need to confirm that all the security systems are in working order; for a high-tech office to work effectively, users need training in the cutting edge tools; and etc.
When a building is commissioned it undergoes an intensive quality assurance process that begins during design and continues through construction, occupancy, and operations. Commissioning ensures that the new building operates as the owner intended and that building staff are prepared to operate and maintain its systems and equipment. David Allen has written a great article in CSE outlining the importance of involving commissioning specialists in every stage of project design and construction. I encourage you to read it. Rather than cover that ground again here, I’ll detail out two additional types of building commissioning: retro-commissioning, and re-commissioning.
Retro-commissioning is the application of the same process to existing buildings. Retro-commissioning is a process that seeks to improve how building equipment and systems are operating and functioning together. Depending on the age of the building, retro-commissioning can often resolve problems that occurred during design or construction, or address problems that have developed throughout the building’s life. In all, retro-commissioning improves a building’s operations and maintenance (O&M) procedures to enhance overall building performance.
Re-commissioning is another type of commissioning that occurs when a building that has already been commissioned undergoes another commissioning process. The decision to re-commission may be triggered by a change in building use or ownership, the onset of operational problems, or some other need. Ideally, a plan for re-commissioning is established as part of a new building’s original commissioning process or an existing building’s retro-commissioning process.
Certain states require retro-commissioning, and then re-commissioning every five years for buildings more than 50,000 square feet in size. Re-commissioning is one of the steps that can be taken to ensure that retro-commissioning and other efficiency measures last and to ensure the persistence of their associated benefits.
That’s it, a simple definition of building commissioning. The details of what we actually do are definitely more complex, but the most important thing to understand is this: without commissioning, it’s unlikely that your facilities are operating optimally. Commissioning opens up opportunities for sustainable operations, for better performance for your users, and for utilities cost savings once your systems are optimized. If you have more questions, I encourage you to add a comment below or contact me directly.