Who needs commissioning?

May 28, 2018

If your building is too cold or too hot, or if employees become sluggish in the afternoon, take a look at the building’s operating systems.

Do you work in an older office building where the air is either too hot, too cold, or even stuffy? Perhaps you work at a brand-new place where you experience the same thing or perhaps a whole different set of problems with the building systems such as lighting controls and exhaust systems. Chances are that the older office building needs retrocommissioning and the new one needs commissioning. There is even recommissioning for structures that are five to eight years old. What is all this about, and who needs it?

Commissioning is a process that involves reviewing a building design (by a third-party commissioning agent) that has been produced by architects, engineers, and the owner. The commissioning process verifies that the building design achieves its owner’s requirements and goals, that the building is designed to operate the way it is supposed to, and that it will operate as efficiently as possible. This process can also extend into the construction of the building. After a facility has been designed and the building process begins, commissioning confirms that equipment and systems are installed according to the intended design. It also validates that the equipment and systems are operating as expected.

By hiring a commissioning agent or firm to inspect a building, it can increase savings because of their experience and success with finding and implementing efficiencies. When a structure is properly commissioned, the money spent for this service pays for itself in cost reductions down the road. The commissioning agent provides a safety net to the owner by guaranteeing that all building design needs and requirements are met. Agents are on site throughout the construction phase to inspect the installation of all building systems, test each building system, ensure owners receive all pertinent documentation for the building, and oversee that the training for the maintenance staff is delivered.

Commissioning can be performed during construction and up to 10-12 months after the building is occupied to certify that any issues with the building are resolved. A final commissioning report is then presented when its agent has concluded the complete process.

Recommissioning is a methodical process of testing an existing facility’s systems and equipment (five to eight years old) to make sure they are still functioning according to the original design intent or to adjust any deviation from the original design. Schedules are inspected, and the building equipment is tested to make sure everything is still operating properly and to code. There may be savings opportunities associated with the inspection if things have gone astray. Recommissioning will show how to keep the existing control system of the building operating efficiently and will also indicate if any equipment upgrades are necessary to potentially increase energy savings.

Retrocommissioning identifies areas for performance improvement in existing facilities’ equipment and systems and adjusts this performance to improve efficiency. Retrocommissioning is applied to older buildings that were never commissioned. Usually the building equipment and control systems operate on old pneumatic control systems that are very unreliable and inefficient. Some of these buildings could be using old Direct Digital Controls systems that have never been upgraded. These older pneumatic systems usually operate from time clocks, and in some cases, the time clocks no longer function, resulting in a system that is completely outdated, unreliable, and most likely costing additional money.

When retrocommissioning is properly done, the owner will receive a detailed outline on the building’s equipment and controls which describes how their output compares to new expected norms and technology. Other building issues may be highlighted as well. Typically, establishments that have not been retrocommissioned have a higher operating cost per square foot than buildings of the same stature that have been upgraded. There is significant savings associated with retrocommissioning, and it will provide a quick pay back! The expense for the cost of this service can be easily made up by the money saved by the implemented changes. More importantly, the buildings that have been retrocommissioned, and have had the equipment and controls upgraded, will also provide better indoor air quality and less occupant complaints.

In all cases, the answer to the question, “Who needs commissioning?” is this: All building owners who don’t already have a plan like this in place! It is important to understand the value of it, and the savings it can generate, and the avoidance of unexpected big maintenance issues in the future. Whether you need commissioning of a new building, recommissioning of an existing one, or retrocommissioning of an older one, these services will provide peace of mind for every owner. Hiring a commissioning agent who understands buildings and their intricate systems should be part of each owner’s overall plan in building design.

Jim Stocke is a senior mechanical designer/commissioning agent at EAPC Architects Engineers. He can be reached at james.stocke@eapc.net.

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.