In the first post in this series, I discussed the five business arguments for building commissioning. These arguments present a compelling case for commissioning, (also known as Cx), but they beg the question: If it’s such a savvy business practice, why isn’t everyone doing it?
To answer that question, we need to go back to Cx’s humble beginnings.
A brief history of Cx
Back in the 1980s, building owners mostly viewed commissioning as a start-up process with a clear beginning and end. In order to implement Cx as a frequent or ongoing maintenance strategy, building owners had to work around high labor costs, a lack of qualified Cx engineers, and a near absence of standardised methodology. Many of them concluded that the ROI wasn’t there for complete-life cycle Cx.
In the 1990s and 2000s, a combination of tightening regulatory standards, technological progress, and growing demand for optimally managed green buildings sparked an interest in commissioning. Over time, a mix of players entered the market offering standardised protocols and better access to qualified engineers, thereby driving down Cx’s price while improving its effectiveness. As usual, Northern European countries and Japan led the way, making Cx either standard or common practice, while two US states and some large cities passed benchmarking laws necessitating some degree of Cx. Another huge market driver is the ever-popular LEED certification, which mandates fundamental commissioning.
Where we are today
Today, we’re at the juncture where industry awareness is gaining steam, but industry adoption remains low. In a 2016 Navigant Research report, just 16 percent of survey respondents had direct experience with commissioning, while over 60 percent had either no knowledge or only a vague idea of what commissioning is.
In other words: You can still approach Cx as a forward-looking strategy to gain the competitive edge, but it doesn’t carry the risk of just any experimental strategy; its benefits are already proven in studies such as Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s landmark study of 643 Cx projects around the US.
And here’s the kicker: Even if you wanted to adopt other energy efficiency strategies instead of Cx, the only way to make sure these investments maintain their optimal, factory-intended operational states is to regularly test their performance — in other words, do commissioning.
Commissioning for all!
Commissioning adds value to any commercial or industrial building, because different types of Cx target each phase of the life cycle. Below is a breakdown of the main types of Cx so you can see where your building fits in:
- New Buildings Commissioning (NBCx): Often, building owners and managers only conduct this kind of Cx, which leaves a big portion of savings on the table. By incorporating Cx earlier in the planning stages and expanding it throughout the life cycle, you’ll maximise its effectiveness and savings.
- Recommissioning (ReCx): After your initial NBCx, your building system components (e.g. controllers and lighting) will fall out of alignment with their original performance states through natural wear and tear. You can bring them back to optimal performance through ReCx ideally every three or four years.
- Retro-commissioning (RCx): Say you’ve never commissioned your building for current usage, occupancy, and environmental conditions before — don’t worry, that’s where RCx comes in. RCx involves testing, validating and fine-tuning systems according to current facility requirements that may have changed due to new regulations, tenants, or cost-cutting measures.
- Monitoring-based Commissioning (MBCx): Here’s the new data-driven Cx strategy that’s starting to turn heads in the industry. MBCx relies on collecting data continuously and running it through analytics software to identify problems and suggest solutions in real time. Building owners and managers can then fine-tune their systems on an ongoing basis, instead of letting their systems fall out of alignment over the course of months or years. If you’ve already invested in a building management system, MBCx will help you get the most out of it. Here’s a useful overview of MBCx if you want to dig deeper.
Boots on the ground
Commissioning doesn’t replace building managers. It just empowers them to make smarter decisions that add greater value to their buildings. It’s still critical to have experts review and make sense of findings using first-hand experience that automated analytics can’t replicate. And smart people combined with the right data make the best decisions.
This post is just the basic overview. Read our white paper, ‘3 Ways Commissioning Increases Building Management System Efficiency’ to learn more.
Gerard Rodino, CEM, CBCP, CBCF
7 years ago
A simple and direct article. Couldn’t have commissioned it better myself.
Part of the slow start for commissioning had as much to do with GCs not wanting a third-party looking over their shoulder as it did cost.
In the era of design-build GCs want the architect working for them, and any commissioning professional held at bay. This often results in problems for the Owner.
The observations on commissioning skill levels are also true, and in the early days too much focus was on checklists & construction practices, not life-cycle and performance.
Making sure the rebar is placed in the concrete per design and that’s its the right thickness is construction management, not Cx. Requiring a contractor to prove that a ‘value-engineering’ (oxymoron) substitution will deliver the performance stipulated in the Basis of Design is Cx.
The value of commissioning in today’s rapidly changing environmental scene is in providing the Owner and/or Facilities Operator a means of sustaining their investment, and ensuring energy and environmental performance throughout the life-cycle.
Thanks in large part due to LEED and other initiates like it across the globe, environmental challenges, escalating energy costs and its scarcity moving forward, and public awareness, Cx is considered SOP in all new construction, and energy-related renovation and repurposing of existing buildings.
7 years ago
Gerard: Thank you for your encouraging words! And your thoughts summarize the entire story around commissioning not getting its deserved due! I like the distinction that you have highlighted bw construction management and commissioning.
Similarly, there is also a thin line bw commissioning and maintenance. In an ideal world, the entire process of constructing and operating a building should be integrated such that construction management, commissioning and maintenance are planned for right at the design stage itself.
Do you see your clients (property owners and facility managers) adopting a few elements if not all of this integrated approach? Also, I will be interested in knowing what concerns your clients raise when you recommend re/retro/ongoing commissioning as a solution to some of their woes?