With commissioning identified as a requirement in prominent energy standards and codes (e.g. Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) and the International Code Council (ICC)), familiarity with the process has increased across the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry. In simple terms, commissioning is a quality-oriented process for achieving, verifying, and documenting that performance of facilities, systems and assemblies meets defined objectives and criteria. The process helps fill the gap between the design team and installing contractors, ensuring that the building is delivered to the owner’s requirements. For this reason, it is imperative that a qualified Commissioning Authority (CxA) be incorporated early enough into the design process to provide input and recommendations on project requirements and commissioning scope. For the benefits of commissioning to be fully realized, it is key for commissioning to be viewed as an “ongoing process” throughout the overall project, rather than an individual “task” within a project associated with just the testing of the equipment. By bringing in the CxA early into the project they are able to assist in the development of the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR) and confirm that the design team’s Basis of Design (BOD) is in compliance. The earlier an issue (or potential issue) is identified, the lower the potential risk is for that project. Operational and functional issues that may not have been realized until far into construction or even occupancy can often be caught by a facility-minded CxA during the design phase. At that point, corrections can often be made without requiring a significant change order. Integrating the Cx process prior to Issue for Bid documentation will help ensure the awarded contractor has a constructible design to build, which will then ultimately operate in a manner the owner intended. As such, it’s highly recommended that owners pay close attention to the topics below when developing the commissioning scope for their project and when crafting their Request for Proposal (RFP) for Commissioning Services.
For starters, the equipment/systems to be commissioned should be clearly identified in the RFP. This seems like a basic task, but requirements and limitations vary from project to project and owner to owner. At a minimum, LEED requires the following energy-related systems to be commissioned: HVAC and controls, lighting and daylighting controls, domestic hot water systems, and renewable energy systems. Often times owners with prior experience with commissioning, and its value, request additional systems such as electrical (main, backup, and uninterruptible power systems, fire alarm, CCTV and security system), life safety, and/building envelope be incorporated into the commissioning scope. For owners pursuing LEED certification and looking for more credits, new to LEED Version 4, an additional two-point credit can be earned by applying Fundamental and Enhanced tasks to building envelope in addition to MEP systems. Typically a separate RFP should be issued for Envelope Commissioning as firm qualifications and expertise will vary between services. With complex facilities and systems, it may be desired that Integrated Systems Testing (IST) be performed in addition to Functional Performance Tests (FPT). While FPTs validate that individual systems work as intended, IST validates that systems work together as intended while operating the facility in as close to real world scenarios as possible. IST is performed after all FPT is complete and deficiencies have been resolved.
It’s also recommended that the RFP specify the quantity of commissioning design reviews to be conducted as well as at which project milestones that will happen. Ideally a Design Development (DD) set is initially reviewed with further reviews and back-checks at 50% Construction Documents (CD), 90% CD, and 100% CD. LEED requires the first Cx design review to take place prior to mid-construction documents. With the scope adjustment in Version 4, design reviews now fall under Fundamental Commissioning and Verification (Prerequisite – Energy and Atmosphere) rather than Enhanced Commissioning (Credit – Energy and Atmosphere) as with previous versions. For this reason, it is important to specify which version of LEED (if any) is being pursued.
The CxA’s role should include developing a detailed set of specifications (one for each applicable division: General, Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing) to ensure the responsibilities of each applicable party are clearly identified and communicated. Commissioning specifications are contract documents that set the tone of the commissioning process and what will be required of the contractors. Development of detailed specifications is highly preferred over using specifications provided from the design team as processes unique to that CxA need to be called out. For instance, if a cloud-based commissioning software will be used by the CxA, it should be indicated in the Cx specifications to ensure the contractors understand the Cx implementation approach and requirements. Cloud-based commissioning software is a great tool that provides owners/project team an accurate and current display of installation and testing progress. It allows for effective collaboration in tracking, managing, and resolving deficiencies. A cloud-based Cx software approach should be stated as a requirement in the CxA RFP to ensure best efficient practices are followed.
Next, consider outlining site visit requirements in the scope. Site visits to verify installation and resolve identified issues along with progress review meetings end up being a significant portion of the overall commissioning fee. Oftentimes field visits and meetings are a larger cost than Functional Performance Testing as they reoccur over the course of the construction duration while FPT is a task near substantial completion. If quantities and frequencies are not specified in the RFP, it opens the door for a wide range of field presence commitment. Typically, CxA site visits should commence upon MEP rough-in and with increased frequency through completion. These visits are outside of time allotted for FPT. Preliminary construction schedules are very useful for evaluating the level of effort needed for a CxA prior to functional testing and if possible should be provided with the RFP. The RFP should avoid stating a construction duration of “X months” as it is not always an accurate representation for commissioning. There may be demolition or site/civil work that takes places during that timeframe that will not require commissioning. The generic “X months” statement can end up with an overestimated duration for commissioning services.
Lastly, there can be various versions (IECC, LEED, ASHRAE, etc.) of final Cx deliverables to be provided to the owner from the CxA, so the RFP should stipulate either necessary content or which standard to follow. If you’re unsure which to follow, note that IECC is the least stringent with LEED and then ASHRAE being the most detailed and thorough. As such, to ensure the owner is left with a clear representation and understanding of the commissioning process, Primera recommends that the final Cx Report and Final Systems Manual follow ASHRAE Guidelines.
Commissioning is a valuable service for an owner, but this can only be maximized if it is integrated at the start of the project. Outlining proper requirements up front will result in a more successful project and ultimately a better performing building.