A quality-focused process for enhancing the delivery of a project. The process focuses upon verifying and documenting that all of the commissioned systems and assemblies are planned, designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained to meet the Owner’s Project Requirements.[i]
Commissioning is an all-inclusive, quality assurance-based process for working with project teams and documenting the planning, delivery, verification, and managing risks to functions performed in, or by, facilities. Commissioning ensures building quality using design review, and in-field or on-site verification. Commissioning also helps to maximize energy efficiency, environmental health and occupant safety and productivity. The process improves indoor air quality by making sure the building components are working correctly and that the plans are implemented efficiently and effectively. Commissioning delivers preventive and predictive maintenance plans, tailored operating manuals and training procedures for all users to follow. Essentially, the commissioning process formalizes review and integration of all project expectations during planning, design, construction, and occupancy phases by inspection and functional and performance testing, and oversight of operator training and record documentation.
Commissioning activities, in the broader sense, are applicable to all phases of the project, from the basic and detailed design, procurement, construction and assembly, until the final handover of the unit to the owner, including sometimes an assisted operation phase. The commissioning process may be applied not only to new projects but also to existing buildings and systems that would like to realize the benefits of the process.
The most basic benchmark compares LEED building energy use intensity (in kBtu/sf/yr) to data from all national building stock. National EUI data comes from the Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), a national survey of building energy characteristics completed every four years by the federal Energy Information Administration. For all 121 LEED buildings, the median measured EUI was 69 kBtu/sf, 24% below (better than) the CBECS national average for all commercial building stock. Comparisons by building activity type showed similar relationships. For offices, the single most common type, LEED EUIs averaged 33% below CBECS. [ii]
According to a study performed by the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, existing buildings, the median payback time was 0.7 years. For new construction, median payback time was 4.8 years.[iii] This payback time does not include the non-energy related savings detailed below.
The study has this to say about the results:
“These results are conservative insofar as the scope of commissioning rarely spans all fuels and building systems in which savings may be found, not all recommendations are implemented, and significant first-cost and ongoing non-energy benefits are rarely quantified. Examples of the latter include reduced change-orders thanks to early detection of problems during design and construction, rather than after the fact, or correcting causes of premature equipment breakdown.”
In additional energy savings, other benefits include reduced change-orders thanks to early detection of problems during design and construction, rather than after the fact, or correcting causes of premature equipment breakdown.
The study found the economic benefits to be $0.18/ft2 per year for existing buildings and $1.24/ft2 per year for new construction. These benefits are in addition to the energy savings.
Studies performed by Portland Energy Conservation, Inc. (PECI) took a slightly different approach. They found that the average operating costs of a commissioned building range from 8% to 20% below that of a non-commissioned building. Cost data for office buildings suggests that building commissioning can result in energy savings of 20 to 50% and maintenance savings of 15 to 35%.Beyond operating efficiency, successful building commissioning has been linked to reduced occupant complaints and increased occupant productivity. The example below demonstrates the potential financial impact of increased occupant productivity.[iv]
The study by the Portland Energy Conservation, Inc mentioned above also quantifies worker productivity in commissioned buildings. They found that worker productivity in commissioned buildings was 10-20% higher. For a real world example of what that means, assume a standard office building of 250,000 sf, which typically has approximately 1500 occupants at an average salary of $40,000 each (taken from US Census Bureau March 2002). This equates to $78 million/year in salary expenses including fringe benefits. A 10-20% increase in productivity results in an $8–16 million dollar impact each and every year.
The total building commissioning costs for commissioning agent services can range from 0.5% to 1.5% of total construction costs (according to U.S. Department of Energy’s Rebuild America Program, written by the Portland Energy Conservation, Inc. (PECI)). The National Association of State Facilities Administrators (NASFA) recommends budgeting 1.25 to 2.25% of the total construction costs for total building commissioning agent services. GSA’s commissioning practice is expected to cost approximately 0.5% of the construction budget for federal buildings and border stations. More complex projects such as courthouses could run 0.8 – 1% of the construction budget and even more complex facilities such as laboratories can exceed 1%. Median commissioning costs were found to be $0.30/ft2 for existing buildings and $1.16/ft2 for new construction by the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs. iii Factors influencing commissioning costs include facility type, phasing 24/7 operations, the depth and breadth of commissioning services, the level of commissioning desired, and the systems and assemblies chosen to be commissioned.
There are also costs to the contractor and the designers for their part in the commissioning process. The costs for the contractor attending meetings, documenting the construction checklists and assisting with testing will roughly equal 10% to 25% of the commissioning agent’s costs. However, in the larger picture, the savings to the contractor in callback costs and holding of final payment retention may exceed the first costs, resulting in little if any net commissioning cost to the contractor. The designer’s costs for construction phase commissioning are fairly insignificant when their scope is limited to review of the commissioning plan and a few meetings. The project manager should realize that the savings to them in reduced change orders (if commissioning starts during design), smoother turnover and less troubleshooting time during the first year will often offset the cost of the commissioning agent. Increased energy efficiency also reduces the net cost of commissioning, not to mention the value of more satisfied tenants and reduced indoor air quality liability.[v]
[i] ASHRAE Standard 202-2013, The Commissioning Process for Buildings and Systems, and ASHRAE Guideline 0, The Commissioning Process
[ii] Energy Performance of LEED® for New Construction Buildings FINAL REPORT March 4, 2008 Prepared by: New Building, Institute by Cathy Turner, Senior Analyst Mark Frankel, Technical Director Prepared for: U.S. Green Building Council Brendan Owens 1800 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Suite 300 Washington DC 20056
[iii] The Cost-Effectiveness Of Commercial-Buildings Commissioning, A Meta-Analysis of Energy and Non-Energy Impacts in Existing Buildings and New Construction in the United States
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Evan Mills, Hannah Friedman, Tehesia Powell, Norman Bourassa, David Claridge, Tudi Haasl, Mary Ann Piette
December 15, 2004
[iv] Annex 47 Report 3: Commissioning Cost-Benefit and Persistence of Savings A Report of Cost-Effective Commissioning of Existing and Low Energy Buildings Annex 47 of the International Energy Agency Energy Conservation in Buildings and Community Systems Program REPORT EDITORS: Hannah Friedman (Portland Energy Conservation, inc) David Claridge (Texas A&M University) Daniel Choinière (Natural Resources Canada) Natascha Milesi Ferretti (NIST, USA) AUTHORED BY: Hannah Friedman (Portland Energy Conservation, Inc), David Claridge (Texas A&M University), Cory Toole (Texas A&M University), Marti Frank (PECI), Kristin Heinemeier (PECI), Kim Crossman (PECI), Eliot Crowe (PECI), Daniel Choinière (Natural Resources Canada)
[v] Establishing Commissioning Costs Portland Energy Conservation, Inc. (PECI) 9/12/00; Revised 02/14/02