commissioning services add value greater than its cost

By Bill Lee, PE | Principal, Mechanical Engineering, Certified Commissioning Agent | Honolulu Office

Mechanical engineering principal and certified commissioning agent, Bill Lee, PE, explains commissioning, when it’s needed, and its application in Hawaii.

What is an important part of the construction process in new and renovated buildings that is undervalued?

Suppose you are the owner/developer that has spent millions of dollars on a brand-new facility with the latest and greatest building systems. The building features might include high-efficiency heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC), high-efficiency lighting with occupancy sensors, hot water heating, and a state-of-the-art controls system. After all the tenants have moved in, you discover many of the building systems are not working correctly – the power switches don’t work, controls work inconsistently, or the shiny new equipment is unresponsive. Unfortunately, this happens all too often.

Commissioning (Cx) is a valuable process to verify that all building systems work as expected. Cx services add value greater than their cost through the delivery of optimal system performance, reduced claims, and smooth transitions between the project’s design, construction, and occupancy phases

What is Commissioning (Cx)?

Commissioning (Cx) is the systematic process of ensuring that all building systems perform properly and interactively according to the contract documents and the owner’s project requirements (OPR).

The Cx process can begin during the planning stage and continue through the design, construction, and throughout the life of a building (ongoing commissioning and recommissioning).

Cx provides another set of eyes during design and construction and puts the systems to the test of actual performance to uncover operational issues before occupancy, improving the delivered quality of projects. Cx provides value in helping to make sure the systems are installed and functioning correctly before occupancy.

The commissioning process includes:

  • Preparing a Cx plan,
  • Drawings and submittal reviews,
  • Pre-functional and functional performance testing checklists,
  • Review of operational and maintenance submittals, and
  • Verifying training plans.

Although Cx appears to be a commonsense idea, it is a process that takes planning, documentation, communication, coordination, and functional testing.

Which projects need/require Commissioning?

While all projects can benefit from commissioning processes, the following project types need/require this service:

  • Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) projects: LEED projects have always required fundamental Cx, with an option for enhanced commissioning for more credits. The Cx requirements for LEED are more stringent and intensive than the IECC requirements.
  • Healthcare: Per the Facilities Guidelines Institute (FGI), NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities Code, NFPA 3, and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requirements, commissioning is required.
  • Federal projects: Most federal projects require Cx – depending on the project’s scope of work.

Application of Commissioning in Hawaii

Commissioning started primarily in HVAC, controls, and lighting systems, but has expanded into the building envelope, life safety, alternate energy, emergency and backup power systems, and other critical building systems.

At the end of 2022, the City and County of Honolulu, along with the counties of Maui, Hawaii, and Kauai, adopted the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) 2018, which requires commissioning HVAC systems and controls for systems 40 tons and above, HW heating systems 600,000 BTUH and above, and lighting controls regardless of the size of the system (IECC 2018 section C408). The IECC also requires a preliminary commissioning plan, functional performance testing, a final commissioning report, and a checklist of commissioning items to be completed, certified, and signed by the owner.

It should be noted that per section C408.2.4.1, the “project will not be considered for final inspection until code official receives a Preliminary Commissioning Report.”

This version of the code has caused some friction, with counties refusing to issue certificates of occupancy until these items are provided. The Energy Code allows an alternate compliance path utilizing ASHRAE 90.1. However, 90.1 still requires commissioning with different parameters and requirements.

Every code, standard, agency, and project has individual requirements for the commissioning process and commissioning agent (CxA) qualifications. For this reason, Coffman recommends an experienced certified commissioning agent always be selected.

Learn more about Coffman’s commissioning services or contact us to speak with a commissioning agent.