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Educated buyer finding value in commissioning.

Building Commissioning has become a hot trend in the construction industry. The mandates put forth by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) and the General Services Administration (GSA) that require commissioning have the construction industry wondering what is commissioning and what is its value?

The relationship between commissioning and sustainable design gained prominence and integrity with the inclusion of commissioning in the USGBC's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Rating System, a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing sustainable buildings. New construction projects seeking LEED-NC certification are required to undergo "fundamental commissioning of the building energy systems," and can obtain an additional point for the performance of "enhanced commissioning."

Commissioning, according to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), is the process of verification, by documented inspection and testing, that building systems are installed and perform in accordance with approved design criteria, applicable industry standards and local codes. In short, commissioning helps ensure that you are actually getting what you pay for and that it's working exactly as it was designed.

Commissioning starts when the commissioning provider reviews the design of the systems that were included in the scope of work. The Design Intent or Owner's Project Requirements (OPR) and Basis of Design documents help the commissioning authority to properly review a set of plans and understand what is being built and why and how the space is going to be utilized. The commissioning authority then reviews the design documents to make sure the owner's project requirements have been executed. The production of these documents is typically overlooked but they are required documentation if the facility is seeking LEED certification.

During construction a majority of the activities occur in the field. As systems are being installed the commissioning provider should inspect items to ensure the proper equipment is located in the correct location.

As equipment is connected to the building systems another level of inspections occurs that is called pre-functional testing. These inspections ensure all the equipment is connected, wired and piped correctly and in accordance to manufacturers' requirements. The goal at this stage is to try to flush issues out so the contractors can repair them as they are mobilized on site rather than after they're on the next job.

The final stage of commissioning is the functional performance testing. This is where the rubber meets the road and the systems are tested to meet performance requirements as well as interactions between other systems in all modes of operation. Functional testing begins with individual pieces of equipment and expands out to systems. This is an integral part of the commissioning process as this proves that what was designed and installed is actually performing correctly.

In addition to testing the building systems, it's important to know that typically the commissioning provider administers and coordinates both the operation and maintenance manuals and the training protocol.

The benefits of commissioning are well documented as far as energy savings.

Organizations such as the NYS Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA), USGBC and Portland Energy & Conservation, Inc. (PECI) have calculated anywhere between 15%-30% energy reduction for buildings that are commissioned to buildings that are not.

The owner operator community also realizes the operation and maintenance benefits, where the maintenance cost are reduced by 15%-35% as well. The developer community is recognizing the benefits of commissioning, specifically the non-energy related impacts such as improved operating systems, 30% reduction in change orders of systems to be commissioned, elimination of holdover and damages and on-time rent commencement.

Commissioning has evolved over the years, once considered the "startup guy" it is now regarded as an integral part of the design and construction team. The transformation has been made for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the systems in today's buildings are far more complex and intricate. The building that once took 18 months to build 10 years ago no longer takes that as more systems are interconnected and more coordination needs to be accomplished. The truth of the matter is that same building should take 24 months to build due to all the coordination, but the owner and developer have not sacrificed that time schedule as financial considerations are made to commence rent or begin treatments at a medical facility.

Commissioning has many benefits to owners and developers and when procuring the service there are many things to take into consideration.

The more educated the purchaser the more value the commissioning process can bring to your project.

BY MICHAEL C. ENGLISH, PE, CCP, LEED, SENIOR PARTNER HORIZON ENGINEERING ASSOCIATES, LLP

* Michael C. English is president of the Building Commissioning Association.
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Title Annotation:SPECIAL REPORT: Sustainable Design
Author:English, Michael C.
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Dec 6, 2006
Words:768
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