Randall Lamb Association

INsight: New Commissioning Division

November 9, 2010

What is Building Commissioning?

By: Michael Kohler, CBCP
Randall Lamb has added commissioning to its ever-increasing portfolio to enhance the mechanical, electrical, plumbing engineering (MEP) and clean energy services we already provide our clients. It is a process that is becoming increasingly accepted and embraced for its proven results in project delivery. Michael Kohler, CBCP, Construction Services and Commissioning Manager, explains.

Commissioning is a term derived from the ship building industry. When a ship is being constructed, it goes through pre-functional testing, similar to what is done in the commissioning of a building. When a ship is commissioned, it is being placed into active service. After the ship is launched, it is subjected to a series of rigorous tests and sea trials to verify that the ship’s systems are, in fact, ready for service. During this process, the crew is selected and trained on the various systems requirements for operation and maintenance, similar to the final step of the building commissioning process.

Building Commissioning (Cx) is a systematic and documented process of ensuring that the owner’s operational needs are met. Commissioning requires thoroughly documenting system design intent, operating sequences and test procedures. Verifying system performance based on extensive functional testing and measurement is the heart and soul of the process. The final step is ensuring that building operation staff members receive the training and resources they need on system operation and maintenance procedures. The end result is building systems that perform efficiently, are staffed with operators who know how to run them, and ultimately, happy occupants.

Retro-commissioning (Rcx) refers to using standard commissioning practices and applying them to existing buildings. Retro-commissioning isolates problems that occurred at the time of construction, and solves issues that have developed during the course of the building’s life. This process consists of commissioning existing building systems that were not previously commissioned when originally constructed. The objective is to ensure that building systems perform interactively according to the design intent and/or to meet the owner’s current needs. Retro-commissioning is very intensive due to the research involved in resurrecting the documents and field survey of systems in the finished space. Rcx is the best way to breathe new life and efficiency into an existing facility.

Re-commissioning is the process of commissioning an existing building which has been previously commissioned or retro-commissioned. This process is performed to confirm that original and modified building systems perform interactively to meet the owner’s current operational needs. Re-commissioning is usually established as part of the original or retro-commissioning.

Fundamental Commissioning of Building Energy Systems is a requirement of the U.S. Green Building Council LEED EA Prerequisite 1. This applies to all energy-related systems that have been installed and calibrated to perform in accordance to the owner’s project requirements (OPR) and the basis of design (BOD) recorded in the construction documents.

During the span of my career — from operations to construction — it has always been obvious to me that building and rebuilding always had a void in the process. It has been my experience that owners frequently discover issues once a building is complete, when faults in the building systems begin to surface and those involved deny wrongdoing. Commissioning finally fills that void and attempts to perfect and refine the industry by using the Cx process to document and prove that the facility works as it was designed to, avoiding frustration and costly measures.


Chicago O’Hare International Airport,T5 Recheck Bag Conveyance and Detection System Project

During the commissioning process, as sections of the system were completed, pre-functional tests were performed, followed by functional tests for that portion of the system. The complexity of thousands of components in the system simultaneously coming together in a short time frame for the “master” functional test was a considerable challenge. The test process consisted of every possible scenario and took twelve (12) days to complete. The final outcome was extremely successful; utilizing the building commissioning process confirmed that the systems functioned as intended, avoiding any surprises later on.

Posted in Commissioning