Back to the Basics: Building Commissioning

Building Commissioning Authority from Engineered Air Balance

What is Building Commissioning?

Building Commissioning is defined as the professional practice that ensures buildings are delivered following the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR). Properly commissioned buildings typically have fewer change orders, tend to be more energy-efficient, and have lower operation and maintenance costs.

It is crucial to begin the commissioning process in the pre-design phase. This early involvement is crucial for the timely and valuable development of the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR), the Commissioning Plan, the subsequent design team Basis of Design (BOD), and the beginning of the Operations & Maintenance (O&M) Systems Manual.

If these things are left until later and “reverse engineered” to match the design, their usefulness for cost and risk management and quality tracking tools is lost.

Who sets the standard for Building Commissioning?

The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) sets the standards so refrigeration and HVAC professionals work from consistent terminology and information. In addition, the standards ensure that the people in the industry are working from a current baseline for designing, testing, and installing hardware. ASHRAE was founded in 1894. It’s a group whose members focus on energy efficiency, building systems, sustainability, and indoor air quality within the industry.

ASHRAE Standard 202 (Commissioning Process for Buildings and Systems) is the industry standard of practice for the commissioning process in new buildings and for major renovations. ASHRAE also published numerous Guidelines that outline best practices for the commissioning process. Guideline 0 (The Commissioning Process), originally published in 2005, was the first industry guideline that defined the building commissioning process that we use today. This guideline is under continuous maintenance and is supplemented by numerous technical guidelines such as Guideline 1.1 (HVAC&R Technical Requirements for The Commissioning Process), Guideline 1.3 (Building Operations and Maintenance Training for the HVAC&R Commissioning Process), Guideline 1.4 (Preparing Systems Manuals for Facilities), and Guideline 1.5 (The Commissioning Process for Smoke Control Systems). All Building Commissioning related standards and guidelines are maintained and approved by the SSPC 300: Commissioning committee within ASHRAE.

Engineered Air Balance is actively involved in all areas of the ASHRAE Building Commissioning publications process. Currently, Justin Garner serves as Secretary and Voting Member of SSPC 300, Vice Chair of SSPC 202 sub-committee and Secretary of Guideline 0 sub-committee. Kit Brockles serves as Vice Chair of Guideline 1.1 sub-committee.

What is the Building Commissioning Process?

ASHRAE defines building commissioning as “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.”

The process encompasses the time from pre-design planning to occupancy. In addition, building commissioning extends to operations and should include ongoing Commissioning for the maintenance of the facility.

Key deliverables of the Building Commissioning process are:

  1. Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR)
  2. Basis of Design (BOD)
  3. Commissioning Plan
  4. Commissioning Coordination Meetings
  5. System Verification Checklists (SVC)
  6. Functional Performance Testing (FPT)
  7. Integrated Systems Testing (IST)
  8. Operations and Maintenance (O&M) Data / Systems Manual
  9. Owner Training
  10. Final Commissioning Report
  11. Warranty / Operations Phase Verification

The goals of commissioning for the ideation, development, and lifetime care of the facility according to the ASHRAE are to:

  1. Deliver buildings and construction projects that meet the owner’s project requirements.
  2. Prevent or eliminate problems inexpensively through proactive quality techniques.
  3. Verify systems are installed and working correctly and benchmark that correct operation.
  4. Lower overall first costs and life-cycle costs for the owner.
  5. Provide documentation and records on the design, construction, and testing to facilitate the operation and maintenance of the facility.
  6. Implement trend logs, automated and semi-automated Commissioning tools to enable Operations and Maintenance staff ongoing Commissioning.
  7. Maintain facility performance for the building’s entire life cycle.

What are the benefits of Building Commissioning?

The most important benefit is that building commissioning ensures a safe and healthy facility. In addition, building commissioning helps ensure an efficient facility that reduces operating costs by optimizing energy use. Finally, building commissioning ensures adequate operations and maintenance staff training and education, and it sets the standard for installed building systems documentation.

What are the types of Building Commissioning?

There are four types of building commissioning:

New Construction Commissioning

New Construction Commissioning means that the final, occupied building meets the owner’s requirements. It is best to begin the commissioning process in the design phase to create a facility with operational efficiencies in mind. Some state and local codes require commissioning depending on the size of the project. It’s important to note that new construction commissioning is required if a building project intends to pursue LEED ( Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the US Green Building Council.

Aside from administrative requirements, new construction commissioning is integral in the planning process to ensure that the owner’s requirements are met. In addition, it ensures the facility is designed, constructed and operated to optimize energy usage and provide positive benefits to occupant health, safety, and productivity.

It is especially important that the commissioning process is practiced in healthcare, research, and mission critical facilities due to safety and cost impacts of underperforming or malfunctioning systems. In these applications, the commissioning process is critical to ensure that all mechanical, electrical, plumbing and life safety systems function independently as well as cohesively to not only achieve the energy usage requirements of the facility, but more importantly the safety and resiliency requirements to support critical operations.


Retrocommissioning is applying the commissioning process to existing buildings that had not been commissioned during construction or perhaps a facility in which the use has changed over the years without system updates. It means completing an audit of the current systems and providing a deficiency summary to the owner noting the priority of recommended corrective actions.

A Lawrence Berkley National Laboratories Study of 60 Buildings of Different Types Showed That:

  • Over 50% had control problems
  • 40% had HVAC equipment problems
  • 15% had missing equipment
  • 25% had BAS with economizers, VDS, and advanced applications that were not operating correctly.

The retro-commissioning process can identify key areas to optimize in your system to lower operating costs and increase your facility’s safety, health, and efficiencies.


The most significant difference between retro-commissioning and re-commissioning is that retro-commissioning is for buildings that have not been commissioned before. On the other hand, re-commissioning is for buildings that have previously been commissioned.

It’s a check-up of sorts to ensure that the systems are operating according to intent and looks explicitly for any problems that might need to be corrected for the facility to operate as originally designed or required by current operations.

Monitoring-Based Commissioning

Monitoring-Based Commissioning or MBCX is relatively new to the building commissioning scene. It has its origins in the 1990s to maintain and continuously improve building performance over time. MBCX uses technology to allow operators to continuously get to know their building systems using energy and performance data. MBCX enables operators to watch real-time results to identify areas that need improvement and maintain efficiencies.


Building Commissioning is a vital process to ensure a facility’s health, safety, and operational efficiency. If employed at the beginning of the planning design process, it can be a vital voice in the creation process to ensure an optimized building.

Regardless of when your building is commissioned, know that the meticulous process is designed to optimize your facility and create a healthy and safe environment in the buildings. Contact us to see how you can Feel the Difference when EAB performs Building Commissioning on your project.

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