These days, you can hardly pick up a magazine or read a newsletter in our industry without seeing at least one article or column on commissioning (Cx). And more and more, owners—especially those building new, high-performance buildings—agree Cx is important. But what kind of Cx are they talking about? Is it building Cx, building-enclosure Cx, project Cx, start-up Cx, technical Cx, or the Cx process? For existing buildings, it’s even more complicated because we add recommissioning and retrocommissioning (and no, they’re not necessarily the same). Don’t feel bad if you’re not well-versed in the differences between them because many practicing design professionals also don’t know.
There are numerous training and certification requirements for the prospective Cx authority or Cx agent to consider. When we decided our firm should add Cx to our list of services provided, I spent a lot of time researching many of the options, which included the Associated Air Balance Council (AABC Commissioning Group), the Association of Energy Engineers, ASHRAE, the Building Commissioning Association, the National Environmental Balancing Bureau, the Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison). My choice turned out to be UW-Madison, and not just because the training was being offered in Las Vegas (I live in South Florida—there was no way I was going to Wisconsin in February). The UW-Madison program teaches a process—the Cx process as defined in ASHRAE Guideline 0, The Commissioning Process—while many of the others are more about functional-performance testing (FPT). Not that FPT is unimportant, but the Cx process is defined as “a quality-oriented process for achieving, verifying, and documenting that the performance of facilities, systems, and assemblies meets defined objectives and criteria,” which goes way beyond FPT alone. But that definition certainly begs the question of who defines the objectives and criteria. And that, in my opinion, is the real value of the Cx process because it’s the owner who determines how her or his building should perform.
Ideally, the Cx process begins during pre-design (perhaps even before the architect is hired) and continues for at least a year after completion. The Cx authority should begin the process by helping to develop the owner’s project requirements (OPR), upon which all of the other requirements—for design, construction, training, and operations—will be based. Although it sounds top heavy, it doesn’t add a layer of management (CM or PM) to a project. Rather, it helps to achieve better coordination between all of the contractors/subcontractors and vendors on the project, improving efficiency without requiring additional direct supervision. The Cx process uses statistical quality control and assumed probabilistic distribution of measured values—similar to that employed in modern manufacturing quality processes and standards—to verify conformance with the OPR. The bottom line is the Cx process delivers higher-quality projects while reducing the total cost by 5 to 20 percent, which should more than pay for itself.
Virtually all Cx training is good, but I really like the UW-Madison program. The course “The Commissioning Process for Delivering Quality Constructed Projects” generally is offered at least twice a year, in Madison, Wis., and Las Vegas. The next course is scheduled for Aug. 12-14 in Madison. If you’re interested, reach out to Joy Altwies, the program director, at 800-462-0876, and tell her Larry sent you.