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Reduce the Cost of a Construction Project with Commissioning

In the September, 1998 Getting it Right column we looked at the first cost of commissioning and some long term potentials, due to commissioning, for reducing the operating cost of a facility. This month we’ll illustrate how commissioning, which does have a cost associated with it as defined in the previous column, can actually result in a lower first cost for a construction project.

The concept of having commissioning reduce the cost of a project is based on the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” By spending more money on the design and commissioning of a project, hard construction costs can be reduced.

Contractors’ bids can be reduced by the inclusion of clear and unambiguous bid documents, e.g., drawings and specifications which define all aspects of a project from hardware requirements, to schematic diagrams, to detailed sequences of operation. The contractors do not have to include a “design fudge factor” based on their perception that the design may not be as comprehensive as it should be. This type of documentation leaves little up to the “discretion” of the contractors and vendors and allows very little room for change orders.

In addition, the inclusion of commissioning requirements in the contract documents will encourage the contractors to be more quality-conscious throughout construction than they otherwise might be. If the contractors know that they have to prove and document that their work actually performs according to the design intent, they are more apt to do the job right the first time. This will save everyone time (and money) at the end of the project and during the first 1-2 years of owner-occupancy. Contractors will need to respond to fewer warranty period callbacks; designers will need to spend less time defending their design when things don’t work as expected; and the owner’s operations staff will not have to spend all of their time trying to decipher and “fix” the system in order to make the building comfortable and safe for the new occupants. Finally, the owner will not have to worry about the costs of not moving into the building on time due to incomplete, inoperative or unsafe systems.

Since many of unanticipated and un-budgeted project costs can be avoided when commissioning is used on a project, Figure 1 (Ref. 1) illustrates how money can be shifted within a project to result in a lower overall project cost. By investing more of the project budget in design (pay the engineers a higher fee to do a more thorough job documenting and defining their design) and commissioning (engage a commissioning consultant starting early in the design phase and continuing into the warranty period), the cost of construction can be reduced as well as the costs incurred by all parties during the warranty and initial occupancy period.


1. Energy Center of Wisconsin, How to Achieve Top Performance in Your Building: Commissioning Benefits, Process, and Performance. Workshop presented in LaCrosse, Wisconsin and Bloomington, Minnesota, February, 2000.



Engineered Systems, April, 2000

Rebecca Ellis, PE, LEED AP, CCP, CxA
Questions & Solutions Engineering
1079 Falls Curve
Chaska, MN  55318