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In November, 2002 I attended the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Annual International Green Building Conference and Exposition in Austin, Texas. It was an inspiring gathering of over 3,500 people ranging from “old hand” environmental activists to those simply wanting to find out what “sustainable design” is all about. The USGBC is the creator and administrator of the LEED™ (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System™.

LEED is the voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings, and being LEED “certified” is quickly becoming the goal of many public and private building owners. LEED is a system of scoring a new building project’s sustainable design efforts and successes by assigning points for various features/achievements. The higher the point count, the higher the rating – from Certified to Bronze to Silver to Gold to Platinum.

Commissioning was a hot topic at the conference, because in order to achieve any LEED rating it is necessary to incorporate a fundamental level of commissioning into the project. A more in-depth approach to commissioning will earn a building one point towards its total point count. In this column I will present and discuss the LEED commissioning requirements.

The six activities necessary to meet the basic prerequisite for Fundamental Building Systems Commissioning are as follows:

  • Engage a Commissioning Authority

  • Develop and Use a Commissioning Plan

  • Collect and Review Design Intent Documentation

  • Include Commissioning Requirements in the Construction Documents

  • Verify Installation, Functional Performance, Training and Documentation

  • Complete a Commissioning Report

This is a pretty comprehensive, although general, list of standard commissioning activities. The level of detail and timing of the various activities is left up to each individual project team. For the prerequisite, the Commissioning Authority does not need to be a third party but can be a member of the design team, the contractor, or some other party selected by the owner.

In order to earn the point for Additional Commissioning, the following activities need to be completed in addition to the prerequisite activities:

  • Commissioning Authority shall:

    • Review the Design prior to the Construction Documents Phase

    • Review the Construction Documents

    • Review the Construction Submittals of Commissioned Features and Systems

  • Develop a Re-Commissioning Management Manual

  • Near-Warranty End or Post Occupancy Review

This list of activities enhances the benefits to be gained from commissioning by adding very important commissioning tasks at the beginning and at the end of the project. The Additional Commissioning point also, as I understand it, requires the Commissioning Authority to be an independent third party.

The “activity” included here that causes people the most heartache is the Re-Commissioning Management Manual. This is a marvelous 15 section document for the building owner and operator to use throughout the life of the building to understand, monitor, and keep the systems “fine tuned” and operating efficiently and effectively. It is also a comprehensive, multifaceted document which, typically, no design or construction team has ever had to prepare before. As such, the skill sets needed to develop a meaningful document are either non-existent or as-yet-undiscovered or untapped on most teams. A well-trained and experienced LEED Accredited Professional™ will be able to lead a project team through the requirements of the Re-Commissioning Management Manual and point out that much of the information needed is already available or nearly available (in someone’s head, someone’s files, etc.) and can help all project team members extract and manipulate the data into a useable format.

LEED rating system is still very young and relatively untested. Although hundreds of projects are “registered” and attempting to become LEED certified at some level, only 31 projects have actually been through the entire process and earned certification status (for details, refer to the USGBC website: www.usgbc.org). The vagueness of the current LEED commissioning activity requirements will eventually become better defined criteria for acceptance, as early projects serve as the guinea pigs.

One of the biggest issues currently faced by many projects is the cost of adding commissioning to a small/simple/inexpensive project. Although for large projects (i.e., those over $5-10 million dollars construction cost), the cost of commissioning should be somewhere between 0.25% and 1.0% of the cost of construction. There are certain “fixed” costs associated with developing and sustaining a commissioning program that could push the cost of commissioning to be as much as 2-5% of the cost of construction – a level most project budgets can’t afford. USGBC committees are actively fine tuning, enhancing and evolving the LEED system, and it is only a matter of time before this early “difficulty” is addressed.

For anyone contemplating having their next new building LEED certified, the keys to initiating a successful commissioning program are the same as for any other project: select an experienced Commissioning Authority, develop a customized Commissioning Plan to match the needs and budget of the project, determine which Systems will be subject to the rigorous commissioning process, Educate the entire project team about commissioning and their individual roles in the process, and Champion the execution of the Plan by all involved.



Engineered Systems, January, 2003

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