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Commissioning Commercial Facilities

There are many types of commercial buildings with many purposes. One significant distinguishing factor between buildings are those that are developed to be sold or leased to tenants not involved in the design and construction process and those that are developed to be occupied by the original owners. Historically, there has been a tendency to believe (and a fair amount of proof to substantiate) that developer-managed projects result in fewer long-term friendly buildings than owner-developed projects.

Because commissioning is a process geared towards enhancing the chances of achieving excellent short and long term performance of building systems, non-owner developers have often discarded commissioning as an unnecessary first cost in a building they are looking to “off load” as quickly as possible. The theory has been that once the problems and operating costs started to surface the developers would be long gone and not be held responsible.

Lately, however, there have been tremendous strides made in educating the public, many of whom occupy commercial buildings for a good part of their lives, in the impact of buildings on their health and happiness, on their productivity, and on the natural environment. As such, when the public is shopping for commercial real estate, their wish list now includes such terms as:

  • Indoor air quality

  • Day lighting

  • Moisture control

  • Energy conservation

  • Recycled and recyclable materials

  • Non-off-gassing materials

Commercial developers are starting to sit up, listen, and even advertise the “quality” features of their buildings to potential tenants and buyers. Quality is now defined to be more than just marble foyers, expensive woodwork, and fancy wall-coverings – the parts of a building immediately obvious to past and future building occupants. Developers are now claiming to have healthy, productive, and non-polluting buildings and expecting to make better money in the process. These features are not necessarily “obvious” to potential occupants when walking through a building.

One challenge to developers is how to distinguish themselves from their competitors who are also claiming the same things. Time will tell who really has a “sustainable” building and who doesn’t (often measured by increased tenant turnover and higher operating costs), but most developers’ business plans don’t include a long trial period to determine a building’s value. That’s where commissioning can help.

If a third party commissioning professional is involved in a commercial real estate project from conception through startup and warranty, their report and potential “certification” can be seen as unbiased proof that a building performs to a documented set of standards. The commissioning process should also result in an unambiguous and verifiable set of processes and procedures required to maintain the proper operation of the building for the life of the building. Similar to buying a car, tenants/buyers can review the list of documented/certified “features” available in order to help them make their decision about the building that is right for them.

Commissioning is just beginning make inroads into the commercial real estate business, but the learning curve is steep. Thanks to the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED™ program, there is not only a framework with which to document building performance features for comparison against other facilities, there is also a requirement that each building desiring LEED certification be commissioned. This has raised the awareness of commissioning and its benefits in building owners and developers who otherwise would have felt that commissioning was something only “some else’s” projects may require.

Commercial real estate developers and owners are beginning to understand that high performing buildings are worth more in the marketplace than poor performing buildings. Whether it is reduced tenant turnover, higher rents or purchase prices, lower operating costs, or an improved bond rating for buildings that will last longer (i.e., be sustainable), documented high performance buildings will have a higher value than typical commercial buildings of the past. The documentation of performance is a key element of the commissioning process, and this is why commissioning is on its way to becoming “business as usual” in quality commercial development.



Engineered Systems, November, 2003

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