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Commissioning: Commissioning Certifications

Reader mail laments the lack of quality assurance when hiring commissioning agents.

I recently received an e-mail from a concerned commissioning professional regarding the qualifications of people and firms offering commissioning services. The following is a key excerpt from that e-mail:

I have a concern with the qualifications of providers and the actual work that they will do on commissioning projects. I have seen companies, who have received significant fees, consider their commissioning work to be ‘adjusting the thermostats at the end of a project.’ This is what, eventually, will hurt the commissioning discipline.

The writer went on to propose that a commissioning certification program seems like an obvious necessity:

The certification that I am advocating is simply to assure owners that they have a Cmx provider who is qualified. When I think of all that must be done in commissioning a project properly, I am concerned that companies are qualified. How does the industry assure an owner of that qualification?

I agree that it would be best if building owners and project managers could easily differentiate between people and firms proposing to commission their projects. This need has been clear to many people for many years and, as a result, there are currently multiple commissioning certification programs. I know of at least the following six national organizations which all offer their own distinct commissioning certifications (in alphabetical order):

  • ASHRAE

  • Associated Air Balance Council Commissioning Group

  • Association of Energy Engineers (AEE)

  • Building Commissioning Association

  • National Environmental Balancing Bureau

  • University of Wisconsin

These certifications are all different from each other in terms of a person’s qualifications to be considered for certification, the certification test, on-going re-certification requirements, costs, and the organization’s view of what commissioning is. Certainly, there are underlying fundamentals regarding commissioning which are probably consistent across all certifications, but the bottom line is that each one has its own flavor, focus, and level of rigor.

Certification Stew

Do six different certifications help owners or further confuse them? I believe it is better to have multiple certifications than to have none at all.

At a minimum, an owner can require that the individual(s) assigned to their project be “certified” in the request for proposal (RFP) without being specific about which certification. When proposals come in and there are providers with different certifications, it can be part of the owner’s review process to research the different certifications to understand their distinctions and whether or not the distinctions matter to the owner.

More proactive owners will take the time to research the different certification programs and decide which one(s) best match the owner’s priorities, understanding of commissioning, and expected level of rigor. This will typically involve researching the certifying organization itself for its definition and philosophy of commissioning in addition to researching the certification program. These owners can then specifically name one or more acceptable certifications in their commissioning services RFP.

Each certification means different things, but they all have at least one thing in common. None of the certifications come with a guarantee from the respective organization that the certified person will provide great commissioning services on any particular project. Although certification may be the first line of distinction, the best differentiator is recommendations from past building owners and operators for whom the certified person has provided commissioning services.

In addition, face-to-face interviews with a short list of apparently qualified providers should greatly help owners understand how fluent and experienced the prospective providers are in the commissioning process. Holding back-to-back interviews with different commissioning teams can be one of the best tools for differentiating them from each other.

The key to remember about certifications is that they are not all equal. The individual certifications may not necessarily be better or worse than each other; they just need to be understood as being different. The same can be said for building owners, and the challenge is to pair the building owners with the certification program(s) which best suits their ideas about commissioning.

 

Commissioning: Getting It Right

Engineered Systems, March, 2010

by
Rebecca Ellis, PE, LEED AP, CCP, CxA
President
Questions & Solutions Engineering
1079 Falls Curve
Chaska, MN  55318
rteesmag@QSEng.com