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Commissioning: Cost of Commissioning

After people get an idea of what commissioning is or might be, one of the next questions always asked is, “How much does it cost?” There is no easy answer to this question, because there are so many variables involved in defining exactly what commissioning is and how to allocate costs to it. This month we’ll present cost implications of commissioning, including implementation cost factors, empirical data, and potential long term cost savings.

Cost Factors

Some of the factors which impact the cost of commissioning are:

  • Number of systems to be commissioned

  • Complexity of systems to be commissioned

  • When commissioning starts (e.g., during design, construction, or post-construction)

  • Tools available (e.g., installed sensors, meters, trend logs, etc.)

  • Commissioning process detail (e.g., does it include documenting and witnessing all equipment pre-startup and startup activities, pre-functional test procedures, functional test procedures, spot checking test and balance, etc.?)

  • Deliverables (e.g., design intent document, commissioning plan, commissioning specification, training plans, O&M manuals, final report, etc.)

  • Allocation of costs (e.g., does the cost include a commissioning consultant’s fees, increased contractor bids, increased designer fees, O&M personnel time, etc.?)

  • Size of the building

The size factor is listed last for a reason. If at all possible, you do not want to base the cost of commissioning on a building’s size. The number of and variety of systems being commissioned is a much more important factor. A simple large building could be served by a single air handling unit. A small research building could be served by multiple air handling systems with different environmental conditions.

Empirical Cost Data

From data available to date, we have compiled empirical cost information for including commissioning on a design and construction project. The level of commissioning, the scope of construction, and the method of tracking costs are all variables which make much of the following information of limited use. The costs should be considered ballpark at best and should not be used for budgeting any particular commissioning project without further analysis.

  • Canadian Study:  1-3% of HVAC Const. Cost (Ref. 1)

  • Montgomery County, MD:  1.2-2.8% of Const. Cost (Ref. 2)

  • San Francisco Main Public Library:  1.2% of General Const. Cost (Ref. 3)

  • Pacificorp (>12,000 ft2) ECMs Only:  $0.02-0.64/ft2 (Avg=$0.21/ft2) (Ref. 4)

  • United Illuminating ECMs Only:  $0.20/ft2 (Ref. 5)

(ECM – energy conservation measures)

Table 1, developed by the University of Wisconsin (Ref. 6) is an attempt at quantifying the affect on commissioning cost of building size, system innovation, and whether or not it is an industrial system being commissioned.

Long Term Cost Implications

Commissioning has the potential for long term cost savings which, theoretically, could result in owners electing to perform system commissioning with payback in mind. The following are just some of the possible long range cost benefits of instituting an effective commissioning process.

  • Reduced operating and maintenance costs. A properly documented building will be easier and less time-consuming to maintain.

  • Improved energy efficiency may be one of the best reasons to perform commissioning with payback in mind. A well-designed, constructed, and commissioned building will consume less energy than the same building if it is not commissioned (Ref. 4)

  • Increased occupant productivity. If indoor air quality controls have been commissioned and are operating properly, the owner’s or tenant’s personnel will be more productive, have fewer sick days, and will be less likely to develop sick building syndrome symptoms.

  • For industrial, research, or archival facilities, the value of their processes, experiments, and/or collections can be orders of magnitude greater than the cost of commissioning. If these processes, experiments, and/or collections are reliant for their well-being on the building environmental control or electrical systems, a price sometimes cannot be placed on a loss due to improper control or malfunction of the systems.

Table 1: Economics of Commissioning Process (Ref. 6)

 

Building Description Commissioning Cost Design Cost Construction Cost Operation Cost
Small Building +3% +5% No Change -8%
Large Building +2% +3% -6% -10%
Innovative System +3% +6% No Change -15%
Industrial System +1.5% +1% +2% -12%

 

References

  1. Larsson, Nils K. 1994. A Survey of the State of Building Commissioning in Canada. Proceedings of the Second National Conference on Building Commissioning, May 9-11, St. Petersburg Beach, Florida: Portland Energy Conservation, Inc.

  2. Tseng, Paul C., CEM. 1994. Total Building Commissioning and Construction Quality Control: The New Perspective for Facility Commissioning. Proceedings of the Second National Conference on Building Commissioning, May 9-11, St. Petersburg Beach, Florida: Portland Energy Conservation, Inc.

  3. Bernheim, Anthony, AIA. 1994. The Role of the Architect in Building Commissioning (Designing for Persistence and Reliability). Proceedings of the Second National Conference on Building Commissioning, May 9-11, St. Petersburg Beach, Florida: Portland Energy Conservation, Inc.

  4. Yoder, Rachel. 1994. What Does it Cost to Commission a Building? Data from Three Years’ of Energy FinAnswer Projects. Proceedings of the Second National Conference on Building Commissioning, May 9-11, St. Petersburg Beach, Florida: Portland Energy Conservation, Inc.

  5. Barrer, Peter. J., P.E. 1994. Benefits and Costs of Commissioning Complex Measures in Utility-Sponsored DSM Programs. Proceedings of the Second National Conference on Building Commissioning, May 9-11, St. Petersburg Beach, Florida: Portland Energy Conservation, Inc.

  6. Dorgan, Charles E., P.E. and Chad B. Dorgan, P.E. 1994. The Commissioning Process is a Quality Process for Achieving Quality Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Systems. Proceedings of the Second National Conference on Building Commissioning, May 9-11, St. Petersburg Beach, Florida: Portland Energy Conservation, Inc.

 

Commissioning: Getting It Right

Engineered Systems, September, 1998

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