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Commissioning Converts

As discussed at length in this column over the past year, commissioning is a process which introduces a few new and different ways of delivering a design and construction project. It is debatable whether commissioning represents extra effort on the part of the design and construction team, but there is typically a perception at the beginning that it means more work for those involved.

There is a great amount of inertia in this industry, and people generally are not interested in - or do not think they have time - to try something new. Therefore, it is usually necessary to promote the benefits of commissioning to all members of a project team in order to gain their buy-in, enthusiasm, and/or cooperation. Commissioning is a collaborative effort - if every party is not willing to do their part, it will not be as successful as it could be.

Whoever is leading the commissioning bandwagon needs to convince the following team members of the benefits they can realize if they help make commissioning work:


The easiest “sell” is to the facility owner and/or those people responsible for operating the new or renovated building systems after construction. The commissioning process formalizes communications between the owner and design engineers in the form of a design intent document (DID). This allows the owner/operators to have input into, review of, and approval rights for the proposed system performance, load assumptions, system configurations and equipment types early in the design process.

At the end of construction, the owner receives a building which has been documented as operating in accordance with the DID. The operations and maintenance personnel have been trained so that they understand how components work together as systems and how the systems work together to serve the entire facility. This level of training helps the owner continue to operate the systems in accordance with the design intent for the life of the building.

Design Engineers

The design engineers, as well as the owner, benefit from the design intent document process. The DID represents a formal agreement of what the owner expects from the systems being commissioned. It avoids the ugly situation at the end of construction when the designers are pleased to find that the systems are installed and operate as designed only to find out they are not what the owner wanted. The owner’s expectations should be documented before design begins, not after construction is complete.

The commissioning process also benefits the designers because there is typically another professional (commissioning consultant) looking out for proper implementation of the designer’s work during construction and verifying the systems function properly in the end.

Finally, commissioned projects will result in fewer call-backs of the designers after construction is complete. There will be fewer problems following the formal testing and problem resolution stage, and the operators will have fewer questions about the “how’s” and “why’s” of their new systems. Post-construction periods can be full of finger-pointing between designers and contractors when projects are not commissioned. This is greatly reduced on commissioned projects as problems are fewer and the commissioning consultant can have non-biased input as to what has gone wrong and who should be responsible to correct it.


One of the major benefits of commissioning for the installing contractors is having the commissioning consultant verify for the owner that the contractor’s work is complete and operating as intended and that the owner’s staff has been properly trained. Having such a sign-off or certification can be very useful if the contractor is called back because something “is not working” and finds that the operators have changed system conditions (i.e., setpoints, minimum positions, schedules, or other parameters) following the successful tests. At that point, the contractor can legitimately claim that the “problem” is not the contractor’s responsibility.

The contractors, as well as the designers, can benefit from the commissioning consultant’s ability to sort out post-construction problems from a non-biased perspective. Finger-pointing between the contractor and designer, an exercise which can often take more time and effort than the problem resolution itself, can be minimized.


The primary objective of a commissioned project, i.e., building systems that work, can be enjoyed by all team members. The obvious benefit is to the owner, but the designers and contractors can take pride in a job well done, a great reference from the owner, and a good chance for repeat work with the same owner. As noted at the beginning of this column, design and construction team members may be hesitant to embrace commissioning when first introduced to it. After their first successful project, however, they will be converts and will welcome commissioning on any and all future projects.


Commissioning: Getting It Right

Engineered Systems, February, 1999

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