What Is Commissioning? – Your Complete Guide


Commissioning of a project in progress on a construction site

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning (ASHRAE) Standard 202-2013 defines commissioning (Cx) as "a quality-focused process for enhancing the delivery of a project. The approach focuses upon verifying and documenting that all the commissioned systems and assemblies are planned, designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained to meet the Owner's Project Requirements. The commissioning activities and documents provide the plans, procedures, and project records required to create sustainable, high-quality buildings.”

The main goal of commissioning is to align teams, resources, and timelines to the owner's requirements to present a functional, compliant, and energy-efficient building. In a nutshell, commissioning aims to achieve First Time Quality

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Below are some of the benefits of commissioning and why should you include it in your project.

  • Reduce energy, construction, and operational costs through emerging technologies that provide more affordable methods of construction
  • To produce efficient, safe, and healthy buildings for occupants 
  • Create high-quality environments to boost workplace performance
  • Prevent business losses due to poorly designed buildings
  • Reduce present and future deficiencies 
  • To help owners obtain relevant certifications through building performance rating systems. These ratings allow owners to install energy resource technologies that help in reducing operational costs.
  • For improved quality assurance and risk management. 

This comprehensive guide on commissioning covers facts you need to know and the best practices for a successful commissioning process in three main sections:

  • Building commissioning process
  • Types of project commissioning


Building Commissioning Process

The best practice is to start the commissioning process before construction begins. Properly commissioned buildings have fewer change orders and incur lower costs, especially when the commissioning authority (CxA) gets involved before construction begins. Early involvement reduces instances of reverse engineering critical tasks to match Owner Project Requirements. The commissioning process includes predefined deliverables achieved throughout the building phases.

A typical project commissioning process involves the phases below:

  • Planning 
  • Design and documentation
  • Construction 
  • Post-construction

building-commissioning-process(Image source: gsa.gov)

Planning Stage

The planning stage involves pre-planning, feasibility studies, establishing the owner's needs, scope, and design requirements for the project. The project manager, commissioning authority, and other stakeholders work together to ensure alignment throughout the process and provide an unbiased assessment to the owner. The commissioning plan involves the activities below:

  • Identifying team members, assigning responsibilities, and determining training needs
  • Creating commissioning specifications
  • Establishing quality, efficiency, and functionality goals
  • Identifying a commissioning scope and budget
  • Setting commissioning schedules
  • Establishing testing and inspection activities

The commissioning team comprises the core team that will be part of the construction process. This group consists of:

  • The project manager or team leader overseeing the building project
  • Commissioning provider/agent (CxA)
  • Client’s operating personnel and technical team 
  • Construction manager (CM)
  • Contractors and subcontractors
  • Architect and Engineers (A/E)


Design Phase

The second stage covers design requirements and starts the documentation process to capture and organize all building records. At this point, your commissioning provider implements a commissioning software to automate record-keeping, team management, and any other activities relevant to the building process.

The commissioning authority also reviews the designs, refines the OPRs to design decisions, creates commissioning specifications for all building equipment, and integrates activities into the building project scope of work and schedule, and identifies deliverables.

commissioning-process(Image source: govtribe.com)

Construction Stage

The project manager and agent review and revise the commissioning plans, project submittals, and operational requirements for project conformity and quality control.

Here, the commissioning provider implements their requirements into the purchase orders approved by the project manager and construction manager. This stage involves the rest of the commissioning team installing components, systems, quality control inspections, and record maintenance of functional testing.

As mentioned earlier, the primary purpose of commissioning is to produce high-quality building projects, so at the construction stage, the key deliverable of a Cx agent is to monitor progress and ensure each process is conducted according to set standards. This feedback is then captured in progress reports and recorded in the quality management software.

What makes or breaks a construction project is how teams collaborate and communicate throughout this process. You can have great designs and well-laid-out plans, but communication ensures the project is completed in good time and within budget. Project management software improves communication and reduces collaboration inefficiencies.

Post-construction/Project Closeout Phase

The best practice is to involve your commissioning provider to assess their effectiveness against the results during this phase. This exercise ensures that deficiencies are corrected quickly, and the final commissioning report accurately captures all records for accurate closeout and documentation handover.  

Types of Project Commissioning

Commissioning services do not have to be applied for new projects only. There are different models depending on the type of project. They are:

  • Retro-Commissioning

Applies to projects that started without an initial commissioning plan. Many projects that did not undergo the commissioning process end with errors and deficiencies, forcing companies to reverse-engineer results into the OPRs. The main objective in retro-commissioning is to identify the mistakes, flaws, and non-compliant processes and develop corrective, low-cost solutions. 

  • Re-Commissioning

This model applies commissioning to a previously commissioned project. Existing building systems often require adjustments due to advanced technology, sustainability advancements, and the changing needs of owners and tenants. It's recommended that commissioning be applied to maintain quality and reduce operating costs.

  • Continuous Commissioning

Continuous commissioning ensures projects continuously adhere to quality standards, an ever-changing regulatory landscape, and technology advancement. This constant exercise also ensures a project stays close to the Owner's Project Requirements regardless of time and the team assigned to the project.

Building Commissioning Documents

The commissioning manager should advise the owner and project manager on the documents required before starting a project to comply with relevant regulatory bodies. A building project's primary document is the Operation and Maintenance manual (O&M manual), also known as the building owner's manual. 

This manual contains all the information required for each project phase, certifications, approvals, and warranties. 

Application of the commissioning process aims to simplify project phases so that teams can focus on delivering high quality work that meets deadlines and is within set budgets.

At FTQ360, we understand how challenging it is to manage and control commissioning projects, document inspections, performance data, technical tests, and resolve deficiencies, all while holding multiple teams accountable. That’s why we created a commissioning platform to improve and streamline your commissioning process and achieve first-time quality. 

Ready to start your building project on the right path? Get in touch with us today for a free software trial.

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