Historically, “commissioning” has been a term commonly used as the act of placing a ship in service. For a ship to be commissioned, it must pass several tests during which its equipment is installed and tested, crew is thoroughly trained and problems are identified and corrected (Haasl, T., and K. Heinemeier. 2006. “California Commissioning Guide: New Buildings” and “California Commissioning Guide: Existing Buildings”. California Commissioning Collaborative). Building operators and managers must understand that building commissioning is needed to ensure that a building’s systems are functioning as designed and are meeting operational requirements.

Clearly, in densely urbanized cities, such as Vancouver or Toronto, the need for commissioning arises more often. However, with urbanization, there is a persistent challenge for maintaining energy efficiency, developing strategies that advocate use of public transport, shortening commute times, and improving building maintenance and design.

What is commissioning?

“Commissioning” in the building management sector consists of virtually the same approach as commissioning for ships. Today’s use of the term “commissioning” recognizes the integrated nature of all of the buildings’ systems performance, which impacts sustainability, workplace productivity, occupant safety and security.

As defined by GSA, “commissioning” is the “systematic process of assuring by verification and documentation, from the design phase to a minimum of one year after construction that all facility systems perform interactively in accordance with the design documentation and intent and in accordance with the owner’s operational needs including preparation of operation personnel” (Fee, P., 2016, Building Commissioning Philosophy, U.S. General Services Administration).

The cost to commission a building varies. As such, during construction, it may cost from $0.50 to $1.75 per square foot, all depending on the type of project that needs to be undertaken. To determine the cost, there are many variables that need to be considered (The Cost of Not Commissioning 2013, CFMS Consulting,).

Why should buildings be commissioned?

Buildings undergo a continuous quality assurance process that begins during the initial design of the building, and continues through construction, occupancy, and operations. As previously stated, commissioning a building ensures that the building systems and equipment are installed and operating efficiently.

Traditionally, energy consumption is much greater in urban centres, such as Vancouver which creates a need to use alternative types of energy in order to satisfy the rapidly growing population. Commissioning a building can help minimize the operating costs that come simultaneously with rapid urbanization. In fact, a comprehensive study published by Natural Resources Canada shows that new buildings can create energy savings of up to 13 percent, and for existing buildings, commissioning can yield energy savings of 16 percent (ecoEnergy Efficiency for Buildings 2012, Natural Resources Canada).

Source: ecoEnergy Efficiency for Buildings 2012, Natural Resources Canada

Source: ecoEnergy Efficiency for Buildings 2012, Natural Resources Canada

Generally speaking, existing buildings are recommended for “re-commissioning” since obsolete systems, and diversifying occupant needs can impose damage on the efficiency of a building’s energy and life support systems. Re-commissioning is what provides a rigorous investigative approach to identifying problems within a building’s vital systems and how those problems can potentially be overcome.

Benefits of Commissioning

Increasing building performance by saving energy and reducing operational costs, reducing operational turnover, extending the equipment life cycle, and fewer occupant complaints are just some of the benefits associated with commissioning (Benefits of Building Commissioning 2014, NOVA Commissioning Services Limited). Commissioning also improves the air quality of buildings alongside comfort for the occupants.

Natural Resources Canada argues that commissioning existing and new buildings is one way of achieving a low-risk, low-cost strategy that will ultimately result in much greater gains for building owners (ecoEnergy Efficiency for Buildings 2012, Natural Resources Canada). Well commissioned buildings will most definitely perform better and use energy more efficiently which is of utmost importance to rapidly urbanizing Canadian metropolises.

We must agree that with the rapid urbanization in large Canadian cities, we will need buildings to be commissioned and re-commissioned. With energy costs continuously rising, the energy, water and operational savings resulting from commissioning, offset the cost of implementing the process by many times.

Challenges posed with urbanization require continuous assurance that the building systems and equipment are installed and operating efficiently. Building equipment that runs properly generally means that it will last longer, with better life cycles and less maintenance. In addition to the monetary benefits, there are intangible benefits, such as confident building operators, and above all, comfort for building occupants.