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What Exactly is Commissioning, Anyway?

Ryan Wagner •

A comprehensive approach to Cx that encompasses a wide range of building systems and spans the entire design/build process plays a critical role in ensuring facility owners realize the greatest value from their Cx investment.

What the Experts Say

To better understand the Cx process, start with explanations from the industry experts. American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) describes Cx as “verifying and documenting that the facility and all of its systems and assemblies are planned, designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained to meet the needs of the owner.”

The Building Commissioning Association (BCA) adds that the basic purpose of Cx is “to provide documented confirmation that building systems function in compliance with criteria set forth in the Project Documents to satisfy the owner’s operational needs.”

Keys to Understanding Cx

Based on these definitions, here are some key points to keep in mind as you consider what the Cx process should include and how it can benefit your project:

1. It’s all about the owner. Despite differences of opinion, most experts concur that Cx is fundamentally a quality assurance program designed to make sure the owner’s needs are met. That said, it’s up to the owner to define the intent of the process, system, or addition so that the right Cx activities can be specified to meet those needs.

2. There’s a lot more to it than testing. Yes, test and balance (TAB) of mechanical systems by National Environmental Balancing Bureau (NEBB) standards, acceptance testing of electrical distribution per InterNational Electrical Testing Association (NETA) standards, and equipment startup (typically performed by the equipment vendors or installing contractors) are important parts of Cx. But fully meeting an owner’s needs must begin well before these activities are scheduled. Ideally, Cx should start before the design phase of a system or process, and it should extend beyond construction for up to one year post occupancy. This allows for a full scope of Cx activities, including defining and documenting the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR); supporting owner objectives by performing a Cx design review; conducting field tests and verifications during construction; and adjusting and fine-tuning systems for optimal performance post occupancy (re-commissioning).

3. Any system is fair game. While Cx has historically been reserved for a building’s electrical and mechanical systems, the entire building and all of its systems and processes stand to benefit from Cx. Today, the most frequently commissioned systems in facilities include:

  • Electrical distribution equipment and systems
  • Mechanical and HVAC systems
  • Monitoring and controls systems
  • Specialty systems (EPO, security, VESDA, fire/life safety, etc.)
  • Lighting controls
  • Structural systems

Determining which of these systems to commission will come down to the owner’s unique needs.

4. It’s not just for new systems and processes. While in many cases, Cx refers to a newly built process or system, existing systems can also be retro-commissioned or re-commissioned to optimize performance and efficiency.

5. Someone needs to take charge. Since Cx always ties back to meeting the owner’s needs, the owner is the best person to oversee the Cx process. However, rarely does the owner have the time or expertise to fill this role. A Commissioning Authority (CxA) can offer the expertise, guidance, and direction the owner needs to make informed Cx decisions.

Remember, you’re the boss.

You’re no doubt investing a considerable sum in new systems and processes. And Cx can help ensure a healthy return on that investment. It’s important to seek a CxA such as Vertiv’s Electrical Reliability Services that offers a scope of services broad enough to encompass all your requirements and one that has the expertise needed to deliver a higher level of satisfaction upon project completion and for years to come.


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