building systems

Who Should Commission Your Building?

By Lynne Wasner  

ALSO in this report

A Ruling on Vinyl (sort of)
News Briefs
USGBC’s New Space
NY Agency Goes Green

Excitement over the opening of a new building can be quickly tempered if the building’s systems don’t work the way the designers intended. One way to help avoid disappointment and costly repairs is commissioning.

Commissioning helps ensure that the facility will meet the needs of the owner and occupants. It also verifies that building design meets owner requirements, construction conforms to contract documents and building systems operate as needed.

It’s important for facility executives to carefully review a commissioning provider’s qualifications. When selecting a commissioning provider, consider technical knowledge, relevant experience, availability, communication skills, accreditation and objectivity.

Knowledge and Experience

Think of commissioning as a way to reduce risk. Define where there is the most risk if the building does not perform as expected. Look for technical knowledge of that building function in a commissioning provider.

For example, the owner of a laboratory housing biological agents would want a commissioning provider with experience verifying biological containment systems. The owner of a manufacturing facility where processes require tight temperature or humidity control, such as pharmaceutical or semiconductor manufacturing or printing plants, would want a commissioning provider with experience verifying temperature and humidity control systems to guard against fluctuations that could cause a costly process interruption.

Commissioning Providers:
Pros and Cons
Contractual arrangement
Subcontracted to design engineer or architect
Knowledge of owner’s intent

Familiar with project
Potential conflict of interest when designer is managing design verification
Subcontracted to contractor
Familiar with mechanical systems installation and operation

Can commission mechanical systems during checkout
Potential conflict of interest when contractor is managing equipment installation and system verification
Member of owner’s in-house staff
No conflict of interest

Knowledge gained during commissioning process useful for maintaining building performance
Owner must have enough building projects to support a qualified commissioning staff
Subcontracted to construction manager (CM)
On-site and available

CM has direct responsibility to and communication with owner
Commissioning provider best hired in pre-design, which is usually before the CM is chosen

Possible conflict if CM has financial interest in the project
Independent third party contracted to owner
Owner retains control and decision-making over all parties allowing quick and single-point action

No loss in translation when transferring information from commissioning provider to owner
Additional management burden for owner

Complete objectivity only if the commissioning provider does not serve under others as either a designer or contractor on other jobs

When selecting a commissioning provider, facility executives should also consider how many years experience the commissioning provider has designing, operating, troubleshooting, testing and balancing the following building functions: HVAC, direct digital controls (DDC), electrical power, lighting and life safety systems.

A firm employing professionals with a history of experience in DDC design, installation and testing will be well-suited for diagnosing complex controls problems in modern buildings. Similarly, a firm employing persons certified by the National Environmental Balancing Bureau (NEBB) or the Associated Air Balance Council (AABC) and with previous full-time test, adjust and balance experience is likely to have the equipment and field expertise required to make accurate and independent measurements of building performance and be able to confirm when problems are corrected.

Look for a provider with experience commissioning buildings of a similar size. Consider knowledge of building operations and maintenance, as well as the ability to provide training in those areas. Expect to have a professional engineer on the commissioning team. A professional certification assures that the provider has proven knowledge of the building systems. Look for recent experience commissioning at least two other facilities similar to the one being commissioned. The more technically complex the building, the more important it is for the commissioning provider to have experience in that particular building type.

Getting the Job Done

Look for a commissioning team that is available when needed, with sufficient staff to manage and execute the project. Ask that key staff be available from the beginning to the end of the project. When selecting a provider, consider physical distance from the facility site. However, for critical facility types, it is more important to have the right technical skills than to select a provider that is physically close.

Communication Skills

As important as technical skills are, they aren’t enough. Facility executives should also pay attention to the so-called soft skills of potential providers. Involved in all stages of the building process — from pre-design through occupancy — the commissioning provider interacts with a wide range of personalities, including owners, designers, constructors, software specialists and building operators. Strong written and verbal communication skills — and especially diplomacy skills — are essential for a commissioning provider.

Accreditation and Objectivity

Look for a commissioning provider with a history of continuing education in the commissioning field and professional certification. The rigor of certification varies by certifying agency. A record of involvement in national commissioning conferences as a speaker or author, or service on committees for commissioning organizations, is a sign of commitment to the industry.

Because commissioning ensures that owner intentions are realized, it is very important the commissioning provider be objective and not show bias toward any member, discipline or trade involved in the design and construction process. Many say the only way to achieve this goal is for the commissioning provider to have no material or financial stake in the building project and to report directly to the owner. But there are a number of ways to contract commissioning services, each with advantages and disadvantages. (See table.)

Lynne Wasner is a writer who is a member of the Building Commissioning Association.

Seal of Approval

The following groups certify commissioning providers.

  • Building Commissioning Association is a group of building commissioning professionals that describes its mission as “developing high professional standards while allowing for diverse and creative approaches to building commissioning.”
  • Associated Air Balance Council is an association of qualified, independent companies that provide test and balance services. Member affiliations with mechanical contractors, design engineers or equipment manufacturers are strictly prohibited.
  • National Environmental Balancing Bureau is an organization dedicated to ensuring HVAC systems perform as designed. The organization’s 600 certified firms perform testing, adjusting and balancing (TAB) of heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems, in addition to building systems commissioning, sound and vibration measurement, retro-commissioning, fume hood testing and cleanroom performance certification.

A summary of commissioning accreditation program requirements, developed by the California Commissioning Collaborative, can be found on-line.

For More Information...

Visit these sites for more information about commissioning and choosing a provider.



USGBC Committee on Vinyl Raises Larger Questions

USGBC’s Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee, tasked with studying whether to recommend a LEED credit for buildings that don’t use vinyl, issued a report calling for more study. The report also raised some larger questions about LEED in general. For instance:

  • How should risks to human health and risks to the natural environment be reconciled?
  • Should LEED offer credits for avoiding less desirable materials, or create credit incentives for the use of preferable, often innovative alternative materials or processes?
  • Should LEED address individual materials through its credits, or should it focus on areas of impact?

The committee cited various data uncertainties and mixed environmental performance of some vinyl alternatives as one of the reasons it wasn’t able to recommend a credit.

The committee analyzed life-cycle assessment, occupational exposure, end-of-life toxicity, risk assessment, and combined life-cycle assessment and risk assessment. As a part of this process, the committee reviewed more than 2,000 documents, all of which are now posted on a database on USGBC’s Web site (www.usgbc.org). Public comments and a peer review were also incorporated into the report.

Industry reactions varied widely. An organization called the Healthy Building Network, while disappointed that USGBC failed to recommend a LEED credit for buildings that don’t use vinyl, stated that “the report makes clear that PVC, also commonly known as vinyl, is not a healthy building material.”

Meanwhile, the Vinyl Institute backed the committee’s decision. “This is the right decision,” said Tim Burns, president. “The report of the committee was correct in stating that there are no simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers to assessing the desirability of different building materials.”

The LEED Steering Committee will review the report and its recommendations and determine, what, if any, changes to make to LEED.

Won’t You Be My Green Neighbor
The pilot phase has begun on a new LEED: LEED for Neighborhood Development. A collaboration between USGBC, the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council, this new rating system integrates the principles of smart growth, urbanism and green building into the first national standard for neighborhood design.

The program emphasizes the design and construction elements that knit buildings together into a neighborhood, and provides guidelines for better location, design and construction of new residential, commercial and mixed use development.

Specifically, the pilot program for neighborhood development evaluates projects in four areas:
  • Smart location and linkage
  • Neighborhood pattern and design
  • Green construction and technology
  • Innovation and design process
The pilot phase will conclude in early 2008. Comments will be incorporated and the final version of LEED for Neighborhood Development will be released later that year.

Climate Change Action
A diverse group of more than 90 companies has signed a new statement calling on governments to boost the use of renewable energy and set scientifically informed targets for greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide emissions.

Among the signers of The Path to Climate Sustainability: A Joint Statement by the Global Roundtable on Climate Change are Allianz, Bayer, Citi, DuPont, General Electric and Volvo.

Calling climate change “an urgent problem,” the statement lays out a proactive framework for global action to mitigate risks and impacts while also meeting the global need for energy, economic growth and sustainable development. The agreement also urges governments to place a price on carbon emissions and set forth policies aimed at addressing energy efficiency and de-carbonization in all sectors.

Guidance to Go Green
The GEMI (Global Environmental Management Initiative) Sustainable Development (SD) Planner and SD Gateway is a planning tool companies can use to help achieve sustainable goals.

According to GEMI, the tool has three primary capabilities:

  • Establish generic elements of sustainable business practices. The tool synthesizes a broad range of generally accepted sustainable development concepts into seven major elements.
  • Enable company assessment of current status. The tool provides a straightforward, structured approach toward assessment of a company’s current status relative to broad industry norms.
  • Enable formulation of sustainable development goals and gap analysis. The tool provides a flexible means for establishing company-specific goals with regard to any of the major sustainable development elements.
The tool is available for download.

Green Bonds
Four large projects around the country will receive funding from the sale of $2 billion worth of federally sanctioned green bonds, the first program of its kind.

The first installment of $238 million, co-underwritten by Citi and Lehman Brothers and insured by XL Capital, was issued in late February by the Syracuse Industrial Development Authority. The bonds will help fund the DestiNY USA project in upstate New York — a massive retail, hospitality and entertainment project. The project will be powered entirely with renewable energy.

Projects using the green bonds must meet the following criteria: installation of 25 MW of fuel cell capacity, where both the electrical and thermal outputs of the fuel cells are creditable toward the 25 MW criterion; installation of 10.8 MW of photovoltaic nameplate electrical generation capacity; reduction of sulfur dioxide emissions by 10 tons/day; and displacement of 150 MW of peak electric load on the grid.

Top 10 Green Power Purchasers

  1. Wells Fargo & Company
  2. Whole Foods Market
  3. U.S. Air Force
  4. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  5. Johnson & Johnson
  6. Starbucks
  7. DuPont Company
  8. U.S. Department of Energy
  9. Vail Resorts
  10. HSBC North America

Source: EPA



1015 18th St., NW, Ste. 805
Washington, DC 20036

Sandy Wiggins
Consilience LLC

Kevin Hydes

Rebecca L. Flora
Pittsburgh Green Building Alliance
Gail Vittori
Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems

Joe Van Belleghem
Buildgreen Developments Inc.

James E. Hartzfeld
Interface Americas
David A. Gottfried
WorldBuild Technology Inc.

Michael L. Italiano
Sustainable Products Corp.

S. Richard Fedrizzi

Ninety-three percent of the interior in USGBC’s new LEED Platinum-certified office space has access to daylight (above). Salvaged wood timbers create a screened wall forest wall around an elliptical conference room (right).

USGBC’s New Space Earns LEED Platinum

You’ve probably heard “LEEDing by example” and “walking the green talk” more than a few times, but if there’s any facility for which those clichés are appropriate, it’s USGBC’s new LEED Platinum-certified office space. The council occupied 22,000 square feet of space in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) building in December 2006 and received Platinum certification with the LEED for Commercial Interiors rating system in February 2007.

Because of its vast growth in the last few years, USGBC had outgrown its previous space. As the organization looked for new space, it had several criteria, says Linda Sorrento, director of the LEED-CI program. First, they looked for an already-green base building, which would make their own green goals easier to achieve. Second, the council hoped to double the size of its space, but keep all its employees on the same floor. And third, the new space had to be near public transportation and the area of Washington, D.C., where many of the organization’s employees lived.

The council found a fit with the SEIU building — itself a LEED-certified building, at the Gold level with LEED for New Construction. The building, constructed in 1976, had recently undergone a major renovation, which included the addition of a whole floor to house new mechanical systems. Also, most windows were replaced with operable ones.
According to Sorrento, one of the most striking features of the space is that 93 percent of the interior has access to daylight. “We did that by keeping hard-walled offices near the core,” she says. “There is a stunning view from every side of the building.” USGBC reused existing ceiling tiles and systems furniture — the partitions of which are 42 inches high, helping light penetrate more deeply into the space.

The space also includes materials chosen for their aesthetics and their greenness. Manufacturers lined up to contribute products to the space as part of a sponsorship agreement. Products include bamboo, linoleum and cork flooring, reused granite countertops and non-toxic paint.

Sorrento estimates USGBC paid a 1 to 2 percent premium to certify the space at the Platinum level, though exact cost is hard to calculate because of all the manufacturer contributions to the space.

Since USGBC had an open house in February — at the time the space was certified — Sorrento says they have averaged two tours per day. Representatives from Capitol Hill have planned tours as well to get ideas for applying green strategies to government office space.

New York Agency Goes Green

Continuing a trend of using sustainable strategies to rebuild buildings destroyed in the 9/11 attacks, the New York Office of Emergency Management (OEM) received a LEED Silver certification on its new $50 million headquarters building in downtown Brooklyn. Prior to the attacks, the OEM had been headquartered in World Trade Center 7.

The federal government funded the 65,000-square-foot building, the first New York City government agency headquarters to receive LEED certification. It includes a 100-person emergency operations center, general office space, and a press and conference center. The project — a gut renovation of a former American Red Cross building constructed in 1954 — included a recladding (demolishing existing concrete walls and replacing them with more efficient limestone), and an 8,000-square-foot addition to the north side of the building.

A major challenge of the project was meeting LEED certification without spending unbudgeted money on green features. The building, which is designed to use 20 percent less energy and 30 percent less water, includes low-e glass windows; a reflective roof; carbon dioxide and occupancy sensors that automatically control heating, cooling and lighting systems; computerized controls that automatically adjust the ventilation system according to the number of people in a given space; water-conserving fixtures such as zero water consumption (chemical-based) urinals and low-consumption/automatic faucets and toilets; and Energy Star appliances for pantry areas. Uninterruptible power supplies and emergency generators back up primary power and electrical systems.

In addition to green features, the building includes state-of-the-art technology for OEM’s emergency response and planning personnel. Designers had to carefully plan how to program space for these features. The building’s watch command room includes several workstations, a citywide warning desk, full audio and video recording capabilities, a 15-foot video wall, and state-of-the-art communications tools. Additionally, nine conference rooms facilitate interagency training and coordination.

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  posted on 4/1/2007   Article Use Policy

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