What is Commissioning?
Commissioning, typically done for large commercial projects, refers to a quality assurance process for new building projects to optimize performance and improve building operation that includes verifying and documenting that the building and its systems and assemblies are planned, designed, installed, tested, operated and maintained to meet the owner’s requirements. For new green residential home projects, commissioning provides an added layer of quality assurance for building systems, such as renewable energy systems and smart building technologies, that require more experienced installers and operators than conventional new home technologies (see Smart Meters, Smart Sensors and Controls, High-Efficiency Lighting and Networked Lighting Controls). Green home building programs may require whole house or system commissioning as party of the certification process. Commissioning begins during pre-design and continues through design, construction, occupancy, and operations. Changes in design or improper installation can lead to systems working inefficiently (see Properly-Sized HVAC Equipment, Part Load Efficiency). Building systems also degrade and lose efficiency over time making ongoing and seasonal home maintenance a critical component of home performance (see Preventative Maintenance).
How to Implement Commissioning
The first step in the commissioning process is to designate the commissioning team, which often includes the Commissioning Agent (CxA), Building Owner, Architect/Engineer A/E, Construction Manager/General Contractor, Sub-Contractors, and occupants. The commissioning team assures the completion on all of the steps in the commissioning process and the realization of building objectives and develops the building commissioning plan, which outlines and organizes the commissioning process schedule and allocation of resources and includes details of systems tests and procedures, system and equipment checklists, and testing and documentation responsibilities (see Building Evaluation).
Building commissioning plans may include the following building systems and green building elements (as applicable):
- HVAC systems (control settings and sequencing)
- Building assembly (envelope, interior, paths of egress)
- Protective systems (fire suppression, lightning protection)
- Plumbing (water distribution, sanitary or stormwater)
- Electrical (power distribution, lighting)
- Communication systems (telecom, wireless networks, sound, video)
- Alarm Systems (fault detection, security, leak detection)
- Indoor air quality (moisture, airborne particles)
- Indoor environmental quality (acoustics, thermal comfort)
- Renewable energy (photovoltaics, wind energy)
- Smart building technology (advanced metering, building automation systems)
- Energy storage and back-up power generation systems (batteries)
- Alternative water reuse systems (greywater recycling, composting toilets)
The commissioning process provides testing and documentation that establishes valuable performance benchmarks and a baseline for the future operation and maintenance of the home. The final commissioning report provides building upgrade recommendations and operations and maintenance improvement opportunities and describes the potential improvement, estimated implementation costs, and savings for each opportunity.
Commissioning a new home makes the transition from construction to operations more reliable and efficient. A commissioning plan aides communication between the owner and contractor, reducing error and confusion by establishing the roles and responsibilities of each project participant. Additional benefits include:
- Optimized building systems and quality assurance.
- Lower utility bills through reduced energy savings.
- Improved indoor environmental quality and occupant comfort.
- Fewer building system issues at building turnover.
- Enhanced operation and maintenance.
Commissioning costs depend on the complexity of the home’s building systems, and the type and number of systems included in the process. The cost of not commissioning equals the costs of correcting mistakes plus the costs of inefficient operations. Minimize costs by budgeting for commissioning agent services at the beginning of the project as opposed to adding on these services later., Reduce the costs of on-going commissioning by installing systems that make that process more manageable such as smart metering (see Smart Metering).
See the New Jersey Office of Clean Energy for available programs and incentives related to commissioning.
Commissioning contributes to a single-family home’s resiliency by providing feedback on the status of critical building systems and notifying homeowners when and where a problem exists, ensuring that a home performs optimally during both normal operations and emergencies. Commissioning identifies opportunities for energy savings and if implemented, helps to reduce stress on the grid and the likelihood of grid failures.
 Building Commissioning Association (BCxA). 2018. New Construction Building Commissioning Best Practices including BCxA Essential Attributes Updated May 2018. https://www.bcxa.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/BCA-New-Const-Best-Practices-2018-05-14-V2.0.pdf (accessed January 15, 2019).
 Building Commissioning Association. 2016. Existing Construction Building Commissioning Best Practices and Tools https://www.bcxa.org/wp-content/pdf/BCA-Best-Practices-Commissioning-Existing-Construction.pdf (accessed January 11, 2019).
 GSA Sustainable Facilities Toolkit. 2018. Building Commissioning. https://sftool.gov/search?query=Building+Commissioning (accessed January 14, 2019).