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Building Envelope Commissioning

Building Commissioning is defined as “a quality-oriented process for achieving, verifying, and documenting that the performance of facilities, systems, and assemblies meets defined objectives and criteria.( NIBS Guideline 3-2006)”  The overall objective is to enhance the delivery of a project to meet the Owner’s Project Requirements.

In this issue of Engineering Advisor, we will address three common misconceptions about building commissioning:

  1. That it applies primarily to HVAC systems
  2. That the process occurs only after the completion of the building, and

That the process only applies to existing buildings.

Commissioning  does not only apply to HVAC systems

It is of course somewhat logical to think of commissioning in terms of heating, cooling and ventilation systems.  These systems are made up of many interacting mechanical components and controls that must be adjusted, balanced, programmed, etc., to achieve optimal performance as designed, in contrast to the building envelope which, save for operable windows and doors, is largely passive in its operation and function. 

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that the initial documentation of the commissioning process was published by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) in 1989. Ongoing development led to the current standard, ASHRAE Guideline 0-2005: The Commissioning Process, published in 2005.

However, as commissioning protocols developed, it became clear that other architectural elements must perform as intended to allow the HVAC system to operate properly.  Attention beyond initial installation was required for various building features to perform their own intended functions.  As a result, ASHRAE working with the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) published NIBS Guideline 3-2006: Exterior Enclosure Technical Requirements for the Commissioning Process in 2006.  

Commissioning may broadly consider:

  • Owner requirements such as vision, budget, and schedule,
  • Occupant requirements such as thermal comfort, visual comfort, indoor air quality, acoustics, special requirements, operability, access, and life safety, and
  • System requirements such as heat, air and water vapor flow control, rain penetration control, light, noise, vibration, fire control, structural performance, durability, aesthetics, constructability, maintainability, and sustainability.

Commissioning as applied to the exterior envelope involves an examination of just those surfaces and their interfaces that comprise the envelope, including foundations, basements and crawlspaces, the superstructure (floor, roof, sunshades, connections to adjacent structures), enclosure surfaces (walls, windows, doors, sealants, connections to existing buildings, louvers and vents, grilles and sunscreens) and roofing (including parapets, skylights, chases, ducts, etc.).  

Commissioning is a process that begins in pre-design and continues through construction and occupancy

Commissioning is an ongoing process that requires attention from the very outset of the project.  In the pre-design phase, the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPRs) are developed and defined.  An OPR document is produced that records these requirements, the commissioning budget, roles and responsibilities, and a formal commissioning plan.  This plan should document conditions at the site, the criteria to be evaluated, and the frequency and methods of evaluation.

During the design phase, the OPR are translated into a design intent and represented in construction documents.  The design and construction documents are reviewed at various stages to ensure compliance with the owner’s needs and interests.  Checklists and testing protocols are established for the next phase and procedures for reporting non-compliance are established.

In the construction phase, work is inspected at pre-determined intervals to ensure compliance with the design  and specifications.  Certain testing of systems and assemblies may be performed according to pre-defined protocols, using standardized procedures as established by such entities as the Architectural Aluminum Manufacturers Association (AAMA) for windows, curtain walls, etc., the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) for roofing, air leakage, adhesion, sealants, etc., and other standards that may apply.

The occupancy and operations phase begins at substantial completion of construction.  The on-going operation, maintenance and modification of the facility systems and assemblies and their associated documentation are verified against the OPR.  An assessment may be made of the condition of the facility to ensure ‘like new” condition, (i.e. not having experienced any premature wear or degradation during construction).  Most importantly, documentation is assembled including Operations and Maintenance (O&M) manuals, manufacturer warranties, maintenance, and conformance records, test results, drawings, and training requirements.    

Commissioning techniques may be applied to existing structures

Although commissioning is more easily accomplished during construction and immediately upon completion, many of the tasks are also applicable to existing buildings and are termed either Retro-commissioning or Constant Commissioning. Retro-commissioning of existing buildings involves:

  • Gathering of available documentation
  • Developing current Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR)
  • Developing a commissioning plan and schedule
  • Testing systems for current performance
  • Performing maintenance upgrades
  • Assembling O&M manuals and archiving other documentation.

Constant Commissioning involves:

  • Maintaining the OPR and Basis of Design to reflect changes in operation and use or renovations
  • Periodic evaluation against benchmarks

Changes to manuals and training of operations and maintenance personnel.

The commissioning team

The practice of building commissioning is really a team effort which starts with an informed owner.  The owner must select the Commissioning Authority as well as the other more traditional key players.  He must also be in a position to approve their work product. 

The Commissioning Authority is responsible for coordinating the process with the owner, the Architect, the Engineer(s), and the Contractor.  The Commissioning Authority may also coordinate and/or perform vital roles such as documenting and confirming OPR with the owner, establishing the commissioning plan, reviewing plans, training team members, conducting on-site inspections, performing monitoring tests, and assembling documentation and O&M materials. 

The ultimate deliverable is a commissioning report that contains:

  • The final OPR
  • The basis of design
  • The commissioning plan and specification
  • Checklists
  • The as-built performance of systems and assemblies

Training and maintenance requirements.

Commissioning at Criterium Engineers

Criterium Engineers, with its 50-plus year history of inspecting buildings, has developed special knowledge of how buildings, systems and assemblies succeed and fail.  This expertise has led us to develop, in addition to our inspection services of existing buildings, quality assurance services for new construction.  Building commissioning combines these varied skills and expertise to assure building owners, property managers and occupants that their buildings will perform as designed and expected.  Projects as diverse as an outpatient clinic for the Veterans Administration and renovations to a major metropolitan airport are part of our corporate resume.


Volume 22, Number 2

October 2011

Copyright © 2011

The Engineering Advisor is intended to enhance your knowledge of technical issues relating to buildings. For additional information on any subject, please feel free to call us. Our commitment is to provide you with timely, accurate information.