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complete guide to building commissioning in construction

The Complete Guide to Project Commissioning

commissioning filterHow to Increase Building Performance and Meet LEED Requirements

In construction, last impressions matter. Owners and clients expect a seamless handover, which is the key to efficient facility management and operations. For contractors, a clean handover process is also a way to win more work and retain loyal clients. But while closeout is essential, planning for a seamless handover happens well before ground is broken. In fact, the process begins as early as the design phase and is carried on throughout construction. The main driving force behind a successful project is improved commissioning—and that’s what you’ll learn about below. 

Why is Project Commissioning Important?

Project commissioning, also referred to as Cx, is a series of milestones that includes the testing of systems, materials, and staff who will be operating the systems. The term originally comes from the shipbuilding industry—once commissioned, a ship is considered ready to operate. 

In construction, commissioning is the process of evaluating a building to be ready for service. As a quality assurance test, it starts in design and continues through operations. Much like shipbuilding, the process involves a series of documenting, scheduling, and testing processes. According to Whole Building Design Guide, “Buildings that are properly commissioned typically have fewer change orders, tend to be more energy-efficient, and have lower operation and maintenance cost.” The goal is to ensure that the facility operates according to the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR), which form the basis of all decisions related to construction and operations. 

Sustainable Solutions: Commissioning for Improved Building Performance 

Commissioning is especially important for energy management. Today’s owners are looking to build more sustainable and energy-efficient buildings in order to cut costs, and OPRs might include sustainable goals like those outlined by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. These standards were created by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) over 15 years ago to promote practices focused on sustainability, and commissioning is an important part of the LEED certification process. 

In general, the LEED building commissioning process is a highly effective method to improve the performance of building systems and equipment. It ensures the presence of energy related systems such as HVAC, plumbing, electrical, fire safety, building security, and renewable energy systems. A strong understanding of these standards throughout the different phases of the process can lead to greater satisfaction for owners and clients. 

LEED lays out several phases of project commissioning. In the first phase, a commissioning lead is selected, and development of project requirements begins. This is when the initial OPR is reviewed or created and the commissioning plan is laid out, and this plan is updated as the design phase continues. In the next phase, submittals and shop drawings are reviewed for related systems, and observation and testing are carried out throughout construction. In the last phase, outstanding issues are reviewed and resolved and a final report is submitted. With commissioning, quality assurance occurs at all of these phases.  

If the commissioning agent (CxA) has knowledge of LEED, they can help project teams meet the requirements to become LEED certified. They do this by ensuring design plans meet both OPRs and LEED certification requirements, making sure equipment and systems are working at the correct efficiency level, organizing regular site visits throughout construction to confirm ongoing efficiency, and modifying control programs to improve operational efficiency and occupant comfort while decreasing energy use. Improved commissioning can earn as much as six points towards a LEED label. 

Design and Preconstruction Phase: Risk Reduction from the Start 

In this first phase, the commissioning agent is generally hired by the owner to ensure an unbiased assessment. Early participation of the commissioning agent in the design phase ensures that potential issues found during occupancy can be addressed before becoming major problems, thus reducing risk. In fact, the USGBC now requires that the commissioning agent be engaged by the end of this phase for this reason. 

In design review, the commissioning agent can identify problems that may arise during handover and bring that knowledge back to design. Important aspects of this well coordinated process include centralizing communications and documentation. It is crucial to explicitly document design requirements needed to meet performance expectations. This also serves as a comparison to what actually gets installed during construction. Better access to models and documents for schematic design, design development, and construction document review, as well as proper LEED documentation, can help ensure that the design meets the owner’s requirements. 

commissioning in design

Construction Phase: Workflow Submittals, Facilities Management, Commissioning Checklists, and Asset Tracking 

Throughout construction, a well-coordinated commissioning process entails constant communication and collaboration to ensure project requirements are met. A useful technology to improve commissioning in the construction phase is BIM 360. This software allows for the tracking and management of assets within a construction project from start to finish. It can easily include the commissioning agent and provide access to the field. Project teams gain easy visibility into the status of the project, keeping everyone updated and reducing the time needed to move into operations. This allows for accelerated commissioning and reduced risk throughout the process.  

A collaborative workflow submittals process is vital in the commissioning process. Prior to breaking ground, the general contractor will provide the commissioning agent with a set of equipment and system submittals. These include equipment and product data sheets, shop drawings, details on installation and start-up procedures, operations and maintenance data, performance data, and temperature control drawings. The agent should be kept in the loop regarding these submittals throughout the process. This way, they will understand any new design intent or operating changes, and  change orders that may impact commissioned systems, ultimately ensuring compliance with OPRs and a satisfied owner. 

Commissioning with submittals For successful commissioning during construction, it is also important to bring in the facilities management team to review maintenance needs. Shop drawings, models, and virtual reality technology can be used with the facilities management team to review clearances and accesses to important post-construction needs. 

As part of quality assurance, issues identified during design should be revised by the design team and tracked during construction to ensure these problems are taken care of. Any checklists created by the commissioning agent can be easily set up in field software like BIM 360 and tracked collaboratively throughout construction. These checklists can be pulled up during inspections to ensure that equipment has been delivered to the jobsite, a system or component is started up per the manufacturer, operational, and more. 

Finally, asset tracking is critical to an efficient commissioning process. The newly released BIM 360 Assets module helps speed up the commissioning and handover process. Asset and equipment serial numbers, warranty dates, and other necessary information must be collected for the owner while installing and starting equipment. This can be done directly on the jobsite on a tablet or mobile phone using the cloud-based technology.  

Closeout Phase: A Seamless Handover 

During this last phase, all remaining commissioning issues must be closed. Whether you’re on a mobile device or desktop computer, ensure all commissioning issues created proactively via checklist have been resolved before handover. Using BIM 360 Field Management, teams can alert crews to any possible issues as well as inspections that take place during the commissioning phase of construction. And when construction is over, the appendix and documentation for the commissioning report is only a click away.  

commissioning filter

To ensure that the building is operations ready from day one, handover documentation needs to be effortless. All the data collected during construction must be readily available for operations teams. BIM 360 Opsallows facility teams to access detailed asset information including both PDFs and 3D models, create and update tickets, training videos and allow for predictive and preventive maintenance, all from the convenience of a mobile device. 

BIM 360 ops commissioning copy

 

Improve Commissioning for Greater Project Success 

Owners today are looking for greater sustainability in order to reduce lifecycle building costs and increase building performance. To meet these requirements and have a seamless handover, there must be strong project commissioning from the design phase, throughout construction, and all the way to closeout. Following LEED guidelines while commissioning can provide improved sustainability, thereby giving owners the cost reductions they are seeking. Improved commissioning centers around adherence to these LEED guidelines, as well as using technology to ensure the process is proactive and everyone is kept informed at all times.  

And that’s why BIM 360 is essential for asset and equipment tracking, because it allows for management of design review, submittals, commissioning checklists, and asset tracking, keeping the commissioning agent and other stakeholders up to date. With effective commissioning comes a smooth handover, less change orders, and repeat clients. When done well, project commissioning leads to greater satisfaction and a successful project overall.

Learn more about how to improve commissioning and handover. 

Alyssa Schear

Alyssa Schear

Industry Outcome Lead, Construction, Autodesk

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