Guide to commercial building systems commissioning

Guide to Commercial Building Systems Commissioning

Commissioning is a process of ensuring a building owner’s established occupancy requirements are met and all building systems are installed and operational. Commissioned buildings are optimized for energy efficiency, indoor air quality, occupant comfort, and operation and maintenance costs. Many would argue that commissioning is the single most cost-effective strategy for reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of buildings. 


Even though commissioning is typically thought of as a way to reduce energy consumption, it’s more than that. It can be an effective risk-management strategy. The commissioning process ensures the building owner gets what they pay for and that problems are detected and corrected early–avoiding costly maintenance or safety issues in the future. 


Historically, commissioning referred to the process of testing and balancing the HVAC system of a building according to a set of established standards prior to acceptance by the owner. HVAC commissioning didn’t include other building systems. Nowadays, total building commissioning is common and includes all building systems because a deficiency in even one component can result in sub-optimal operation and performance among other components.


The commissioning process typically begins early in the pre-design phase of a project and can continue through the post-acceptance phase. Commissioning is not an additional layer of construction or project management–it’s a way for the owner of the building to confirm that the planning, design, construction, and operational processes meet established goals and deliver a high-quality building.


Table of Contents

Building Commissioning Definitions

Cx – Commissioning Process

NCCx – New Construction Commissioning

EBCx – Existing Building Commissioning

CFR – Current Facility Requirements

RCx – Retro-Commissioning

ReCx – Re-Commissioning

MBCx – Monitoring-Based Commissioning

OCx – Ongoing Commissioning

CxP – Commissioning Provider

CxA – Commissioning Agent or Authority

OPR – Owner’s Project Requirements

BAS – Building Automation System

EMIS – Energy Management and Information Systems

FIMs – Facility Improvement Measures

ECMs – Energy Conservation Measures

AFDD – Automated Fault Detection and Diagnostics

M&V – Measurement and Verification

O&M – Operations and Maintenance

EUI – Energy Use Intensity

What Does Building Commissioning Include?

  1. Documenting system design intent, operating sequences, and test procedures.
  2. Verifying systems are performing by doing extensive functional testing and measurement.
  3. Ensuring building operations staff receive training and resources for operating the building systems and maintaining them.

Why is Building Commissioning Performed?

Commissioning ensures a smoother construction process with improved communication and fewer change orders. It also reduces operation and maintenance costs, lowers energy costs through improved energy efficiency, and improves the experience of building occupants through improved indoor air quality and thermal comfort. Buildings that are not commissioned typically cost more to operate than a commissioned building.

When is NCCx (New Construction Commissioning) Required?

New construction commissioning is typically required by city/local codes, which is usually triggered by the project’s size and/or systems included. If a project is pursuing LEED certification, then NCCx is required.

Who Performs Building Commissioning?

The person who performs building commissioning depends on the owner and the project. Typically, an independent third party is hired to perform commissioning by the building owner. The person performing the commissioning is referred to as the commissioning provider (or authority).


The organizations that do training, issue certifications, and provide continuing education for commissioning professionals include:


What Are the Different Types of Building Commissioning?

1. Commissioning (Cx) / New Construction Commissioning (NCCx)

    • Commissioning a building that is newly constructed or in the design and construction phases.


2. Re-Commissioning (ReCx)

    • Commissioning an existing building that has already been commissioned in the past. This is common for buildings that have aging systems and is used to ensure all components and systems are in working order, verify systems are running efficiently, or identify possible system failures before they occur. 


3. Retro-Commissioning (RCx)

    • Commissioning an existing building that has not been previously commissioned. This is common for buildings that have problems that occurred during design or construction that need to be resolved or for buildings that have problems that have developed as they aged or as their usage changed. The goals of retro-commissioning are usually related to reducing energy usage, maximize energy cost savings, and identifying and fixing existing problems.


4. Ongoing Commissioning OCx

    • Commissioning a building continuously over time. This is common for buildings that are to meet specific operational and sustainability goals. The goal of ongoing commissioning is to ensure the building and its systems are operating optimally in order to meet requirements.

What is the Process of New Construction Commissioning?

Phase 1 – Pre-Design

  • The CxP, along with the building owner, establish the parameters and expectations for the commissioning process.


Phase 2 – Design

  • The CxP outlines the scope of design requirements and design intent, describes the systems that are to be installed, outlines the documentation requirements for each party involved in the commissioning process, defines subsequent commissioning procedures, and documents the process. This includes design review to identify design issues and the development of a commissioning specification that describes the roles and responsibilities of the contractor in the commissioning process.


Phase 3 – Construction

  • At the beginning of the construction phase, the CxP completes the commissioning plan. The CxP gathers project schedules and develops a commissioning project schedule. The contractor submittals and operation and maintenance manuals are also gathered by the CxP. Detailed functional performance test plans for each system and piece of equipment involved in the commissioning process are written by the CxP. The CxP visits the construction site to observe construction, note details that might affect equipment and system performance or operation, and coordinates with the various contractors to perform the pre-functional performance tests. All start-up tests are overseen by the CxP. The CxP ensures the pre-functional performance tests and checklists are completed and all deficiencies are resolved.


Phase 4 – Acceptance

  • The CxP uses the functional performance test plans and observes and verifies the proper operation of equipment, systems, and controls, verifies corrective measures are taken, and ensures there are completed operation and maintenance manuals. After the functional performance test is complete, the CxP finishes the draft commissioning report, including all documentation, and submits it to the owner. At the end of the acceptance phase, training for the building operation staff typically occurs.


Phase 5 – Post-Acceptance 

  • Building operation and maintenance staff ensure the building’s systems function properly, adapt the systems to changing occupancy and use, maintain a building history, and document all changes. The CxP can be involved in establishing the documentation methods for this phase and can review performance and recommend improvements. The CxP may also be involved in conducting seasonal performance testing that couldn’t be performed when the building was completed. Results from the post-acceptance phase are added to the commissioning report.

What Activities Are Performed During the New Construction Commissioning Process?

The following activities are performed in the order listed during the new construction commissioning process:

  1.  Initiation
  2.  Owner’s Project Requirements
  3.  Commissioning Plan
  4.  Basis of Design
  5.  Specifications
  6.  Design Review
  7.  Submittal Review
  8.  System Verification
  9.  Functional Performance Testing (FPT)
  10.  Issues and Resolution Log
  11.  Systems Manual
  12.  Training
  13.  Seasonal or Deferred Testing
  14.  Commissioning Report



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Customizable site visit report templates with options to track as standalone activities, or to incorporate into the issues log.


Customizable design review templates with options to track as standalone activities, or to incorporate into the issues log.


Customizable meeting minute templates.

TAB templates for custom forms with formulas that you can create and edit. 

Functional and integrated systems tests / level 4 and 5 forms for commercial commissioning. 

Virtually unlimited formats to support your unique needs. 

Pre-functional / level 2 and 3 checklists for commercial commissioning, installation and startup tracking.

Bluerithm has LEED process checklists to ensure you’re on track with your LEED certification requirements, as well as checklist and test forms so you can meet Fundamental and Enhanced LEED certification requirements.

Bluerithm has extensive templates ready to use and customize for a variety of commercial commissioning needs. 

Bluerithm has comprehensive punch list and issue log features to support thorough recording, tracking, and control workflows. New items and responses can be easily added on mobile devices in the field, even when offline. 

Issues are customizable on a project by project basis with custom fields.