Are you Cx certifiable? Who isn’t?

By Michael Ivanovich, Editor-in-Chief March 1, 2009

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ASHRAE will be unveiling its certification program for commissioning (Cx) in June. In doing so, it will become the sixth organization offering a Cx certification credential. Certifications are currently offered by Associated Air Balance Council (AABC), Assoc. of Energy Engineers (AEE), Building Commissioning Assoc . (BCA), National Environmental Balancing Bureau (NEBB), and University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWM).

Adding to the pile, some of these organizations have more than one certification credential. UWM, for example, has three (Cx authority, process manager, and technical support) and NEBB has two (commissioning and retrocommissioning).

Having been the executive director of the BCA during a sabbatical from publishing, I understand the rationale for having a program for certifying Cx providers. An organization raises its prestige by establishing qualifications for professionals and accrediting practitioners. Revenues are created for testing and training, plus a modest increase in sales of materials that would help candidates prepare for the training and exam. And let’s not forget fees for periodic recertification. These revenues aren’t huge, but they if they merely pay for the program costs, then they’re worth it for the prestige factor and turf protection.

And the intent of certification is honorable—to establish baseline criteria for quality services and thus, in an emerging industry, keep the wannabes and shysters out.

But with six certifying organizations offering credentials with a wide disparity in eligibility requirements and scope of Cx involvement, the movement toward certification has let the wannabes and shysters in. Few owners will do the homework needed to decipher the differences between the higher quality certifications and the lower quality certifications.

Thus, certification has fractured the public understanding of what commissioning is, who does it, and what constitutes quality Cx services. Consider the disparity in qualifications among the certification programs: Required experience ranges from none to three years of leading Cx projects. Some require references; most do not. The only thing all programs have in common is the passing of an exam, and exams are a poor way to assess a person’s ability to perform on projects in the field.

Additionally, certifications can commoditize Cx. Take a veteran, highly successful Cx provider who refuses to become certified but can commission everything from a biosafety lab to an office building. Such a veteran would cost more than a much less experienced, but certified, practitioner. An owner looking for a Cx provider might think the certification “guarantees” a qualified provider and take the less expensive route. Where Cx certification is required, commoditization will surely happen.

If certification truly is needed and helpful to the industry, AABC, AEE, ASHRAE, BCA, NEBB, and UWM need to hash out a single certification program.

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