Building commissioning challenges, solutions: Codes and standards

Commissioning, recommissioning, or retro-commissioning, can be a challenge—and the more complex a facility is, the more boxes an engineer has to check to get the job done right. Building codes and standards, particularly NFPA 3 and IECC, must be carefully followed.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer August 31, 2014


  • Ray Dodd, PE, CxA, LEED AP
, President, Total Building Commissioning Inc., Phoenix
  • Kyle G. Hendricks, LEED AP, Energy and sustainability consultant, Environmental Systems Design Inc., Chicago
  • Donald H. Horkey, PE, LEED AP, Principal, mechanical engineer, DLR Group, Minneapolis
  • David J. LeBlanc, PE, FSFPE, Senior vice president, Rolf Jensen & Associates, Inc., Framingham, Mass.

CSE: How have changing HVAC, fire protection, life safety, and/or electrical codes and standards affected your work in commissioning?

Hendricks: Variations of commissioning are now code requirements for many jurisdictions. While this is a step in the right direction, the requirements often fall short of prevailing industry commissioning standards. Clients should be aware that code required commissioning is likely to provide more of an enhanced punch list than a true commissioning process.

Dodd: One big change is the new International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). It requires commissioning for HVAC systems in all commercial projects with 40 tons of cooling or 680 MBtu of heating. Before this code, commissioning in commercial buildings was driven by the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (where it’s a prerequisite) or projects where the possibility of nonperformance was an unacceptable risk.

CSE: Which codes or standards prove to be most challenging in commissioning work?

LeBlanc: For fire protection and life safety systems, the codes used would be the NFPA code specific to the individual fire protection or life safety system, like NFPA 72: National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code for fire alarm systems, and NFPA 3: Recommended Practice for Commissioning of Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems, if selected by the owner. A challenging aspect for these projects is making sure everyone is using the same terminology. The new NFPA 3 has specific definitions dealing with commissioning, and over time the same term has developed different meanings to different people in the industry. So the first challenge is getting everyone on the same page for terminology.