Commissioning

The value of building commissioning: current market status

The Building Commissioning Association partnered with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to confirm the value of commissioning for providers, facility owners and building industry stakeholders
October 14, 2019
Figure 3: Completeness/consistency of design documents was deemed the most valuable commissioning contribution to owner. This is based on an aggregation of open-ended responses to question 32 in the market survey. Courtesy: Building Commissioning Association

Learning objectives

  • Explain current market drivers for procuring commissioning services. 
  • Describe energy savings and payback for commissioning projects. 
  • Understand the effectiveness/persistence of commissioning as a best practice. 

The Building Commissioning Association and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory collaborated to produce an update to the study “Building Commissioning: A Golden Opportunity for Reducing Energy Costs and Greenhouse-Gas Emissions,” last revised by Dr. Evan Mills in 2009.  

The purpose of the current study is to update the metrics and market characteristics that establish the value of the commissioning profession in the building industry. This two-pronged study is composed of separate surveys: a data-based survey produced by LBNL and a market-based survey conducted by BCxA. This narrative summarizes the results from this market survey and references key results from the data survey. 

The results of the LBNL and BCxA surveys are intended to provide a scorecard on the value of Cx based on feedback from providers and the building industry now, 10 years later. Defining “value” does require establishing economic metrics to those who procure Cx services and to those who provide them. However, value also requires definition of the benefits and importance of the Cx process, which helps market stakeholders understand and advocate for Cx services. 

Project purpose/objective 

The purpose of this report, the market survey, is to provide feedback on market influences, drivers for procuring Cx services, incorporation of established Cx practices as well as the effectiveness/ persistence of Cx as a best practice.  

This market survey is intended to complement the results of LBNL’s building data survey. The data survey provides objective results for Cx project economics and factors that drive owners to procure Cx services. The purpose of this market survey is to provide insight to define the factors that drive the value of the Cx process. 

Two rounds of surveys were sent to BCxA members and relevant stakeholders in 2017 and 2018. A total of 120 subject matter experts responded to this market survey. This background of the respondents, including the type of firm, geographic location and relative size of the firm are described under demographics, below. 

Figure 1: This shows respondents’ rating of importance of factors influencing new construction commissioning market. Courtesy: Building Commissioning Association

Key findings 

The value of Cx is defined through the feedback provided by the data and market surveys. Some of the highlights that are discussed in the study include: 

  • Cx certificationMore than 70% of respondents indicated that Cx certification was important to business success. 

New construction Cx: 

  • NCCx benefits include a strong ability to drive the level of completeness in building construction, which results in meeting aggressive schedules, addressing construction issues earlier, better design and construction team coordination and reducing warranty callbacks.  
  • The data survey results did not provide strong feedback to quantify measurable energy savings due to NCCx. The value of NCCx process can be defined through nonenergy savings benefits, such as improved thermal comfort and indoor air quality, better training for staff and longer equipment service life.  

Existing building Cx: 

  • EBCx demonstrates its value through energy savings and simple payback. The data survey resulted in median energy savings results of 6% 
  • Utility-backed EBCx projects produced energy savings in the range of three to 10 years, with a simple payback of one to five years and a median of 2.2 years. 
  • EBCx projects are capable of producing additional energy savings (between 10% and 25% was demonstrated) with additional scope.  
  • This market survey’s results confirm that EBCx projects with a simple payback of two years or less are most likely to be implemented by owners.  
  • The top issues discovered during EBCx are related to controls sequence modifications. The top five sequence-related issues accounted for 95% of the reported measures in the data survey 
  • The top nonenergy benefits associated with EBCx include improving system performance, improved thermal comfort and indoor air quality. 

Ongoing Cx: 

  • The OCx process resulted in energy savings across a range of 5% to 20%, with a weighted average of 8%. 
  • Simple payback of OCx projects were similar to those reported for EBCx projects, in the one– to five-year range, with a median of 1½ years.  
  • A definition of OCx was not included in the survey, which may have led to confusion over manual versus monitoring-based Cx or continuous versus periodic post-occupancy Cx (which is typically embedded in operations and maintenance). 
  • One purpose of OCx projects is to maintain persistence of building performance by embedding monitoring and fault detection and diagnostics technology into building automation systems. The market is working to drive persistence; however, market survey results indicate that only 10% of OCx projects were renewed past the first term of installation, i.e., past the one-year warranty date.  

Figure 2: When asked how often systems other than heating, ventilation and air conditioning were included in new construction commissioning scope of work, lighting controls came out as the clear winner. Courtesy: Building Commissioning Association

Drivers and trends 

This market survey investigated factors that drove the procurement of Cx services. Some of the major themes included: 

NCCx: 

  • NCCx market influence: The data suggest that owner awareness and building codes are increasingly influencing the NCCx market, while rating programs may be losing some relevance.  
  • NCCx services are being selected using at least some qualifications-based selection procedures for approximately 43% of respondents.  

EBCx: 

  • EBCx. Energy savings is still the No. 1 driver for implementing EBCx services. Other strong drivers include system performance, thermal comfort and indoor air quality. 
  • Secondary EBCx drivers include U.S. Green Building Council LEED rating system requirements, utility incentives, extended equipment life and improved occupant productivity. 

OCx: 

  • OCx services are slowly expanding in the marketplace. The majority of respondents indicated that they have offered OCx services for less than five years. Nearly 75% of the firms reported performing the OCx process on fewer than two buildings in the previous year.  
  • OCx is intended as a long-term resilience tool for building performance and energy savings. It is interesting that more than 50% of the projects are not renewed past the initial 12-month term.  
  • OCx processes have not yet become part of the core O&M process in operating facilities. OCx is intended to provide O&M staff with information to help make running their facility easier. There is an opportunity for OCx providers and OCx vendors to educate owners on this value proposition.  

 Scope and constraints 

Questions in this market survey regarding the scope of work for new construction Cx indicated that:  

NCCx: 

  • NCCx design phase Cx services are included in more than 60% of requests for proposal 
  • NCCx design review comments are incorporated into construction documents nearly half of the time. 
  • NCCx design phase issues constitute approximately 25% of all NCCx issues.  

EBCx: 

  • The survey confirms that upfront repairs are common in the EBCx process. Repairs occur at least “sometimes” in 87% of the projects. 
  • Measurement of air and water flow rates through test and balance procedures is a common component of the EBCx scope of work. TAB is applied at least “sometimes” in more than 75% of EBCx projects. 
  • When TAB is applied to an EBCx scope, it is evenly split between performing TAB at the air handling unit level or at the terminal unit level.  
  • Despite energy savings being a strong driver for EBCx services, utility submetering was not a significant requirement for projects, according to respondents.  

OCx: 

  • A survey question asked if OCx is being utilized as a tool during NCCx or as a standalone tool for existing buildings. The results are mixed, but they imply that OCx is being used more often as a process for existing buildings. 
  • The use of fault detection and diagnostics is limited in current OCx services. More than 60% of the responses included the FDD scope “rarely” or “never.”  
  • The most common recurrence for reviewing OCx process results is quarterly, with survey results showing review at least quarterly to be nearly 75%. Frequent review of results is considered a best practice for conducting the OCx process. 

Figure 3: Completeness/consistency of design documents was deemed the most valuable commissioning contribution to owner. This is based on an aggregation of open-ended responses to question 32 in the market survey. Courtesy: Building Commissioning Association

Opportunities 

The concern about the commoditization of Cx will continue to be debated, especially as the Cx industry matures and the demands of the construction industry evolve.  

One of the purposes of this study was to maintain consistency with the data collected from the 2004 and 2009 LBNL studies and to reset the baseline for future studies. This was important in order to maintain consistency in the data to show trends over the past 15 years.  

The results of this market study have helped to determine which questions should be carried forward into future surveys.  

  • Continue to gather data on the economics of all forms of CxCx costs are heavily influenced by the number, size and type of buildings surveyed. More data will improve the results, especially for building types outside of the most common ones (office and schools). 
  • The study starts to establish a baseline of the effect of qualifications-based selection process and that information should continue to be trended over time. 
  • Market influences due to factors beyond owner awareness. 
  • The cost/benefits of EBCx projects managed through utility programs versus those are not influenced by utility incentives. 
  • The evolution of the OCx process, including market drivers and scope evolution. 

One of the goals of the market survey was to provide feedback to Cx providers on process and scope that can be delivered more efficiently. Issues related to early involvement of Cx services, improved communication with Cx stakeholders and persistent influence after construction completion are discussed within this study and should be included in best practices development. 

Read the full BCxA market survey report at 
www.bcxa.org/knowledge-center/value-of-cx-project/