2015 Commissioning Giants

Commissioning professionals (CxPs) can be defined as technical analysts, bloodhounds, and diagnosticians working to connect ideas and project teams to future buildings and systems. The Building Commissioning Association (BCA) surveyed commissioning professionals who are “giants” in their field due to their advocacy in educational and industry support on behalf their profession.


Learning Objectives:

  • Introduce the top commissioning professionals, including the 2015 Commissioning Giants.
  • Explain who hires these firms and why, how much their services cost, and what's changing in the markets they serve.

Often facilitating behind the scenes, the commissioning professionals' (CxPs) role is to make sure that owners, designers, builders, and tenants get what they planned for by the time a building is turned over for occupancy.

In 30-some years, building commissioning has become a recognized practice in the building community. Now that the overall economy is recovering, commercial and institutional construction starts are wavering slightly but generally trending upward.

Figure 1: Based on responses to a research study, the following areas were deemed the biggest drivers for commissioning professionals: mandates (codes, standards, benchmarking regulations), savings (energy efficiency, lower lifecycle cost), sustainabilityBeyond market expansion, drivers for commissioning are striking owners and the building industry from various directions: increasing demand for energy and financial savings; mandates such as codes, standards, and benchmarking regulation; sustainability; facility marketability for sales and leases; and, due to recent natural disasters, resiliency. In this survey, commissioning firms ranked their opinions of the most important drivers for owners (see Figure 1).

What does this mean? Savings—energy and financial—started out as the only drivers for commissioning back in the day. The increasingly complex issues within the built environment have caused federal, state, and local governments to require commissioning as a way to support both energy savings and "sustainability." New codes and standards, and recent requirements for energy benchmarking, are driving a regulatory atmosphere in the building industry. This now requires a process that delivers owner's project requirements, project team integration, jurisdictional compliance, and technical capabilities. In today's building scenario, these can only be provided by a professional who has the skills and knowledge to test functionality, communicate issues, and advocate for building performance across the full scope of a project.

Another driver—existing-building commissioning (EBCx)—started catching up with new-construction commissioning (NCCx) during the recession. Without the resources to build new facilities, owners turned to renovation and equipment renewal inside their existing building shell. EBCx now represents about half of the commissioning projects across the U.S. However, EBCx requires a different set of tools and knowledge to integrate old systems with new. Most commissioning firms focus on one or the other.

Whole-building commissioning (WBCx)—the process of ensuring comprehensive, integrated performance of all building systems and components before turnover—is recommended by organizations such as the National Institute of Building Sciences. WBCx is slowly maturing, but as opposed to discrete systems commissioning, is not at all universally practiced.

Commissioning authorities or agents (CxAs) themselves are experiencing challenges to their portfolio of services as a result of innovative technologies and changing regulations. Questions about the future abound: Is it cost-effective to retain specialty staff in-house? Do we need to be certified and, if so, by whom? What codes are affecting the services of commissioning providers? Is our profession becoming commoditized? If so, how do our qualifications stand up to a low-bid selection process?

Finally, the big challenge for the commissioning profession is to attract and mentor candidates who will build a new generation of CxPs. This profession doesn't require licensure, yet it requires skills and abilities that are not readily available from new graduates. As one survey respondent put it, "It's like trying to find a unicorn."

Survey findings: sectors, systems, and services

Figure 2: Respondents typically work in several types of nonresidential buildings, though office buildings represent the No. 1 type of building commissioned. Courtesy: Building Commissioning AssociationSectors—Most companies surveyed are involved in more than one market sector (see Figure 2). The private sector predominates at 51%, followed by public (government) buildings at 29%. The remaining 20% represents higher education (18%) and industrial markets. All CxPs except those committed to a single building type, such as data centers, commission office buildings. On the other hand, retail (grocery stores, shopping malls, and restaurants) represents less than half of respondents' commissioning business; specialized HVAC and refrigeration requirements and the duplicative chain retail environment may cause owners to hire specialized, long-term providers/advisors for their portfolio of facilities.

Systems and services—The study shows that 57% of responding firms provide commissioning services on "discrete systems," while 43% say they are practicing "whole-building commissioning." On an individual basis, most companies split their services approximately 80/20 in one direction or the other, with a few reporting they perform only WBCx or only discrete systems-only work. WBCx is not well-defined as yet. Although the term implies that commissioning teams will comprehensively work with design and construction teams, understand the integration and perform testing for all building systems prior- and post-occupancy, this may not be the rule even for those who report that they conduct WBCx.

Twenty-five percent of respondents conduct all commissioning services in-house. Generally, they are large, multidisciplinary firms with more than one office location nationwide. Most frequently, building enclosure (BECx) is outsourced due to the architectural and engineering decisions related to the building shell and integration with design and protective features from belowgrade to the top of the building. BECx represents 65% of services hired out in commissioning, followed by fire and life safety, plumbing and water, and elevator systems.

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