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.


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


  • 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.



For public building such as schools, commissioning to verify performance can produce tangible benefits including substantial savings through utility incentives. Courtesy: DLR GroupCSE: 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.


Product of the Year
Consulting-Specifying Engineer's Product of the Year (POY) contest is the premier award for new products in the HVAC, fire, electrical, and...
40 Under Forty: Get Recognized
Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine is dedicated to encouraging and recognizing the most talented young individuals...
MEP Giants Program
The MEP Giants program lists the top mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering firms in the United States.
November 2018
Emergency power requirements, salary survey results, lighting controls, fire pumps, healthcare facilities, and more
October 2018
Approaches to building engineering, 2018 Commissioning Giants, integrated project delivery, improving construction efficiency, an IPD primer, collaborative projects, NFPA 13 sprinkler systems.
September 2018
Power boiler control, Product of the Year, power generation,and integration and interoperability
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Data Center Design
Data centers, data closets, edge and cloud computing, co-location facilities, and similar topics are among the fastest-changing in the industry.
click me