Commissioning conference pegs vitality meter

Talk about buzz. The 16th National Conference on Building Commissioning (NCBC), produced by Portland Energy Conservation Inc. (PECI), had the noisy vibe of high-octane networking in hallways, at watering holes, and in expo booths that signaled a successful conference.


Talk about buzz. The 16th National Conference on Building Commissioning (NCBC), produced by Portland Energy Conservation Inc. (PECI) , had the noisy vibe of high-octane networking in hallways, at watering holes, and in expo booths that signaled a successful conference. More than 400 commissioning (Cx) providers, engineers, owners, and utility program administers converged from around the nation and world to swap war stories, provide updates on programs, and solicit input on emerging processes and procedures. Capping off NCBC was a heavily attended town hall meeting on the future of the Cx market.

Big news: Cx is such a strong industry throughout the United States that there is a persistent shortage of professionals to meet the work load. One driver is the pluckiness of the nonresidential construction and retrofit markets, despite the downturn in residential construction. Cx partially is buoyed by the green-buildings movement, with USGBC LEED NC and other LEED rating systems requiring plans for Cx and providing credits for implementing them to various levels. (Note: The new version of LEED EB has no prerequisites, but up to three points, for retrocommissioning). However, Cx clearly has spread beyond LEED, especially in critical facilities such as hospitals and laboratories, and in school buildings.

It was good to get a first-hand look at the Building Commissioning Assn.’s (BCA) “ Best Practices in Commissioning Existing Buildings ,” which covers retrocommissioning, recommissioning, and ongoing Cx. The document recently completed public review and should be released in a few months. Driven by energy costs and utility rebates, the retrocommissioning market is growing fast, so a best-practices document locking in lessons learned is well timed.

With new technologies always attracting an audience, software providing fault-detection and diagnostics (FDD) services to owners got a lot of attention at the conference. FDD software processes data from meters, the BAS, and other sources and advises operating staff when systems degrade due to drift or failure, or when operators, occupants, or service technicians mess something up. Look for FDD to be as hot as BIM in the near future.

At the town meeting, the goal was to provide vision and mission statements that will help guide the Cx market for years to come. Among the opinions expressed were that Cx needs to transcend quality control to become a “quality process,” because, as Charles Dorgan, PE, Ph.D., professor emeritus, University of Wisc. at Madison, said, “As a quality control or assurance procedure, Cx is too late to have its maximum impact.” A lot of heads nodded yes to this.

Another point made was that the Cx industry needs to clarify its message to owners about what Cx is and is not, and what owners should expect for what they spend (or don’t) for Cx services. Ideally, Cx begins at pre-design stage and extends through the four seasons of occupancy. Owners can opt for less, but should expect less, otherwise true Cx is compromised and commoditized. Thank you, PECI, for a event that is vital to the buildings industry.

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