By Gordon Shepperd, PE, LEED AP

Principal Consultant, Apollo BBC

The term commissioning comes from ship building and describes the act of placing a ship in active service. A number of milestones must be achieved before a ship is completed and designated a “commissioned” ship. The power plants, weapons, galleys and other equipment must be installed and tested. The prospective commanding officer and crew report for training and intensive familiarization with their new ship. And materials, systems and staff complete a thorough quality assurance process before a ship is commissioned.

In recent decades, the process of commissioning has been applied to buildings and, until recently, has been primarily associated with a building’s mechanical systems. Typically performed on larger, more complex buildings, commissioning of a building’s mechanical systems has been shown to improve systems performance, increase energy efficiency, reduce failures and save money.

Due in large part to the resounding success of commissioning in improving a building’s mechanical systems, and historically poor performance of building enclosures, the commissioning process has been applied to building enclosure systems and is an attractive option for improving enclosure performance and reducing the risk of costly failures.

Commissioning is Here to Stay
 Because of its benefits to building performance, commissioning of a building project’s mechanical and enclosure systems is mandatory as a part of the energy conservation code in a number of cities, with requirements being considered for many more. Also, mechanical systems commissioning is required for a building to be certified as a green building by the U.S. Green Building Council. 
The Process
 Building enclosure commissioning is a pro-active, systematic process that is intended to verify that the building design meets the owner’s requirements and that the systems and components are installed and perform according to the construction documents. The process involves documentation of the project requirements, basis of design, and the verification of proper installation and performance of commissioned systems. The process of commissioning facilitates communication between owners, designers and contractors. Enclosure commissioning should address all enclosure systems, including foundations and basement construction, vertical enclosure assemblies (walls, windows, doors, connections to existing buildings, sunscreens) and roofing systems.

In order to ensure that the owner receives the building that they are paying for, it is recommended that the commissioning authority be engaged early in the design development phase of the project. The Owner's Project Requirements (OPR) must be clearly articulated early in the design process. And the commissioning authority helps align the project's Basis of Design (BOD) with the Owner's Project Requirements, providing clarity during the design process. This results in fewer design changes therefore greatly improving the project's chances of meeting expectations. 

Listed below are a number of recommended tasks for maximizing the impact of Building Enclosure Commissioning on a project’s outcome.

 Ø        Owner's Project Requirements: Document the owner’s requirements for the building's enclosure, including parameters such as budget, expected service life, and warranty requirements.

Ø        Scope of Commissioning: Develop the scope of commissioning required for the project and determine testing methods for assemblies.

Ø        Schematic Design: Review the design concept for functionality and adherence to the Owner's Project Requirements. Document the appropriateness of the assemblies with respect to fundamental building science precepts, including drainage plane considerations, air barrier and climate appropriate vapor control.

Ø        Commissioning Plan: Create a plan that details the requirements for Enclosure Commissioning, including commissioning team member responsibilities. Organize the commissioning team and identify in schematic fashion the steps required to conduct commissioning activities.

Ø        Construction Document Review: Verify that the design considers the project OPR and BOD and reflects the decisions made during design development. Verify that the construction documents include requirements for the contractor to implement commissioning activities, including demonstration of performance.


Limited to the construction phase, the commissioning process provides value to the project and may improve the quality of systems installation, but is typically not able to affect the overall design strategy of the systems – this means that some issues that could have been identified during the design phase will be “built in” to the building. 

Installation: Verify correct material and component installation. Verify that the installation meets construction details and manufacturer’s installation instructions. Verify the proper systems installation and review assembly mock-ups.
Ø        Performance Testing: Direct and witness performance testing as specified in the construction documents. Identify any issues observed during the testing. Assist the designers in resolving any performance related issues. 

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Guideline 0 provides the basis for the commissioning process. This guideline describes the commissioning procedures, method, and documentation requirements for each phase of project delivery as well as the associated commissioning processes from pre-design through occupancy and operation—without regard to specific elements, assemblies or systems.

Expanding upon ASHRAE’s Guideline 0, the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) Guideline 3 provides specific guidance regarding the implementation of the commissioning process to building exterior enclosure systems and describes the specific tasks necessary to that implementation. It can be applied to both new construction and renovation projects.

Tips For Building Enclosure Commissioning Success
Experience shows the building enclosure commissioning process can be greatly enhanced by following these recommendations:

1. Engage a commissioning authority early. Early alignment of the project's Basis of Design with the Owner's Project Requirements provides clarity for the designers to more effectively begin the design process.

2. Engage a commissioning authority that has experience with building enclosures and understands fundamental building science concepts. These concepts include climate specific issues, heat and moisture transport, and potential interaction of the building enclosure with mechanical systems.

3. Lead a commissioning meeting with the designers during the design process.

4. Conduct a design review during the development of construction documents. This stage review typically identifies concept and detail problems that are "designed in” to the building's systems and components.

5. Include testing requirements of assemblies in the project manual. Also, include references to the commissioning specification in each relevant specification section.

6. Manage the commissioning process in a collaborative manner, seeking the input from the entire commissioning team.

7. Installation is key. Closely observe the installation of systems and components during construction.

Gordon Shepperd, P.E., LEED AP is a Principal Consultant with Apollo BBC, a Houston-based building consulting firm. Apollo BBC is a multidisciplinary consulting firm with extensive experience commissioning building enclosure and mechanical systems. With a staff that includes architects, mechanical engineers, and building scientists, Apollo BBC is uniquely positioned to provide expert guidance on complex building performance issues. Gordon can be reached at 713-869-0000 or at