What you need to know about New Building Commissioning

Greg Inman
By

Greg Inman

The term “commissioning” is used broadly in the New Zealand construction industry. It’s often used to mean the start-up and self-testing of works by an installing contractor, or it’s used to describe the Test and Balance work done on the air and water systems by a mechanical subcontractor, lastly, it can refer to the oversight work of a third-party Independent Commissioning Agent, whose primary role is to review and support the work of the designers and contractors throughout a construction project.  

All these uses of the term “commissioning” can make it hard for a building owner to know how thoroughly their new building has really been commissioned.  
 
New Zealand relies heavily on the Commissioning Codes supplied by CIBSE (Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers), which provide detailed instructions on how to install and set to work the HVAC, lighting, and control systems.  These are valuable tools, but they often rely on contractors to “self-police” their own performance and quality, and the cursory witnessing done on many projects can’t guarantee the building systems are performing to the design. 

At Kaizon we advocate for having a third-party, independent contractor, reporting to the building owner, who commissions the project according to the ASHRAE  guidelines, starting during the Pre-Design phase and going all the way through post-occupancy.  

Having an Independent Commissioning Agent working on behalf of the owner means you have an industry expert working with the design team to provide peer review and insight during the design phase, installation oversight during the construction phase, and in-depth functional testing of the mechanical and integrated systems prior to handover. These activities are vital for a building owner to ensure that the final product they receive meets their expectations and all the systems operate efficiently.

I’ve seen a lot of projects here in New Zealand that have been “commissioned” that still had major issues, such as incomplete mechanical design documents, fans running backwards, dampers not working, etc.  These are all things that would have been caught by an experienced Independent Commissioning Agent.

Additionally, a study performed by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that new buildings that were properly commissioned from design through occupancy saved an average of 13% on their annual energy usage. 

Having provided third-party, independent commissioning and retro-commissioning services for a wide variety of buildings over the past 14 years, I appreciate the value in both the ASHREA guidelines as well as the CIBSE Codes. Both sets of documents are essential tools which can add value to any project, but like any tool, it needs to be used in the right way. The CIBSE Codes provide great guidelines for installing contractors, providing best practices for installing and setting to work, but when it comes to providing a quality assurance program from start to finish and validating the performance of the installed systems, the ASHRAE guidelines are more valuable to the building owner with an experienced third-party ICA acting on their behalf.  

If you’d like to learn more about our third-party Commissioning services and how we implement the ASHRAE guidelines, get in touch and we’ll organise a chat.