Building commissioning has experienced a rise and fall in terms of reputation, understanding, and value. In the 80s and 90s, the introduction of computerized, direct digital controls (DDC), brought new complexities to the built environment and energized the buzz around building commissioning. The unprecedented technology advancements of the last three decades have only made the built environment more sophisticated, but at the same time the perceived relevance of commissioning has suffered.

Early on, building commissioning was deemed so important that sustainability efforts and later building codes, like LEED and IECC, adopted it as a common practice. While this helped to ensure adherence to the guidelines developed by these organizations, it diluted the building commissioning process. A process that once focused on the operation, maintenance, and long-term success of a building, became a check box commodity. We think it’s time for commissioning to make a comeback.

We say it with confidence, building commissioning is one of the best risk management strategies you can have in construction. If you are still on the fence about commissioning, here is what you really need to know.

Why do I need commissioning on my project?

Building systems are more complex than ever. The jump from pneumatic controls to DDC was only the beginning. As technology improved, every system soon developed its own set of capabilities and controls. What many people don’t realize is that these systems have to be taught to work together. Issues surrounding programming and systems integration are often the most frustrating part of the construction process. Imagine spending millions of dollars on a brand-new building, but then when you move in nothing works. A commissioning agent’s main focus is to ensure all the building systems communicate properly and work seamlessly together.

How do I choose a good commissioning agent?

Make sure your commissioning agent understands that they are the owner’s representative. Most owners’ primary business and expertise is not construction or facility management, but they still need a building that meets their specific needs. A commissioning agent is an expert that represents the owner’s business, goals, and needs. They are onsite, interpreting plans, verifying and testing equipment, ensuring that what the owner needs is in the plans and built as such. As the owner’s representative, a commissioning agent creates a smooth transition from design to construction and from construction to occupancy.

What makes building commissioning successful on a project?

A collaborative commissioning agent that is empowered by the owner they represent. Commissioning professionals are in a unique position to help bring everyone’s construction efforts to a mutually beneficial conclusion. It isn’t about finger-pointing or being the smartest person in the room. The purpose of every project is to create a functional space for experiences. With that in mind, the commissioning agent must come to the table ready to help everyone collaborate to achieve the owner’s goals. Owner’s that encourage this collaborative effort will have a more successful project. By empowering your commissioning agent, you’ll help them drive issues to resolution and most importantly, construction to completion.

We believe commissioning is valuable at any stage of building life and that in today’s world it’s more important than ever. That’s why, in the coming weeks, we’re going to take a closer look at these questions, begin to redefine commissioning, and give it the comeback it deserves. If you have questions about commissioning or engaging a commissioning agent, click here — we’re happy help.



About the Authors

Jim Thornton


Lead Commissioning Agent
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An experienced senior technical leader and lead commissioning agent for Henderson Building Solutions, Jim Thornton provides project and staff development, project management, business development, and process quality improvement daily. His knowledge of commercial and industrial facilities operations and commissioning draws from nearly four decades in the industry. What keeps Jim in this line of work are the opportunities to teach and mentor younger engineers, interact with clients, troubleshoot technical issues, and improve upon the delivery of our commissioning processes. According to Jim, commissioning is a quality assurance process that can greatly improve a project’s outcome when properly applied. While the commissioning process itself is simple, the nuances involved in applying it properly define the difference between a successful outcome and a failed paperwork exercise. When asked about the most challenging part of his work, Jim quickly responded with, ”Guarding against explaining how a clock works when someone has only asked for the time.“ We hear you, Jim.