By Nicole Imeson, P.L.(Eng.)

At the end of any new construction or existing building commissioning project, the commissioning provider hands off the building to the facility staff, along with the tools, documentation, and training to operate and maintain the building systems. In new construction commissioning (NCCx), this means the building is functioning as designed, and in existing building commissioning (EBCx), this means the facility improvement and energy conservation measures meet the performance metrics for the project. But buildings are not static. They continue to change as they are used, and the system performance will erode over time if steps are not taken to continually monitor and adjust operations. 

Ongoing Commissioning (OCx) is the process of investigating, monitoring, and implementing measures on a continuous basis to maintain the performance standards of the Current Facility Requirements (CFR). The CFR describes the requirements of a facility and the expectations for how the building should be used and operated. It is typically written and updated by the commissioning provider during the existing building commissioning project and transitions into ongoing commissioning. For new construction commissioning projects, the CFR is an updated extension of the owner’s project requirements (OPR).

Ongoing commissioning often follows a new construction or existing building commissioning project to verify the facility continues to perform as intended throughout its life. The distinction of OCx from other forms of commissioning is its application as the continuing and sustaining process of investigating, monitoring and implementing facility performance measures over time. Some of these performance improvement activities are continuous while others are scheduled as needed, such as periodic calibration checks where OCx relies heavily on data from various components throughout the building. 


Figure 1 – Ongoing Commissioning Process 
Source: BCxA Ongoing Building Commissioning Best Practices 
How does the building operations team fit into ongoing commissioning? 
Operators are extremely skilled at keeping buildings running and addressing performance issues as they arise. With the advent of building automation systems (BAS) and data analytics software, there are more data points than ever before. This is great news for the future of buildings because we can diagnose problems early and initiate repairs before occupants are aware of the issue. But it can also create an overload of data, leading to operators searching through tens, hundreds, maybe even thousands of data points and faults to determine which need to be addressed and how to prioritize those repairs based on comfort, equipment life, or energy savings.  

Commissioning providers work in collaboration with owners, operators, user groups, BAS contractors, mechanical contractors, and other key stakeholders throughout ongoing commissioning to identify, scope, correct, and verify building performance in a predictive and proactive manner. Commissioning providers are technically trained in building systems and often have an engineering, technology, or contracting background. They also look at several building and system types throughout the course of their career and have seen how other buildings function, how to troubleshoot various issues, and how problems are addressed. Through the development of the CFR, the commissioning provider also understands how the owner operates the building, which areas are critical, and which are a priority over others. As well, the commissioning provider understands the sustainability, performance, and savings metrics for the facility.  

John Villani, Vice President at Grumman/Butkus Associates in Chicago, Illinois, shared an example of an issue solved during an ongoing commissioning project. While on a site walkthrough at a hospital with a relatively new patient bed addition, he looked at the building automation system and noticed the chilled water valves for one of the air handlers were 60% open while the rest of the building’s chilled water valves were 15-30% open. The air handling unit discharge air temperature matched the setpoint, and there were no alarms on the unit. But the valve setting, being open much more than other similar chilled water valves, caused John to start asking questions and look at this unit further. After a quick investigation, he found the preheat coil valves had failed open, and the chilled water system had to work harder to offset this extra heat and maintain the required air temperature. Once he discovered this issue, the operations team repaired the preheat coil valves, and the chilled water valve setting was back in line with similar valves.  

Things break, components and equipment fail, and settings change. The intent of ongoing commissioning is to find those changes before anyone else notices there’s an issue. And therein lies the challenge with ongoing commissioning. How do you prove value in a service when the goal of the service is to solve a problem before anyone knows it exists? Commissioning providers have a few creative ways of overcoming this challenge. 

Integrating Ongoing Commissioning into Your Project 
One way is to build in two or three years of ongoing commissioning at the end of your new construction or existing building commissioning project. This offers the opportunity to show value in the ongoing commissioning process before the owner takes this on as a separate service. Another way is to include the full scope of ongoing commissioning—the planning, implementation, and sustaining phases—as a long-term project. Once the OCx project transitions into the sustaining phase, where implementation moves to a business‐as‐usual means of managing building performance, the facility improvements are maintained over time, and the processes are scaled down within the commissioning team and operations staff. Developing templates and tools to easily calculate high-level savings for corrected issues will also help quickly demonstrate the value of ongoing commissioning. 

Some owners may have experienced issues on past projects, causing a lot of headaches or money to correct. In this case, owners see the benefit of ongoing commissioning upfront because the peace of mind of having someone who is well-versed in these systems keeping an eye on their building is worth its weight in gold.  

There is a place in existing buildings for ongoing commissioning, and its popularity is continuing to grow as owners and operators become more educated on what options exist and how a tiny little issue can cost big dollars in energy or operating costs. While some up-front investment is required to set up an ongoing commissioning project, keeping the building within the desired performance metrics and correcting issues before they become big problems will improve reliability and comfort, often with a lower cost of ownership.   

For more on ongoing commissioning, check out our BCxA Best Practices