BCxA Annual Conference: 1993-2022

By Diana Bjornskov

Just over thirty years ago, the first commissioning conference (Sacramento, April 28-30, 1993) was hosted by California public utility SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility District) and sponsored by utilities around the U.S. and energy efficiency research institutions. After several years of planning, The Conference was born, establishing an annual precedent that will continue beyond these last three decades.

Back then, speakers submitted competitive double-spaced typewritten papers. Transparencies and overhead projectors served for conference presentations. Snail mail and hardwire phones were the only available communication technologies. “Giselle’s Travel Bureau” made reservations for conference attendees, who each received a binder containing copies of all the presented papers. And, the conference hotel ($66/night group rate) provided the first-ever industry venue for commissioning education and networking.

From then to now
As CxPs and stakeholders, we started with the right questions (see 1993 conference table of contents at end), and went on to assess and recognize the inadequacy of knowledge/skills/abilities and “why do commissioning” that stood in the way of better performing buildings.

In order to improve the building community’s commitment to better buildings, from commercial building owners to designers, constructors, operators and occupants, the conference took place in a different part of the country each year, recently moving beyond US borders with the 2021 conference in Toronto, ON, Canada.

Highlights: The Early Years
Starting with new construction, over the first years we worked to define the process and parameters of commissioning, later to be commonly known as “Cx.”

The Florida Design Initiative hosted 3 of the first 8 conferences, gaining recognition as a leader in the efforts to achieve energy efficiency and better indoor air quality starting from the design phase.

The first official Cx process training, designed as a week-long workshop for the University of Wisconsin, was announced at the Madison conference in 1995, and remains in their curriculum to this day.

As a result of engineering interest in working building systems and the growing national interest in energy efficiency, ASHRAE produced Guideline 1-1996: The HVAC Commissioning Process. Commissioning experienced a new burst of interest from market actors beyond the utility industry, driven by incentives (carrots) and improving building codes (sticks). Conference speakers had accumulated case studies and experience to demonstrate real cases for how to achieve savings and reduce costs to owners through commissioning.

 The Building Commissioning Association was formed in 1998 as direct result of early conferences where working groups helped to direct the future for the process and the professionals who deliver commissioning.  After a series of third party administrators the BCxA separated from their current administrator PECI to become a  a self-sufficient nonprofit membership organization with a new Executive Director, Liz Fischer, along with ownership of the annual conference which took on new significance as the BCxA’s educational platform and shining star. Now focused exclusively on commissioning and Cx providers, the Association was able to focus all of its work on augmenting and refining the professional development, advocacy and best practices that remain the BCxA pillars today.

Highlights: The Middle Years
Topics of deepening concern for building performance in the building market ― beyond HVAC, design phase Cx, existing building Cx, building safety and resiliency, continuous improvement of building systems, portfolio management ― allowed for speakers from across the building community to share perspectives on the value of commissioning.

Advancing technical and market interest in commissioning, mostly still focused primarily on new construction, came to a halt as 2008 rolled into recession and building plans were frozen. Existing building commissioning (EBCx) for facility and systems modifications, and commissioning activities related to ongoing performance, using what is now known as monitoring-based commissioning and data analytics, rose to prominence in the industry. Driven by operating costs and increasing energy efficiency regulations, EBCx took the lead in building performance management.

As the recession tapered, issues like building enclosure (BECx), whole building Cx, integrated design strategies, specialized systems optimization and others became prominent, expanding commissioning providers’ competencies. The conference featured more and more emphasis on whole-project teamwork, communication, roles and responsibilities, and how the “human side” of a commissioning project can make or break its success.

Conference “town hall meetings” and subject matter experts from within and outside the Cx profession began to offer experience and advice on the business of commissioning – procurement, contracts, liability, partnerships, cybersecurity, Cx software, commoditization.

Highlights: The Recent Years
Over time, as the BCxA recognized and worked to attract a new generation of commissioning professionals, a special track was added back to the conference curriculum: Commissioning Essentials, a two-day track for new entrants and others to learn or review fundamentals of the Cx process.

Then, along came COVID, but the show would go on! The first virtual BCxA Annual Commissioning Conference, in 2020, took place online. Despite all odds, the conference was a success for attendees and speakers alike. The focus, of course, was on the building industry’s response to the impact of the pandemic, the science behind the virus and indoor air quality, open and closed buildings, what’s next for buildings and occupants, and mission critical facilities commissioning.

During that time, BCxA’s then-president, Dan Forino, was stuck in place on an airport project for weeks (months?). Nonetheless he was able to meet conference members remotely, offering his typical humor “from an airport hotel room, AKA my new office for the time … I’d like to take this opportunity in between writing a field report from an Integrated Systems Test and doing my laundry in a Rubbermaid Tub in the hotel shower (#covidmacgyver) to reach out to all our members for an update.”

Now we are back to a “new normal” with a hybrid BCxA Annual Conference that serves the entire commissioning community and stakeholders in the built environment, in person or from afar. The conference has grown exponentially to represent the entire spectrum of design, commissioning, construction and operations professionals engaged in delivering high performance buildings.

For the sake of comparison, shown below is the table of contents for the first annual commissioning conference in 1993. Though the apple may not fall far from the tree, we have come a long way from the simple answers of 30 years ago to the enrichment of highly complex, comprehensive and technology-focused answers and thriving professional recognition.

As expressed by former BCxA president Mark Miller, “the BCxA is deeply invested in the future of the well-performing built environment, whether focused on energy efficiency, productivity, style, safety, investment, or any other metric of evaluating how people and buildings work together.”