Is Whole Building Commissioning a perplexing term? The Building Commissioning Association President, Bruce Pitts, opened this can of worms at the National Conference on Building Commissioning’s open forum session in an effort to define the phrase for general industry acceptance.

WBCx Photo

The session got underway with the one online source that specifically defines the term. The US Department of Veterans Affairs Whole Building Commissioning Process Manual (May 2013) glossary defines WBCx as, “Commissioning of all building systems such as Building Envelope, HVAC, Electrical, Special Electrical (Fire Alarm, Security & Communications), Plumbing and Fire Protection.”

General nodding of heads, and then…

Suddenly, the room full of participants erupted into multiple conversations about what WBCx is, what it does, and how its value can be defined. Groups at each table were asked to discuss and prepare a formal definition of commissioning.

In most cases, the biggest issues were owner involvement and value – many ways of describing the capital and operational return on the owner’s commissioning investment. Here are five examples: “WBCx is …”

  1. Required for any system or component for which measurable performance criteria is specified.
  2. Performance-based commissioning that meets the owner’s project requirements.
  3. An owner-focused/driven quality process for whole building project inclusive of all building systems and subsystems as defined between the owner and the commissioning provider (scope of work and OPR).
  4. A process that makes all systems work together.
  5. A process that includes systems, as defined by the owner, which may go beyond the energy consuming systems.

In addition to those above, definitions included factors such as codes, regulations, lifecycle costs and systems integration. Some concluded that WBCx should include the site, and not just the facility.

When asked,”is WBCx greater than MEP commissioning,” the answer was, universally, yes.

Well, not so fast – how much greater? Should WBCx include the building enclosure? Water? Indoor environmental quality, life safety, interiors, monitoring for performance? Participants all agreed on life safety and enclosure, but other potential WBCx components remained under debate.

The biggest question – “Where is the value to owners in commissioning specific systems?” – became central to the way participants wanted WBCx to be defined. In spite of some lofty goals, most conceded that WBCx will be different for every owner and every type of building, based on how much owners are willing to invest for the value they receive, and associated cost/benefit trade-offs. Ultimately, the realistic definition of WBCx came down to the owner’s perceived value for a project-based set of commissioning services.


Participants pointed out that owner interaction, while necessary, doesn’t always happen. Owners often do not understand, and therefore don’t necessarily care, how commissioning can be set up and coordinated to achieve their particular project outcome and lasting value, while minimizing risk. This is not a case of “customizing,” which makes the process sound costly. It is a matter of educating owners and teams about how to identify and request the services that help assure the value they expect is realized.

Recommendations for clearing the value hurdle came from NCBC WBCx Photo 2participants. Action items included developing informative guidance and marketing materials for commissioning providers to use in educating and interacting with owners, and sharing ideas to create early engagement between CxPs and owners to reach agreement on WBCx for their project.

Participants at NCBC came up with numerous ideas and aspects of commissioning that could (or should, or not) be included when describing WBCx. The discussion was rewarding and moved us farther along the road. It resulted, at minimum, in a more concrete description:

Whole Building Commissioning is a process that covers any number or types of systems, defined project by project through the commissioning provider’s early and continuous communication with the owner as it relates to cost, systems issues, and value implications.

Readers: Join this conversation! Please feel free to weigh in by submitting your comments about whole building commissioning to this post in the comments below.