Part of project success involves getting the word out, early and often.

In July and August, I began a series of columns addressing the Building Commissioning Association’s (BCxA) eleven Essential Attributes of Building Commissioning. I believe the Essential Attributes need to be more widely understood and appreciated, not only by people providing commissioning services but by those procuring them.


The Commissioning Authority (CA) recommends the commissioning roles and scope of all members of the design and construction teams be clearly defined in:
  • Each design consultant’s contract,

  • The construction manager’s contract,

  • General Conditions of the Specification,

  • Each division of the specifications covering work to be commissioned, and

  • The specifications for each system and component for which the suppliers’ support is required.
The first two bullets point to the importance of the owner thinking about and deciding on commissioning early in a project’s development. They allude to the ideal situation of engaging the CA prior to signing contracts with the design architects and engineers or with the construction manager. Defining roles and responsibilities for these key project team members and incorporating them into their respective contracts is only fair and will help ensure their all-important participation and cooperation in the commissioning process.

It is certainly possible (and actually more typical, to date) to introduce commissioning and the CA to a project team after the designers and construction manager are on board, but it is potentially messier from a contractual basis. If the architects, engineers, and construction managers believe that their participation in the commissioning process is over and above their original contract obligations, negotiations regarding contract change orders may ensue. This can be awkward and potentially contentious if the owner believes these professionals are asking for extra compensation “to make things work,” leaving the owner wondering what he was paying for in the first place. This is especially problematic for inexperienced owners not familiar with the traditional designer/construction manager scopes of service.

The last three bullets are similarly focused on making the general contractor and subcontractors aware of their commissioning process obligations prior to bidding the project. Because building systems commissioning is more than a single specification division’s responsibility (more than just HVAC, more than just plumbing, more than just electrical, etc.), it is critical that the commissioning requirements permeate the entire project manual.

This starts with the General Conditions and Division 1 of the specification. I recommend that this be where the commissioning process requirements are specified in detail for all contractors involved in the project. I then recommend that the technical specifications associated with the systems being commissioned be seeded with references back to the Division 1 commissioning specification. This helps make all bidders, including sub-subcontractors and equipment vendors, aware of their obligations within the commissioning process. It is to no one’s benefit to try to bury the commissioning requirements in a part of the specification not everyone is going to read.

If commissioning is introduced after the general contractor and subcontractors have been awarded the project, the owner faces a similar challenge of negotiating the value of services the bidders consider “additional” and that some owners think the contractors should be providing anyway. Luckily, this scenario is far less common than it was ten years ago, but it does still happen.

Following Attribute #5 will lead to the most effective, efficient, and positive commissioning process for all project team members.


Each project is commissioned in accordance with a written commissioning plan that is updated as the project progresses. The commissioning plan:
  • Identifies the systems to be commissioned,

  • Defines the scope of the commissioning process,

  • Defines the commissioning roles and lines of communications for each member of the project team, and

  • Estimates the commissioning schedule.
Chronologically, I recommend that the commissioning plan be prepared prior to incorporating commissioning requirements into the contract documents as outlined in Attribute #5. The contract and specification language should simply be applicable subsets of the project team roles and responsibilities defined in the commissioning plan. The contracts and specifications may be more detailed and framed in legalistic language, but the general requirements should be the same as the commissioning plan.

The “scope of the commissioning process” refers to exactly which activities are to be included under the commissioning umbrella for a particular project. The options could include, but not be limited to, design reviews (and how many); construction phase submittal reviews; equipment start-up oversight; prefunctional checklists; functional performance testing; O&M training facilitation; O&M documentation review; test, adjust, and balance (TAB) review; etc. Other than that, I believe the other Attribute #6 bullet points are relatively self-explanatory.ES