QUEBEC CITY - When any building seems to need commissioning, the building owner/operator needs to answer the following questions: How did you get to this point? Why do you have a mess? Why do you think it's a mess? Do others think it's a mess?

When it comes to smaller commercial building retrofit projects, the owners, operators, and HVAC contractors may need more guidance when it comes to commissioning because of their lack of familiarity with the process and what it can achieve. According to Jeff Traylor, senior engineer for EMCOR, building commissioners need to determine the owners' and contractors' at-attitudes towards commissioning based on their experience with it.

"People come to the table from different points of view," Traylor said. "If contractors are unfamiliar with commissioning, they are almost always reticent to get involved with it." Those who have experienced it frequently are much more open.

"If it's perceived as an impediment, a contractor will try to put up impediments to the commissioning process," he said.


"Commissioning is a team sport," Traylor said. "Create a team atmosphere and set goals. Small project owners typically don't deal with this, so their reluctance is natural."

In addition, commissioning companies need to really ask themselves what their attitude is towards the project team. They need to find out why commissioning is being asked for on that project. If there have been system problems in the past, what were they?

In short, Traylor said, you need to find out, "What's their definition of a mess? What are their expectations? Communication is the key issue here."

Large and small commissioning projects have some common problems, Traylor continued. However, because commissioning is less frequently performed on small projects, the problems tend to be more frequent:

  • Commissioning is normally defined as the last step of the process. "We must bring it far back into the design process."

  • Owners complain that it costs money to perform commissioning. "In almost every case that I have seen, commissioning actually saves money," Traylor pointed out.

  • It disrupts the design-bid-build process.

    To overcome objections, Traylor said the commissioning entity needs to educate owners and contractors, show results from past commissioning jobs, and provide project leadership to make sure it stays on track.

    "Discover their goals and figure out how to achieve them," he said. Document results and use them to demonstrate value. "Commissioning is not visible unless you document what it detected and corrected."


    Rick Casault, P.E., Casault Engineering, defined small commercial renovation projects as costing from $20,000 to $2 million, and taking from two months to two years to complete. "The challenge," he said, "is the application of commissioning to small, renovation-type projects.

    "It is possible to adapt commissioning to these small, fast, renovation projects," he confirmed. "You need a method to achieve commissioning in a nimble manner, but yes, it is possible." He suggested the use of evaluation sheets to rank projects as high, low, medium, or very low risk. He described it as a "complexity factor evaluation sheet."

    "It's a project level classification," he said, in which you assess the project according to highest risk or complexity.

    In general:

  • Use a master planning approach.

  • Identify and prioritize issues (risk, complexity, or some other measure).

  • Create matrices of issues and rankings.

  • Determine project categories (keep it simple - remember the user's needs).

  • Identify commissioning activities.

  • Create model commissioning plans.

  • Perform a commissioning dry run with the user, so he/she knows what to expect.

  • Do a pilot project.

  • Apply it to all projects to demonstrate continuous improvement.

    Publication date: 08/14/2006