A decade ago, commissioning was a fairly obscure process linked to machine start-ups. The professionals specialized in this area worked almost exclusively on factory production lines, especially in the pharmaceutical sector.

Over the past few years, buildings have become more complex. That by incorporating high-tech automation and interlinked systems as they seek to provide higher levels of comfort, environmental quality and resource efficiency.

However, the complexity of technology installed hasn’t always been matched by an up-skilling of design, installation and operation teams. This has led to the so-called “performance gap”, where sustainable or certified buildings consume far more energy than they should. Aggregated studies suggest that across the world, the performance gap represents an average energy consumption 37% higher in real, measured buildings than in the models used to predict their performance and meet sustainability certifications. Projects like CarbonBuzz investigate and this, and have shown a number of reasons for the performance gap. Many of them are linked to the quality of installation, design defects and the operational strategies in the building.

Building commissioning is a quality-based procedure, which has developed rapidly over the past few years as building owners recognise the need to guarantee operational performance in their buildings. With the growth in sustainable building and a requirement to demonstrate good operational performance (not just a sustainability certificate at design stage), it becomes an essential part of new build and retrofit projects.

A commissioning agent should be engaged as early in the project development as possible and works as a technical agent. His or her role is essentially to guarantee that the final, delivered building meets the owner’s requirements. This is done by keeping a record of the initial requirements, registering the design strategies adopted and reviewing the project at detailed design and construction stages to approve changes, identify non-conformities and help resolve issues. The commissioning agent will ensure that the necessary documentation is provided by the designers and installers, so that the systems can be properly programmed, maintained and operated.

During the final stages of construction, projects are often competing against tight deadlines and threatening cost overruns; the contractor and installation teams are eager to wrap up and get off-site as quickly as possible. At this stage, it is essential that the commissioning agent participates in equipment start-up, programming and final evaluations. The agent will make performance tests in a sample of the building systems, before the client signs off the project.

At Mitsidi, we almost always uncover serious issues at the final stages of project construction. Whether air conditioning systems are not properly tested, lighting is not properly zoned or external air supply is not adequately filtered, it is vital to flag up these issues as quickly as possible so that they can be resolved without additional costs or delays.

In Brazil, LEED credit requirements drives . Despite that, the majority of our work comes from owner-operators who don’t want any certification. The objective generally is to guarantee the in-use performance of their buildings.

In several cases, our commissioning work has avoided the need for expensive retrofits on just-built projects. When we discover the issues early, we can solve them on-site.

We like to see this as part of an integrated design procedure. Mitsidi provides energy consultancy at the design stage and guarantees performance by following the whole commissioning process through. See an example here.

Conclusion

Commissioning is a financially driven decision. The energy consumed in a building is one of its largest operational expenses. Any building which does not meet environmental quality standards will severely limit the productivity of its occupants. This can, also, risk fines.

It is easy and cheap to make a building efficient and sustainable with small alterations at the design and construction stage, but much more expensive to do this later on.

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