Building Commissioning: What’s the ROI?

Wondering what building commissioning is and why you should use commissioning in your development and construction projects? Commissioning is one of the best ways to improve your project ROI. As a sustainability consultancy with years of experience of commissioning, we see this time and time again.


What is commissioning in construction projects?

What is building commissioning and when is it needed? Major construction projects include several elements that must work together. Commissioning is a way to make sure that these projects are successfully completed.

Why is commissioning needed?

Commissioning is the process of ensuring that a building project is completed according to predefined standards. Some of the key benefits of commissioning include fewer deficiencies and delays, better maintenance and lower costs.

In fact, commissioning can have a huge impact on construction projects, even if the commissioning cost is proportionally small. Plus, the cost can offset itself within the first year. Long-term resource cost savings can be extensive.

As a process, commissioning services can be compared to the Audit processes of the Big Four accounting firms. In short, the commissioning agent helps the owner or contractor identify and fulfill the facility’s requirements when it comes to energy efficiency, indoor environment, staff training, operation of the building, and maintenance.

The definition of commissioning

As the ASHRAE Standard 202-2013, The Commissioning Process for Buildings and Systems, and ASHRAE Guideline 0, The Commissioning Process define it, commissioning is:

“A quality-focused process for enhancing the delivery of a project. The process focuses upon verifying and documenting that all of the commissioned systems and assemblies are planned, designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained to meet the Owner’s Project Requirements.”

The Owner’s Project Requirements define a construction project’s cost expectations, energy and operational benchmarks, performance goals, dates, criteria for success, and operational details.

The process can start at the Pre-Design stage. The next stages are Design, Construction, and Post-Construction. For optimal results and to develop the OPR, commissioning should be undertaken in the Pre-Design or Design phase.

How are commissioning standards ensured?

The building commissioning process is governed by a CxA or ICA (Third-Party Independent Commissioning Authority). The CxA plans, schedules, and coordinates the commissioning team. This entity needs to be independent of designers or the construction team.

Commissioning agents are the technical auditors of clients and developers. They ensure that buildings are delivered according to the OPR. Plus, because various municipal codes and standards (such as ASHRAE, NFPA, LEED, and CISBE) govern the construction process, commissioning becomes an essential part of it.

Different types of commissioning

There are different types of commissioning, which are started and undertaken at different stages of a building’s life cycle. These are:

  • Whole Building commissioning
    The focus is on the building’s functional systems but also includes Building Enclosure Commissioning.
  • Retro-commissioning
    Commissioning that is undertaken on an existing building that hasn’t been previously commissioned.
  • Re-commissioning
    Existing building commissioning if the building has been commissioned before.
  • Monitoring based continuous commissioning (MBCX)
    A building operation review within the first year of a building’s operational phase to identify faults or performance deficiencies.
  • Building enclosure commissioning
    This commissioning type is part of Whole Building commissioning. It is crucial for creating buildings that are energy-efficient, have a longer life cycle, and increased performance. Unfortunately, building enclosure commissioning is seldom undertaken at the most crucial phase, the mock-up phase.
  • Smart commissioning for smart buildings
    Because buildings are getting more complex and interconnected than ever before, a competent commissioning agent is needed to help handle all complex tasks and ensure the proper functioning and integrity of all subsystems.

What is the ROI of commissioning?

As you’ve seen so far, building commissioning is an important part of complex construction projects. That said, commissioning is an investment. So what’s the ROI?

What are the benefits of building commissioning?

The key benefits of commissioning include fewer change orders and contractor claims, project delays, late-stage design changes and deficiencies at completion.

Projects also often benefit from a shorter building turnover transition period and less corrective work at the operational stage.

Buildings tend to have better air quality and lighting, and less noise. Energy and other resource costs go down because these resources are used more efficiently.

Plus, operations and maintenance become easier to manage and less costly. Staff training improves, as do future designs and building performance optimization.

The ROI of commissioning

Commissioning costs typically have a great return on investment. This is especially the case in complex construction projects where costs can significantly be reduced with proper planning and simple changes.

Generally, the best return on investment is achieved with retro-commissioning projects. Older buildings were built in accordance with less rigorous building standards than the ones we have today. There are often great opportunities for improvements in these projects.

A study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory shows that the median whole-building energy savings for retro-commissioning is 16% and the cost is amortized in 1.1 years.

Where’s the best ROI when it comes to new buildings? The greatest benefits are achieved if commissioning is started in the design phase. This way, problems can be detected at an early stage.

Usually, a commissioning process that is started at an early phase eliminates or significantly reduces the need for change orders and contractor callbacks. There is usually less troubleshooting at the operational stage, as well as proper installation and personnel training.

Studies have also shown clear benefits of early-implemented, thorough Whole Building Cx processes.

According to the study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, new construction building commissioning costs are 0.4% of the overall construction costs and these projects result in a 13% median whole-building energy savings. The costs for commissioning are amortized on average 4.2 years after a building is built due to energy savings, lower operation costs, and fewer change orders.

That’s before other savings that are harder to measure are calculated in. These include comfort, safety, and environmental improvements.

Plus, other cost-savings can even offset the cost of commissioning in the first year alone. For example, the right-sizing of heating and cooling equipment can reduce the net median commissioning project cost by 49%.

To achieve these results, you should use an independent advisor with extensive expertise and specialist knowledge. That’s what we’ll look at next.

How to ensure that commissioning projects are successful

At Alpin, one of our main services is helping construction and development projects achieve their goals with the help of commissioning. We help companies in the Middle East, Europe, and the US plan and build better buildings. Our clients include high-level government projects, schools, medical facilities, corporate headquarters, and more.

Over the years, we’ve defined the critical parts of a successful commissioning process:

  • Strong project management.
  • Working closely with the entire team.

These two factors together with a well-executed building commissioning checklist are crucial for construction projects.

But we know there’s always room to improve. That’s why we use innovative ways to improve our approach to commissioning. For example, we use image competitions to track malpractice in commissioning.

Some of the results our past projects have gotten include:

  • Hospital commissioning case studies. To measure the benefits of commissioning, we undertook a case study in several different hospitals in the United Arab Emirates. With our building commissioning services, we identified ways to:
    • Reduce the air conditioning system electricity bill by 20% at one hospital (a big saving considering that 60% of the electrical power supply costs are due to air conditioning).
    • Save water and reduce two of the hospital’s water usage costs by AED1, 015,000/year (US$276,342).
    • Reduce the cost for Reverse Osmosis (RO) system and save AED1,054,466 AED/year for six hospitals (US$287,090).
    • Save costs on chilled water system design at four hospitals and save AED 984,720/year (US$270,000).
    • Other benefits included identifying fire hazards, which were a health and safety risk.
  • Burjeel Medical City. Comprises of a 466-bed hospital, long-term care facility, long-term care villas, an administrative building and a mosque covering a ground floor area of 82,000 sqm. We helped the project achieve 22% water savings, as well as train professionals.
  • Al Ain Stadium and Masterplan. This project is spread over an area of 500,000 sqm and it consists of a 25,000-seat football stadium, a sports center, a commercial center, a 5-star hotel offering 200 rooms and residential buildings. As part of the commissioning project, we commissioned 85 units. We reviewed 70 materials, detected 160 clashes, and unsnagged 300 snags.
  • KAUST Research Facilities. KAUST is Saudi Arabia’s first LEED-certified project and the world’s largest LEED Platinum campus. The project is a 14,000 sqm, three-story building with full penthouse and adjacent utility building at KAUST in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia. The project is aiming for a LEED Silver certification.

Other projects include: the Doha Metro, Dubai Metro Extension, KAFD station in Saudi Arabia, Pepsi Cola Mega Plant, Repton School, SKMC Dialysis Center, and Kizad Warehouses. You can read more about our projects and their ROI here Case Studies by Alpin

Want to learn more?

There you have it. Now you know what project commissioning is and the benefits for your own project.

Want to learn more? Get our whitepaper “Commissioning Your Way to High-Performance Buildings” here.