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Fundamental Commissioning and Verification Enhanced Commissioning

Commissioning (Cx) is the process of testing and confirming that the building systems operate correctly and as designed and intended, and then documenting that testing process. The cost of the process will vary greatly according to project specifics, but may involve significant “soft costs” in time and fees to the commissioning agent (CxA).

The building systems are defined by LEED as being all the systems in the building that use energy and that are regulated by ASHRAE 90.1 energy standard. Those systems include HVAC, lighting, domestic water heating, and controls. Commissioning can also include building enclosure commissioning (BECx), which can include review of building details

as well as air tightness and water penetration testing of the exterior walls and windows under differing weather conditions. BECx is rewarded under Option 2 of the LEED credit, for two points.

Commissioning requires time after operating systems are in place and balancing is complete, so be sure to provide allowance in the schedule. Also be sure to bring the commissioning agent (CxA) onto the project early enough to allow for design review and familiarization.

Not all equipment needs to be commissioned; in buildings where a large quantity of similar units are installed, testing can be performed on a sampling of units.

Commissioning Fees Vary Widely

While commissioning fees are partially driven by project size, it is more common that they are driven by HVAC system type and complexity. An office building or retail project that uses smaller single zone constant volume rooftop units, or a large office core/shell with several large VAV rooftop units and no zone HVAC units or controls, will not require the commissioning that a more complex lab or medical occupancy will require.

Control systems can also drive commissioning costs. More complex DDC (direct digital control) systems can provide the owner with more system flexibility, control and feedback than standard controls, but they are more complex to set up and commission. Medical and lab occupancies can also add process systems like compressed air, vacuum, optional stand-by power, and generators, all of which must also be commissioned.

A commissioning agent with experience on the type of project being built and the systems being used is worth finding: an experienced CxA doesn’t have to learn about the system being installed, and can point out potential issues before they create a problem. They may also be able to complete the process in less time by drawing on past project resources. There can be a tension between experience and proximity however: there may be cost and process advantages to working with a CxA closer to the project.

You often get what you pay for in commissioning: LEED has helped expand the market of commissioning services available, and price and quality of service can vary widely.

Because of the great variation in system types and associated commissioning complexity, cost premiums for this credit are best represented as ranges.

Commissioning Fees Range

Commissioning fees generally start around $5,000–$7,500 for smaller, less complex projects, such as a core/shell office or retail up to around 15,000 ft2, or a tenant fit-up up to about 12,000 ft2.

A 50,000–100,000 ft2 office core/shell could be $20,000–$40,000, while a similar size office built-to-suit could range from $40,000–$60,000. Lab and medical occupancies will always be more involved, and so those fees could be as much as 50% more compared to an office building.

Building Enclosure Commissioning Fees

A detailed study of BECx fees is beyond the scope of this report, especially due to the high variability in these costs due to building size, type, complexity, and the owner’s expectations. An excellent reference on BECx, including costs, is NIBS Guideline 3-2012: Building Enclosure Commissioning Process BECx.

According to NIBS Guideline 3, projects with construction budgets over $20 million typically require 0.2% of the construction budget for BECx, or $40,000 for a $20 million project.

Projects with budgets under $20 million may see that percentage rise, ranging from 0.3% to 1%, or $30,000–$100,000 for BECx on a $10 million building.

Those guidelines are in line with our experiences. For example, a $96 million lab building in the Northeast paid $180,000 for BECx, or 0.19% of the construction budget (or $0.90/ gsf ).

Cost Synergies

WEp2 / WEc2: Water Use Reduction
WEc3: Cooling Tower Water Use
EAp2 / EAc2: Energy Performance
EAc4: Demand Response
EAc5: Renewable Energy Production
EQp1: Minimum Indoor Air Quality Performance
EQc1: Enhanced Indoor Air Quality Strategies
EQc3: Construction Indoor Air Quality Management Plan