How to decide which type of building commissioning is right for you

How to decide which type of building commissioning is right for you

Building commissioning and re-commissioning are becoming standard strategies for many building managers and owners. Commissioning has grown in popularity over the last five years due to the large demand of energy efficiency projects.

But although this kind of solution brings substantial improvements to building systems, savings may not be maintained over time if management processes are not reinforced as well.

Ongoing commissioning can be applied in two very different formats. It can either be fully implemented within the building management processes to allow the user to be independent, or it can be delivered as a service by a subcontractor. This article explains the benefits and challenges to both approaches.

Ongoing commissioning

Implementing ongoing commissioning often involves changing the management culture of the local building operations team. In such a process, facility managers and maintenance employees adopt a continuous improvement approach in daily activity to improve energy savings and better manage operating costs. They use new implemented technology on-site to monitor their buildings and guide their decisionmaking processes.

Photo of workers in control room provided by branislavpudar/Shutterstock

Three main challenges arise in ongoing commissioning. The first is implementing technology within the team's actual toolbox. Companies that sell an ongoing set of commissioning services provide all the technical support, installation and coaching to successfully start the process. However, local management needs to establish the proper training program to make sure all the employees understand the tools they are going to use. It requires a good analysis of the team's knowledge and a plan on how to close the gaps.

The second challenge is to promote a culture of continuous improvement in order to accelerate its integration into the building management process. Training staff on new technology is something that can quickly generate benefits, but changing a management culture needs more time and discipline. When using ongoing commissioning, the team needs to change its thinking and open its vision to new opportunities. Coaching and sharing successes will enable each person to understand the value of ongoing commissioning.

The last challenge is the end result of the two previous ones. Training staff and implementing procedures in a team overloaded with tasks already is perhaps the greatest challenge. It is hard enough to complete all the required work in maintenance and emergencies (which can make it even more difficult to implement new technology). This is why conducting ongoing commissioning in-house requires good training, a strong team in place and clear targets to aim for.

Advantages

Ongoing commissioning can generate enormous benefits. A team that uses ongoing commissioning as its own internal management strategy is ahead of the competition. With this culture of continuous improvement, every team member acts as a building system analyst -- and generates value-added information for decisionmaking. All this involvement makes it easier to identify ways to improve. It also speeds up the time it takes to implement corrective actions. Why? Because every member follows the same strategy and works to meet the same objective.

Another benefit of implementing ongoing commissioning on-site is to standardize analysis at every level of management. Using this approach reduces wasted time searching, analyzing and understanding the root cause of a problem. It also builds the team's knowledge about the building's systems, which enables it to increase productivity. Moreover, all team members speak the same language. This simplifies communication, one of the biggest challenges for any team.

Remote commissioning

A large part of ongoing commissioning is done offsite. Multiple services are available: Some companies in the industry offer ongoing commissioning as a service (meaning that an external engineering team is looking at building systems with off-site connections). Often called remote commissioning, this method generally involves a sub-contractor (or a monitoring center if managed within a large portfolio) charged with analyzing the building's operations 24/7. The sub-contractor generates reports for building managers. Most of the time, these reports include data about control systems and energy consumption. The reports also specify corrective actions to improve overall building performance.

Challenges

Just like any other service supplied to building management teams, remote commissioning involves similar challenges. One good example is security in the data exchange process. Many enterprises don’t want to share business-related information to limit risks of improper usage. Obviously, remote commissioning deals with external connections to the building, but with the right system in place, all the information shared is fully secured. Using remote services also means more coordination and more communication with an external supplier. This increases the difficulty in communicating problems and solutions to a local team. But with a big variety of tools like webcasts, real-time image exchanges and cloud-based databases, many resources are available to simplify information sharing within various communication channels.

Another challenge of remote commissioning is using outsourced analysis in day-to-day operations. It is not always easy to quickly understand an analysis and start the action suggested by someone not necessarily aware of on-site emergencies and priorities. To minimize difficulties, the team can pre-scheduled periods to revise its priorities based on reports data. Review periods should take place frequently, and scheduled to coincide with the times when new reports are delivered.

Even if remote commissioning seems risky, it has many advantages. Not having to implement and take ownership of new technology means significant savings in time and training. In a service format, the overall cost of implementing ongoing commissioning can be spread throughout a longer time period. This lowers the cost of initial investments. It also allows launching several projects at the same time, which is very useful when the team manages a portfolio of buildings.

If the building management team adopts the proper procedures to use report data, overall energy savings and productivity increases can be impressive. Working frequently with a remote commissioning professional helps the team learn faster and access a standard level of analysis from the very beginning. Basically, remote commissioning brings a new team player with strong expertise to the table.

Which is best?

Both solutions are good. It all depends on the business strategy the building management team wants to undertake. On one hand, implementing ongoing commissioning is a longer-term solution that ensures a new level of performance within the team. It initiates a culture of continuous improvement which leads to a new management philosophy based on waste elimination and identifying opportunities for improvement. It also answers owners’ objectives to reduce costs and increase the overall building value in a mid- to long-term investment.

On the other hand, remote commissioning allows easy access to ongoing commissioning benefits with fewer challenges related to training. It enables the team to exchange ideas with experts -- and get prioritized recommendations on what to do to increase building performance. Remote commissioning usually best fits short- to mid-term projects where quick savings are a priority. Facility managers and building owners then need to identify their goal before deciding on how they will use ongoing commissioning as their new approach to building management.