Is Commissioning Dead Without Leed? - By Steve Trageser, PE, Leed AP, CPD, CxA

24 February 2014

It is safe to say that the three forces with the largest impact on the construction industry in the last decade are LEED, Commissioning and BIM. Some would argue that the tasks required for LEED Energy & Atmosphere (E&A) credits have been performed for years prior to the LEED wave of the late 2000s. “Energy Model” was the new term for Life Cycle Cost Analysis and “Commissioning” was the new term for start-up and punch out, etc. These may be just part of industry’s evolutionary process, however, LEED’s CxA requirements have truly revolutionized the Commissioning industry.

In the mid 2000s, not only did traditional MEP design firms evolve into commissioning players, but completely new corporations were formed to solely address the commissioning needs of clients seeking LEED certified buildings. Fundamental commissioning could be performed by all, however per LEED, Enhanced Commissioning (in buildings in excess of 50,000 SF) requires third party commissioning. Hence, the full service commissioning firm was born. The economy booming with new construction, the projects were plentiful and the firms were few. The supply and demand relationship dictated high CxA fees, many times rivaling the design fees. Commissioning services offered less liability and equivalent fees; everyone jumped on the band wagon.

It’s now 2014, the nation has been in a deep recession in excess of five years. Do you still see full service commissioning start-up firms? The fees have dropped partly as a result of many new entrants to the market. However, the 800 lb gorilla in the room (or absent from the room) is the original driver, LEED Certification. The large majority of LEED is highly geared toward new construction. Today, new construction is only a fraction of what it was five years ago, so it follows that the LEED impact on commissioning in private industry has greatly diminished. Just as LEED fed the movement, without LEED the commissioning demand is starving. Maybe not dead, but drastically different. Even if developers have a new building and go LEED, do you see them engaging “Enhanced Commissioning?” Fundamental commissioning is a prerequisite to all E&A credits, with many points pending in the balance, but enhanced commissioning only gets you one more point. It’s just not cost effective, a single point could be obtained much easier elsewhere.

Life Support: It should be noted that LEED remains a driver in the military, federal, state and local government arenas as new (funded) buildings are mandated to meet various green building standards. However, the federal and military require a “certified” commissioning authority to engage this segment of the industry. This CxA certification is a barrier to entry into the commissioning market, limiting the supply of CxA services. As a result, fees remain higher here than the private market.

Another trend by public entities is the “Commissioning Owner’s Representative.” This concept essentially privatizes the owner’s role, which oversees the third party commissioning authority.