There Will Be Tests

Building commissioning is becoming increasingly commonplace for commercial and institutional buildings, as more are being designed and built to be high-performance or green buildings. Building commissioning is the process of ensuring building equipment and systems operate and can be maintained in accordance with the owner’s requirements. The electrical contractor (EC) needs to understand building commissioning and its responsibilities in the process.

The owner’s requirements are typically documented in the facility program during the project planning and serve as the basis for design. As a result, commissioning is as much about determining the adequacy of the design as it is the quality of the EC’s installation.

On a conventional building project, the EC checks out the equipment and systems that he installs, and then the owner and designer perform their inspection, which usually results in a list of items that need to be corrected. These “punchlist” items are usually noted based on visual inspection and simple manual on/off testing, which worked well when buildings were simple. However, many of today’s buildings are incorporating advanced lighting control systems. Additionally, these lighting control systems are integrated with other building systems through the building management system.

Be on the lookout

First and foremost, the EC needs to understand the actual equipment and system inspection and testing activities for which it will be responsible. These activities are usually classified as either “prefunctional” or “functional” testing in the commissioning plan.

Prefunctional testing involves inspecting equipment to ensure it has been installed properly, preparing equipment for energization based on manufacturer’s requirements, verifying that the equipment is ready for energization, energizing the equipment and, finally, verifying the energized equipment is operating properly. Functional testing ensures the entire system performs as the owner requires. Following verification that the system is operating properly, required interactions between the system being checked out and other building systems are tested and verified. The commissioning process starts with verifying the performance of individual pieces of equipment and finishes with verifying building system interaction, which ensures the building performs as required.

In addition to the actual testing, there are other commissioning activities for which the EC may be responsible. For example, there may be meetings the EC will need to attend throughout the construction process to plan, schedule and coordinate commissioning activities. He or she will also have to document all tests performed, the results of those tests and any corrective action taken. In addition to submitting operation and maintenance manuals for all equipment and systems, the EC may also be required to prepare and submit descriptions of system operation as well as record drawings. Finally, the EC may be required to document and provide formal training for the owner’s operating personnel.


The extent of building commissioning and the EC’s involvement will vary by project. On some projects, the EC may be heavily involved in building commissioning and may be required to put together its own commissioning plan for the systems that it installs. ECs may also be required to execute that plan and document the results of its commissioning activities.

On other projects, the owner may have a commissioning authority on the project that will put together an overall commissioning plan for the facility that includes the EC’s systems. In this case, the EC will be required to perform the activities assigned to it in the commissioning plan, which can vary from initial equipment startup and checkout to performing full system testing and documentation.

During bidding, the EC needs to determine the extent of its responsibilities for commissioning, so it can include the cost of this work in its bid. If there is a commissioning authority on the project, that individual or firm will usually prepare a draft commissioning plan during the design phase of the project, and that plan will either be included as part of the bid documents, incorporated into the project specifications by the design team, or both.

The commissioning information included in the bid documents is usually preliminary because the final commissioning process will depend on the actual equipment installed as well as the construction schedule. However, the preliminary commissioning requirements contained in the bid documents should give the EC a good idea of the extent of the commissioning process and its commissioning responsibilities for bidding.   EC

GLAVINICH is an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Kansas. He can be reached at 785.864.3435 or


About the Author

Thomas E. Glavinich

Freelance Writer
Thomas E. Glavinich was an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at the University of Kansas. His tenure as one of Electrical Contractor's most trusted and reliable source of industry research end...

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