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The Engineer: December 2019

The data shows that commissioned buildings perform better.


November 27, 2019
By David Heska P.Eng.

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A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to sit down with Patrick Flannery of Glass Canada and Peter Saunders of Canadian Consulting Engineer to record a podcast on the topic of commissioning.

By the time this article is published the podcast will likely be released, but for those of you who prefer a short written summary of the conversation I’ll try to boil it down to a few key points.

So what is building commissioning and why is it important to think about?  Building commissioning is the process of bringing something new (in this case a building) into working condition. Unfortunately, most buildings do not perform according to all their design parameters, so through commissioning these deficiencies are identified and corrected.  

What standard should be followed?  Currently there are multiple commissioning standards in the industry such as the National Institute of Building Sciences Guideline 3, an ASHRAE guideline, as well as ASTM E2813 and E2947. Since there is no common commissioning standard, it is very important for owners to define exactly what they are looking for. By the time most of us in the glass industry are involved in a project, the Owner Project Requirements (OPR) will already be set and it should be clear what is expected.

What’s involved and how will this impact the glass industry? Commissioning is a process that documents the construction process using tracking logs and functional tests. A commissioning agent is involved reviewing shop drawings, submittals, attending site meetings and completing field tests. In some instances the design consultant can also be the commissioning agent. Most of the time, however, a different company is hired to work directly for the client to provide commissioning. Our colleagues in the mechanical and HVAC industry already have over 15 years’ experience in commissioning. Their work began with air balancing, ongoing measurement of temperatures and training of operations staff. Next came roof commissioning with infrared scanning and roof leak detection.  

More recently, full-building air leakage testing has increased in popularity alongside Passive House, B.C. Step Code and Toronto Green Standard requirements. As provincial energy requirements continue to tighten across the country, part of the challenge for code enforcers is going to be to verify the energy-efficiency performance bona fides of envelopes in the field. At present, components can be certified for energy performance, but absent any kind of labelling regime there is no way for inspectors to tell whether the facade they are looking at meets any energy efficiency standard. B.C. and Ontario already offer whole-building testing paths to demonstrate compliance and others may follow. If governments continue to get more and more serious about the fight against climate change, it isn’t hard to see a day when some kind of comissioning is required for all projects in order to verify the energy performance, if for no other reason.   

So air and water testing – and possibly more comprehensive energy testing – for fenestration on site will become increasingly popular. This will allow owners to confirm that the results obtained in a laboratory are also consistently being confirmed at their newly constructed building.  In a time when we have a skilled labour shortage some may wonder where the people are who will complete this testing and where the quality labour will come from so that the field results match the lab results. These are good questions that will need to be addressed, but the data shows that commissioned buildings perform better and I’m all in favour building better buildings.  

Hopefully that was a painless crash course on commissioning.  If you want to hear a bit more I encourage you to tune in to the upcoming podcast that will be produced by Glass Canada!


David Heska, P.Eng. is a director with WSP’s building sciences team in southwestern Ontario. He oversees the operation of the Hamilton, Kitchener and Windsor offices. David has been involved on window simulation projects as well as the design and replacement of windows in commercial and residential buildings. He can be reached at David.Heska@wsp.com