Defining Commissioning Competencies

In new building commissioning, the role of the Commissioning Authority is typically defined by some document. This could be a specification included in the project documents, an agreed upon scope of work between the building owner and the commissioning authority, or an agreement to perform the work to a particular standard. This document should define the Commissioning Authority’s roles and responsibilities in the project so that all involved parties understand the scope and participation requirements in the commissioning process.

The responsibilities of the Commissioning Authority in new buildings require both administrative and technical skills. The administrative skills are those items that relate to the commissioning process and should be universal to any type of commissioning. The technical skills relate to knowledge of the particular type of system to be commissioned. Some desirable qualifications for a person to act as the Commissioning Authority for an HVAC system are listed below.

· Understanding of system design basics
· Knowledge of proper system installation techniques
· Familiarity with control systems
· Understanding of system TAB procedures
· Ability to evaluate system performance
· Ability to trouble shoot system problems
· Skilled in written and oral communications
· Familiarity with system operation and maintenance
· Ability to plan and organize diverse activities
· Ability to manage projects
· Ability to write and communicate test procedures

If this now becomes the skill qualification basis for an HVAC Commissioning Authority, a training plan can be developed. Courses of study would include work in the following areas:


· Project Management
· Organizational Management
· Interpersonal Relationships
· Communication Techniques
· Process Organization
· Forms and Reports
· Writing Test Procedures


· Integrated HVAC Systems
· Basic HVAC Systems Design
· Testing, Adjusting and Balancing
· HVAC Control Systems
· Use of Diagnostic Tools
· Energy Management
· Indoor Air Quality

While these components may be found individually in today’s marketplace, there are not any programs available publicly (to this author’s best knowledge), which customize these elements for the training of Commissioning Authorities. Based upon feedback I have received from other firms providing commissioning services, I conclude that the most prevalent method of training personnel in commissioning is on-the-job training. While this is a necessary component of the training process, the student may be learning from someone who is also new to the field and still struggling with the processes.

Retrocommissioning is even less poorly defined than new building commissioning. Insufficient information is available to determine how firms are going to the marketplace with this service. As discussed in an earlier paper, there are many forms of retrocommissioning projects. There are many legitimate approaches to implement some degree of a retrocommissioning process in an existing building. The scope of services for each project will have to be customized for the particular facility and budget considerations. By its nature, retrocommissioning should be a customized product developed to fit the needs of the specific building and the building owner.

There are several generalizations we can make. The first is that a Commissioning Authority is required for the fulfillment of a retrocommissioning project. The skill sets required for these projects require a more robust technical ability, without sacrificing on the administrative skills, than a new building Commissioning Authority. However, the day-to-day activities of running the project might fall under an independent Project Manager. Since retrocommissioning typically requires that the commissioning firm supply the necessary manpower and equipment for testing, it may not be a wise use of resources to use a Commissioning Authority to oversee the management of labor, equipment and time schedules as this role requires a great deal of man hours and higher level project management skills.

Retrocommissioning requires two additional career paths for Commissioning Professionals; the Project Manager and the Commissioning Technician. Defining the roles and responsibilities of each is the first step to develop a training regimen for these career paths.

The retrocommissioning Project Manager will rely on a solid background in managing detail oriented projects. The skill set must also be expanded to understand the purpose and philosophy of the retrocommissioning process. In other words, he needs to have a clear understanding of the objectives of the process. In general, the same skill sets discussed for a Commissioning Authority are required by the retrocommissioning Project Manager. This position will have less emphasis on design skills and more emphasis on field experience with HVAC systems, including a good background in proper installation, operation and maintenance of these systems.

The HVAC Commissioning Technician must excel in systems knowledge, including temperature controls systems. He must be capable of setting up and conducting performance tests on the equipment and systems, as directed by the Commissioning Authority. Again, the HVAC Commissioning Technician must understand the objectives of the process as well as the process itself. These technicians are most frequently recruited from the ranks of the HVAC Service industry. The best HVAC Commissioning Technicians will most likely exhibit the following characteristics:

· Excels in systems knowledge
· Good troubleshooting abilities
· Uses analytical processes well
· Detail oriented
· Can work well alone as well as in a team
· Exhibits Self-management work skills
· Good communicator
· Documents work well
· Good mathematical skills

Even if you find an HVAC technician who possesses these skills, or the aptitude to learn them, you may find they lack either the attitude or the motivation to become involved in the field. Many technicians fear that concentrating solely on commissioning activities will limit their ability for future growth. Since this is a relatively new career path for a technician, some may also show resistance to move into a field where they do not feel the same degree of job security. Therefore, it will be necessary to develop clear explanations and a well-defined career plan to present to qualified technicians to encourage them to enter the field. In addition to the security concerns, I find that many technicians often balk at entering this field because of one or more of the following concerns:

· Too much paperwork
· Too many repetitive tasks
· Becoming “planted’ on a particular project for an extended amount of time
· Work may be considered tedious

However, my experience is that there are more experienced technicians in the field looking for a career path to get out of “turning wrenches”. These technicians frequently have the basic skills required for commissioning.

Integrated Training Programs

With the apparent lack of training programs, individual firms are either ignoring the training issue and just attempting to hire from the limited pool of existing talent or developing their own in-house training programs. Conducting an in-house training program requires considerable time and effort to develop and teach. Over the past seven years, I have had the opportunity to develop individual programs to accomplish the skills and knowledge training, coupled with on-the-job training. The results of this training have been very positive. However, it is not currently set up as an integrated program with courses being offered in a particular sequence. I believe that it is important to work towards an integrated Commissioning Training Program that will address the needs of the Commissioning Authority, Commissioning Project Manager and the Commissioning Technician.

The basic courses, described below, should include participants in all commissioning roles. Beyond these common programs, the training must become more specific to the particular roles. However, any student should be able to participate in all levels of training. This encourages a greater understanding of all of the roles in the process and develops a better working relationship between the commissioning team members.

Through repeated experience, I have found that the beginning point in training has to be basic mathematics. If students do not have a strong platform of basic math skills, they will have a very difficult time understanding concepts that build upon these basic skills. If a basic foundation of math skills is not established early, it is difficult for most students to gain confidence in their ability to comprehend more advanced material.

The next step is an introduction to the fundamental principles of HVAC. This includes basic heat transfer, psychometrics, HVAC system types, controls, electricity, air system design basics, hydronic system design basics, and systems testing, adjusting and balancing. The basic text for this course is the NEBB Study Course for Testing, Adjusting and Balancing of Environmental Systems. This course utilizes several texts to provide a broad coverage of the subjects. Beyond the material presented in this study course, it is important to introduce additional material to deepen the students understanding in certain areas, particularly those that directly relate to commissioning activities.

Another course that all team members are encouraged to take is Basic Project Management. Our commissioning teams operate in a very autonomous manner and it is critical that they are able to manage the commissioning projects to meet the objectives of the building owner as well as those of our business.

Commissioning Technicians are required, and other team members encouraged, to pass a forty (40) hour hands-on air-side testing, adjusting and balancing class and a twenty-four (24) hour hydronic balancing course. These classes teach the proper use of instrumentation and how to measure system performance. The end of this program is a natural start to cover forms, reports, and functional performance testing. Other in-house courses cover many of the other qualifications earlier discussed in this article. These courses more universally apply to all associates, e.g. communication skills.

At this time, the integration of these separate programs into an integrated course of study for commissioning team personnel is far from complete. However, by first evaluating what the roles of each participant will be and the skill levels required, these training programs are effectively developing our own in-house commissioning capabilities. It has also opened a new career path for our associates – Commissioning Professional.


Building Systems Commissioning is a process that can add great value to the life cycle of a building. It can be performed on either new or existing buildings. The industry has spent considerable time and effort to sell the concept of commissioning with increasing success. The question needs to be asked, are we prepared to provide qualified personnel to fulfill the expectations of the building owners? Where will we find Commissioning Professionals who can provide competent commissioning services to the buildings industry?

While there are a number of qualified individuals who can be trained in commissioning processes, there is a general lack of educational opportunities directed towards the development of Commissioning Professionals. Any effective training program must first define the responsibilities of each role in the commissioning team and determine the educational and experiential needs. Then, a training program to provide that knowledge can be developed. Integration of all roles into these courses is desirable; therefore, courses must be developed that will stimulate growth and understanding in all participants. While some firms have developed in-house programs to meet these needs, there is a general lack of publicly offered commissioning education for those in a project fulfillment role.


Coleman, James. 1997 “Three Building Tune-Up Case Studies”
Proceeding from the 6th National Conference on Building Commissioning
PECI, Portland, Oregon

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