Who is your California Commissioning Provider?

By Ryan Lynch, Commissioning Engineer

Building commissioning in California has become a high-demand service in the AEC industry due to Title 24 requirements and the popularity of LEED certification. Because of this, many developers and architects are looking for the most cost-effective way to bring a commissioning team on board for their projects while still meeting their LEED goals and code requirements. Can a design firm have their designs reviewed in-house, or is an independent commissioning provider needed? The answer depends on a few factors: the square footage of the building, the complexity of the HVAC system, and whether the project is pursuing LEED certification.

Under LEED v4, the fundamental commissioning requirements are straightforward. If a new building is under 20,000 square feet, any licensed professional engineer may review the design. The engineer may be an independent consultant, an in-house consultant, or even the engineer of record. For buildings over 20,000 square feet, the building design must be reviewed by an independent commissioning provider with a professional engineering license.

Under 2016 Title 24, the commissioning requirements are slightly more complicated. For buildings under 10,000 square feet, any licensed professional engineer may review the building including the engineer of record. For buildings ranging between 10,000 and 50,000 square feet, an in-house professional engineer may review the design as long as the engineer is not associated with the design effort. Furthermore, the building design must incorporate a simple HVAC system. In a nutshell, a simple HVAC system is any system which incorporates heating/cooling and ventilation in the same unit. Rooftop package units, electric space heaters, split-system units, and most other unified systems can be considered simple. Systems which use hydronic loops, chillers, boilers, and built-up air handlers are considered complex. Thus any building over 10,000 square feet with a complex system or any building over 50,000 square feet must have its design reviewed by an independent commissioning provider.

The intent of commissioning is to provide a quality control process by providing third-party review by a disinterested party. The commissioning provider must review the Owner’s Project Requirements and the mechanical and electrical designer’s Basis of Design and progress drawings, write pre-functional checklists and functional performance tests, witness functional testing, maintain through resolution the master issues log, write a final commissioning report and O&M plan, and verify that the facility engineers are receiving training.  All of this is to ensure that the intent of the contract documents for the project are implemented and working as intended. When the MEP is also the commissioning agent, reviewing their own mechanical and electrical designs, this works against the purpose of commissioning.

These are all considerations that a developer or design team should factor in when discussing scope of work with a commissioning provider. Ambient Energy is here as that third-party commissioning agent to advance the success of your building. Successful buildings not only perform well and keep their occupants comfortable, but are completed on budget within the expectations of the owner.