Commissioning for IECC 2012: Is it Beneficial to the Owner?

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By Candice Rogers, President, Paladin, Inc.

When IECC 2012 was adopted into Kentucky Building Code, the way we build facilities changed overnight. While some express concern that these standards are difficult to implement and even harder to enforce, I would offer that they’re actually just the starting point of the path to a genuinely useful and sustainable building. In a way, they’re the driver’s licensing test for buildings, bringing order and safety to our industry.

There are several sections of IECC 2012 which complicate requirements for our Design and Construction Professionals. Since, I’m a Commissioning Provider, I’ll focus on the commissioning requirements and leave the other areas for future blogging fodder. For buildings where the total mechanical equipment capacity is greater than 480,000 Btu/h (140 690 W) for cooling and 600,000 Btu/h (175 860 W) for heating, the Project is required to submit evidence that the building was “commissioned.” The variety of commissioning required is really Acceptance Testing – verifying that integrated systems perform at the end of a project.

Buildings that fall under these requirements are ones that carry sizable energy and operational budgets, but have likely never experienced any variety of commissioning (ie. hotels, some K-12 school districts, commercial offices, certain retail establishments, etc.) In my view, the baseline standards outlined in IECC 2012 not only improve a building, they also serve as a helpful aid in curtailing runaway operational expenses. Additionally, I believe the standard prompts project owners and managers to explore the greater benefits of a more comprehensive commissioning (Cx) program.

While some people get the two confused, it’s important to note that the pursuit of IECC compliance and a comprehensive commissioning program are not the same thing even though they share certain elements in common.

The actual acceptance testing outlined in IECC 2012 focuses on systems that have the largest energy impacts; specifically HVAC, building automation systems, and lighting controls. The process typically follows a simple path:

  1. Starting when a Commissioning Authority, working under the direction of the design engineer of record, develops a commissioning plan which must be submitted as part of the building permitting process;
  2. Continuing with the completion of acceptance testing which is required for the controlling authorities to issue a certificate of occupancy;
  3. Concluding with a certification of occupancy submission that includes a commissioning report.

I liken IECC 2012 Commissioning to taking a Drivers Licensing Test without completing Drivers Education. While there may be a few natural Jeff Gordons out there who will ace it, the average driver is more likely to fail the first time THEN do more studying and practice.

While the feedback loop for an IECC test performed at the end of a building project is essentially Pass/Fail, the Commissioning process focuses on planning and prevention on the way to a successful, timely building opening. We have encountered multiple building owners who merely engaged in the IECC certification process to check the box of Code compliance, but ended up discovering a whole world of opportunity on the other side of it in the form of commissioning. Owners confronted with unfavorable IECC results begin by questioning, “What could we have done to change the outcome of this test?” and move on to “how could we make the whole building work better?”

A Commissioning program looks at any number of systems from design through warranty and collaborates closely with the Design and Construction Team to proactively identify issues. Owners benefit from learning the positive impact of verification on everything from envelope systems to the emergency power system, all of which flow into operating costs and an occupant’s experience. Because untested buildings often become a budgetary burden as the years go by, it’s simply better to know the facts.

So, while some might view IECC 2012 as just another regulatory hassle, I’d argue that it has had a remarkably positive impact on creating and maintaining modern facilities. While it certainly has a learning curve, it is playing a key role in keeping Kentucky buildings current with design technologies, construction methods and materials. After all, having licensed drivers on the road – regardless of how they got there – is much better than having an unlicensed driver in the car next to you, preparing to swerve into your lane.

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