The state of commissioning in 2013

Despite challenges both new and old, and an economy that is improved but still not roaring, commissioning firms remain hopeful about the upcoming year.


Figure 1: Cx providers are still not being retained in the early (design and pre-design) stages of a project often enough, when commissioning would deliver the most value to building owners. Courtesy: AABC Commissioning GroupDoes 2013 looks just like 2012? Maybe. But while the numbers for the commissioning (Cx) market seem to indicate a somewhat idle industry, respondents to an exclusive survey reveal a more positive outlook. There is a hint of business “picking up”—that a lack of significant growth from 2012 is neither a surprise nor a letdown, but instead reflects an economy still finding its new legs.

There was an overall increase in Cx business among firms surveyed. Almost half (47%) report that commissioning comprises 20% or less of their business, whereas in 2012, that number was 50%. Moreover, firms reporting commissioning to be 85% or more of their business increased, from 22% last year to just less than 30% this year. The trend was reflected in respondent commentary, where half of the remarks indicated that either all or at least certain segments of commissioning were on the rise.

The optimism regarding the increase in work was great news. Unfortunately, the ideal commissioning situation, wherein the Cx provider is an experienced and independent third-party provider hired directly by the owner and engaged during a project’s earliest stages, continues to be more the exception than the rule.

More than 40% of firms said that they are hired as an independent third-party 85% to 100% of the time, and this has remained a constant since 2011. Similarly, a little more than half of this year’s respondents indicated that they are hired directly by the owner or the architect.

Regarding one of the key concerns of Cx providers—at the point they’re brought onto a project— the numbers appear to be about the same as last year’s. As with last year, 42% of the time, respondents report that they aren’t brought on until the construction phase. However, that number was 46% in 2011. Has a slow trend toward earlier participation begun? Seeing how firms respond to this question in 2014 will be interesting.

New this year, ACG asked those who have been retained in the early stages of a project what factors or strategies they thought helped them to gain early job involvement. By far, three factors stood out:

  • The level of education or awareness building owners have of the benefits of early commissioning engagement
  • U.S. Green Building Council LEED or various code requirements mandating early participation of Cx providers
  • A Cx firm’s reputation, experience, and established relationships.

Building types, sectors, and Cx scope

Figure 2: Commercial office buildings remain the most common facility type commissioned, and central utility plants grew slightly in 2013. Courtesy: AABC Commissioning GroupMany in the industry have predicted a shift in focus toward existing building commissioning. Statistically, this year showed no additional push in that direction, with 74% of firms’ commissioning business still coming from new construction. However, in response to an open-ended question about trends, many respondents reported that they still anticipate this direction in the future.

When their firms did perform existing building Cx, ACG asked what their clients’ motivations were. The highest priority reported was energy cost reduction. But right behind that, the No. 2 reason was building performance. As one respondent put it, “Reliable building system performance outweighs other owner issues. The main cause of inefficient operation is frequently improper system operation.”

Providers still see roughly the same mix of facility types, with commercial office buildings being the most common, at nearly a quarter of the total. Higher education dropped off by a few percentage points, whereas central utility plants gained a few.

Figure 3: All sectors remained the same, except for federal, non-military jobs, which decreased, a trend also noted in the comments of many respondents, who indicated a general decrease in government work. Courtesy: AABC Commissioning GroupThe private sector still provides the largest percentage of Cx work, accounting for 39%—the same as 2012—but is another example of a jump from 2011 (33%) to 2012, only to level out this year. All other sectors in the survey stayed the same, with the exception of federal, non-military jobs, which decreased from 11% to 8%, a trend also noted in the comments of many respondents’ who indicated a general decrease in government work.

HVAC, domestic hot water, and lighting/lighting controls remain the most frequently commissioned systems. This comes as no surprise since those are the three systems currently required at minimum to meet the LEED commissioning prerequisite.

Other building systems commissioned showed the same or a slight decrease in frequency, including building envelope, from 15% in 2012 to 12% this year. And while respondent comments didn’t explain this dip, they didn’t seem all that phased by it either, anticipating a growth nonetheless in building envelope commissioning.

Figure 4: Building envelope dropped slightly, yet many respondents commented that they still anticipated a growth in this area of commissioning. The other systems in the survey remained the same or decreased slightly. Courtesy: AABC Commissioning GroupOne decrease of note was the number of Cx providers who partner with other firms to commission various systems outside the scope of their firm’s expertise. While that number had jumped substantially in 2012 to 71% from 55% in 2011, it plunged this year, with only 47% of respondents subcontracting to other firms. Whether this is a trend or a short-term strategy by Cx firms to bring more types of services in-house to combat the impediments of a still recovering economy, only time will tell. This is another area to keep an eye on in 2014.

Energy management services

Energy management work continues to be incorporated in Cx firms’ suite of services. The number of firms that provide these services, separate from traditional commissioning, dropped slightly from 80% last year to 75% in 2013. However, this simply could be due to the fact that, as some respondents mentioned, their firms are now combining energy-related work with commissioning. In other words, perhaps less of a distinction is being made as energy management services become more and more common. (ACG’s energy management initiative, in fact, is built in significant part on the idea that comprehensive energy management services are best delivered within a commissioning-based framework.)

Moreover, more companies reported that they performed more types of energy management services. For example, energy audits, energy savings calculations, energy modeling, and measurement and verification all saw increases from last year.

There was good news among respondents concerning how often their firm was involved in implementing recommended energy conservation measures. Those who were involved 20% of the time or less dropped from 72% to 61%, while those who saw their firm’s involvement roughly half of the time increased by 10%, from 12% to 22%. And even though only 5% of firms were involved in implementing recommended measures 65% to 100% of the time, that number represented a slight increase from 2012.

In general, of the respondents who addressed whether energy management work would increase in 2014, a little over half thought it would. Most of the other half predicted it would remain the same, and only a small percentage (5%) thought they would see a decrease in energy-related work.

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