Modern buildings are complex entities—those housing Data Centers are especially so. An effective way to ensure that a facility's various infrastructure systems are all working well is to have the building commissioned.
Commissioning involves a systematic review of equipment to make sure all components work according to their specifications and that interactions between equipment happens properly. The scope of commissioning can vary, both in terms of what phases of a project that a commissioning authority is involved in and what equipment is reviewed. Commissioning can be done on either new or existing buildings (sometimes called retrocommissioning).
For a new building, the process ideally begins with the initial planning of the project and continues through design, construction, and then post-construction stages, typically continuing for about a year after a building comes online so that potential warranty issues are identified and addressed. Simply commissioning at the end of a project is less effective because it does not allow potential shortcomings to be addressed in the planning or design stage.
Systems that are commonly commissioned include the following:
- Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems: Air conditioning and distribution, central heating and cooling, water-cooling delivery elements, pressure management systems, and variable frequency drives
- Building management systems: Controls interfacing with HVAC, electrical, fire alarm, and security systems
- Primary and standby electrical systems: Power distribution systems, lighting controls, automatic transfer switches, uninterruptible power supply systems, and generators
- Fire detection and suppression systems: Fire detection equipment and alarms, notification systems, wet or dry sprinkler systems, gaseous fire suppression system, and the interface between detection and suppression components
- Plumbing systems: Hot and cold water, sanitary waste, and storm drainage systems
- Specialty systems: Elevators and escalators
- Building elements: Building envelope, exterior curtain walls, and roofing structure
- Voice and data distribution systems: Cabling, telephony systems, and networking equipment
How valuable is commissioning? An analysis of building commissioning projects sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy determined that commissioning uncovers an average of 28 deficiencies per new building and 11 per existing building. HVAC systems accounted for the most problems.
The 2004 study, The Cost-Effectiveness of Commercial-Buildings Commissioning, reviewed 175 commissioning projects conducted across the United States between 1984 and 2003 involving 224 buildings. It was conducted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Portland Energy Conservation, Inc., and Texas A&M University's Energy Systems Laboratory. Its authors concluded that "commissioning is one of the most cost-effective means of improving energy efficiency in commercial buildings" and estimated that buildings in the United States alone could realize $18 billion per year in energy savings.