photo: Emily Hagopian (

photo: Emily Hagopian (

As architects, we weave the complexities of program, design, regulations, technology, budget and fee, while managing clients, projects, and liability. Proposed changes to our workflow frequently interrupt our momentum. Changes to our design process that seem burdensome ultimately transform our work and improve our buildings.  The process of commissioning is new to many of us, and we are finally learning how to make it an effective design tool.


USGBC introduced commissioning to us by way of LEED-NC EA prerequisite 1: Fundamental Commissioning, and EA credit 3: Enhanced Commissioning. For most of us, our first question was, ”What is commissioning?” Fortunately there are several resources and industry experts, who are helping us understand this improvement and clarification to our evolving design process.


 Let’s start with some definitions:


Building commissioning (Cx) provides documented confirmation that all building systems, including mechanical, electrical, lighting and controls function according to criteria set forth in the project documents to satisfy the owner’s operational needs.


A commissioning agent (CxA) typically provides commissioning services as a consultant to the owner. On some LEED projects the CxA is hired by the architect.


There are several documents that must be sequentially produced in order to satisfy LEED requirements:

Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR):     Produced by Owner with Design Team & CxA assistance

Basis of Design (BOD):                          Produced by Design Team with CxA assistance

Commissioning Specifications:                By Architect/Spec Writer with CxA/ LEED Consultant assistance

Commissioning Plan:                             Produced by Contractor with CxA assistance

Installation Verification & Performance Testing:     By CxA & Installing contractors

O&M Staff Training:                                By Installing Contractors & CxA

Building Manual:                                                By General Constractor with CxA assistance

Summary Report:                                               By CxA


The intent of the commissioning process is to create the Owner’s Project Requirements (OPR) along with the program during pre-design. Unfortunately, most projects are well into design development or construction documents before a LEED consultant is hired and the commissioning process begins. So, ultimately the OPR is merely an exercise to satisfy LEED rather than being a useful design tool.


In an “integrated design” process, commissioning begins during pre-design. Architects must coach their clients to complete the OPR during pre-design. Once the OPR is created, then the design team, led by the architect and engineers with the assistance of the CxA (or LEED consultant on small projects), produces the Basis of Design (BOD). From the BOD flows the project specifications, which require a commissioning section in addition to a LEED requirements section. As the design changes, the OPR and BOD should be updated to reflect those changes.


At the beginning of construction the contractor takes the lead by producing a Commissioning Plan, which is outlined in the specifications. The CxA will facilitate a pre-construction meeting with the installing contractors and engineers to establish expectations and ensure that the design intent and commissioning requirements are understood. The CxA will work with contractors during installation and start-up as required to meet LEED requirements. Performance tests and construction photos provide backup documentation, which must be available for audit by USGBC.


At the completion of construction a building manual will be produced by the contractor. O&M staff must be trained along with full time occupants of the facility. The CxA will produce a Commissioning Report, which summarizes the entire Cx process for the project. Frequently, this report is the last document uploaded into LEED online before the construction phase submittal to USGBC. Add another 5-8 weeks before the project received certification from USGBC.


We recommend the following resources for additional information and instruction:


EDR Commissioning Handbook & Online Templates

USGBC: Who Can Commission?                          

Commissioning On Purpose, by Coleman & Coleman

US Dept. of Energy Building Toolbox                     

Commissioning Resources                                   


Michael Heacock + Associates is a LEED consulting firm with offices in San Francisco and Santa Barbara.  Their work includes schools, commercial, public, institutional and residential projects.