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Commissioning Building Systems for Improved Energy Performance Project


NIST will advance commercial building system commissioning as a standard quality assurance practice by developing techniques to automate labor-intensive commissioning processes, establishing industry-accepted metrics for improved documentation of the quality and persistence of benefits, and  incorporating improvements into high-impact industry best practice guidelines.


Objective: To improve the operating efficiency of building systems by 10% to 30% by providing the measurement science to develop improved building commissioning metrics and automation tools, and accelerate the adoption of cost-effective commissioning as standard practice by 2014.

What is the new technical idea? To be effective, use of commissioning results must become an integral part of the day-to-day practice of building managers and operators. The new idea is to build software tools with embedded intelligence that will automate key labor-intensive steps in the commissioning processes, to develop measurement systems that can monitor component and system performance in buildings, and document key building metrics that practitioners can use to address the lack of performance data for the U.S. building stock. The advanced automation and data collection capabilities of modern control systems for commercial buildings already have the capability of supporting automation, and the commissioning industry has best practice guidelines that can be used to develop automated tools for sector-specific applications. The use of automated tools would improve cost-effectiveness and quality, and the results of the energy and financial benefits of commissioning practices for commercial and high-risk residential projects can be documented and disseminated. Access to measured building performance information, operational measures such as energy and water use, and before and after commissioning performance data, would provide the necessary comparison benchmarks to facilitate ongoing building performance evaluation.

What is the research plan? NIST will conduct the measurement science research needed to enable the development and commercialization of automated commissioning tools for embedded intelligence building control systems. The research plan has a two-pronged approach, one advancing the development of automated commissioning and the second establishing protocols for key metrics to document building performance and commissioning benefits. The key tasks will be:

  • Developing and testing  prototype tools for automated commissioning in a laboratory environment and conducting field tests with industry partners; 
  • Developing information models, validation tools, and performance metrics to enable advanced building control systems with automated commissioning capabilities;
  • Establishing methodologies for documenting energy benefits, non-energy benefits, and persistence of benefits, leveraging the outcomes of International Energy Agency (IEA) Annex 47 including the cost-benefit methodology proposed by Annex participants; and
  • Promoting the creation of industry-adopted, on-line databases that are publicly available and searchable, providing access to relevant, sector-specific data.

Initial development of commissioning tools was guided by analytical work and used the Virtual Cybernetic Building Testbed (VCBT) under a broad range of conditions to systematically explore the effects of weather conditions and faults for mechanical equipment, including sensors, and control system logic errors. The priority of the next phase will be to collaborate with industry partners (such as Montgomery College or the General Services Administration) for field trials in buildings. The expected outcomes are tools to automate commissioning processes that have been proven in real world commissioning settings, and a knowledge base that can form the basis for new industry best practices guidelines establishing commissioning as business as usual. ASHRAE’s protocols combined with Annex 47 outputs will form the basis for standardized measures, creating an ideal platform for inclusion of commissioning performance data for a wide range of building types and climate zones into an existing national effort.

The final component of this research will advance the development of process models that are needed to capture and represent information throughout the building lifecycle. NIST will leverage existing process modeling methods, using the Integrated DEFinition (IDEF) method to systematically and hierarchically describe the internal information flow for building commissioning of a simplified test case as a proof-of-concept for the ongoing commissioning of more complex commercial buildings. Although the focus of this research is on high-performance commercial buildings, the NIST Net Zero Energy Residential Test Facility served as a test case to document the system requirements and functional performance testing that are part of the commissioning process.

Major Accomplishments:

Improved Energy Efficiency of Operations:

  • Completed IEA Annex 40, Commissioning of Building HVAC Systems for Improving Energy Performance and IEA Annex 47, Cost Effective Commissioning for Existing and Low Energy Buildings. These international collaborations established benchmark guidance for current commissioning practices and identified key areas were improvement is needed. (FY 2010)
  • CITE-AHU tool for automated commissioning of air-handling units. This software tool significantly reduces the workload for commissioning air-handling units increasing the likelihood that this important activity will be more widely adopted. (FY 2011)
  • DASH database, a national repository of triple bottom line building performance data  enabling the consistent collection of quantitative data about green, sustainable, and high performance buildings and facilitating reporting and analysis based on that information. (FY 2013)
hi-tech building

Start Date:

October 1, 2011

Lead Organizational Unit:


Facilities/Tools Used:

Virtual Cybernetic Building Testbed


Project Leader: Natascha S. Milesi-Ferretti


General Information:
Natascha S. Milesi-Ferretti, Project Leader
301-975-6420 Telephone

100 Bureau Drive, M/S 8631
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8631