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Commissioning Industry Chaos

Commissioning Industry Chaos

Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 187).

The Commissioning industry is utter chaos. Competence levels are all over the place, there is no central, agreed definition of Commissioning nor is there a generally agreed central qualification analogous to a C.Eng, PE or P.Eng. Recently I was asked to explain this chaos to a client who was overwhelmed with competing Commissioning codes, guides, standards and qualifications. Here is my explanation.

The root cause of this chaos is driven by competing norms, practice and culture plus a large dose of indifference. Generally in the Middle East, it is driven by the two countries separated by one language, the Brits and the Yanks. 

Firstly and generally the British call Testing, Adjusting & Balancing (TAB), Commissioning and what the USA calls Commissioning, the British generally call Commissioning Management. Also there is no concept or business for the management of commissioning in the USA in addition to zero use of method statements. BTW, if you have a Commissioning plan there is no need for a Commissioning method statement. 

Secondly, the British do not do TAB or Commissioning certifications. Certifications and “stamping” reports is an outdated, 1950’s USA model of doing things. 

So what about the various organizations such as CSA, CIBSE, BSRIA (UK), NEBB, AAABC, TABB, BCA, ASHRAE (USA) that are referenced in specifications? 

Commissioning Specialist Association (CSA) – UK

CSA is a UK specialist sub-contracting organization. It does not certify any firms or people. It is an organization for firms that provides training courses with examinations for people involved in commissioning. The CSA also produces technical memoranda. Generally, CSA memoranda describe “How” to do something. You can only be CSA qualified, not certified, at various grades as an individual. A firm can only be a member of the CSA by paying annual dues, the firm is not certified by the CSA. 

Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) – UK

CIBSE is a UK learned institution that has the power to confer, on behalf of the UK Engineering Council,  Chartered Engineer, Incorporated Engineer and Engineering Technician status to qualified people. It also produces documents on building services design and commissioning in a similar academic role to ASHRAE. These documents can be incorporated into specifications. CIBSE issue a series of “Commissioning Codes” that describe “what” to do. 

Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) – UK

BSRIA is a non-profit, membership based association. A firm can only be a member of the BSRIA by paying annual dues, the firm is not certified by the BSRIA. Its job is to research building services issues and technology, to be thought leaders and provide guidance to industry participants. Guidance is provided via published technical guides that can be incorporated into specifications. Generally, BSRIA guides describe “How” to do something. 


These are trade organizations for TAB and Building Commissioning. They offer training, and certification to individuals and firms. Their ubiquity is driven by being specified on most projects in the USA, particularly by the US Corp’s of Engineers. Their value is derived from their provision of industry TAB and Building Commissioning standards plus qualifying people & firms to provide a base line level of competence. This competence is asserted by “certifying” (stamping) reports & projects.


BCA is a nonprofit member based association aiming to be the recognized USA authority and resource on building Commissioning, not TAB. It appeals more to Commissioning consulting firms rather than trade based firms. BCA offer Commissioning training, and certification to individuals and firms. BCA is not as widely specified as ACG or NEBB and is not specified by the US Corp’s of Engineers. Consequently it is not as widely recognized in the industry. 

American Society of Heating Refrigeration & Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) – USA

ASHRAE is a USA learned organization. However, ASHRAE cannot confer PE status, that is done at state level in the USA via examinations. ASHRAE also undertakes a lobbying role in Washington on behalf of the industry and its members. ASHRAE develops and produces documents on building services design and commissioning in a similar academic role to CIBSE. Generally ASHARE advise “what” to do with design guides and “recommendations” via ASHRAE Standards and Guides. 

There are other players and local codes & standards but the ones listed above dominate in the countries I consult in. The main takeaways are:

1. Insist your design team specify TAB and Commissioning correctly i.e. do not include every possible code, guide and standard known to mankind. 

2. Pick a side. If it is a USA based project or design then use USA based TAB and Commissioning specifications. 

3. Simplify and minimize TAB and Cx specification sections. If you are not sure hire a commissioning consultant or me for a day to advise you. 

4. USA based specifications require certified people and firms plus “stamping” final reports. 

5. UK based specifications require adherence to CIBSE codes. 

The hierarchy of TAB & Commissioning documents is:

1. Building Codes / Regulations (AHJ) = Must Comply

2. Codes (CIBSE) = Must Do (if specified)

3. Standards (AABC, NEBB, TABB, ASHRAE) = Recommended Action

4. Guides (BSRIA & ASHRAE) = Good Practice 

5. TAB & Cx Reports = Memorialized Records of Systems and Building Performance i.e. Evidence

It is the MEP design engineers responsibility to be clear on the above and specify exactly what is required and no more. Stop covering your ass by specifying everything and using the word “should”. Be clear and concise, use the word “will”. 

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Twitter: @BLDWhisperer 

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#82 – ASHRAE, ACG, BCA & NEBB to Merge! (  

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This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. Shall vs will…

    I agree with the content but I’d change the word in the article to “shall” rather than “will”. Grammatically it is stronger.

    Great article Adam! I’m just about to put a presentation together for “The role of standards to guarantee the construction of sustainable, resilient and smart buildings” – there is great information here I may borrow to show a confusion or lacking in certain areas. !

  2. Please correct the misspell of BSRIA in its description paragraph.
    Also BSRIA aims is to help its members at making buildings better by supporting them on projects via consultancy, inspection and witnessing, and training to implement correctly the “how” described in the BSRIA guides.

  3. My favorite saying

    “Commissioning is not to complete the project but to ensure the project is complete”

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