What is the difference between commissioning and construction management?

And why isn't the service already part of the general contract?

Commissioning agents at McCownGordon check system

McCownGordon has a long history of serving our clients as Construction Manager (CM) and we are excited about the opportunity to provide added value as a provider of Building Commissioning Services (CxP). It may seem that as your construction manager we should already be doing the CxP Process, but there are many differences in what a CxP does compared to a CM.

Building Commissioning got its start in the 1980s as more of a start-up process to make sure equipment could function.  In the following two decades, due to tightening regulatory standards and the evolution of higher building standards and green buildings, standardized protocols that stretched the requirements of CxP beyond just start-up were enacted.  It was during this time that CxP was recognized as a practice above and beyond what was required by construction contracts and providers.  Due this these added requirements, CxP is not a standard practice for most CMs.  The services map shows services/documents that are provided by each party during a typical project life.  As you can see, the CxP provides a multitude of items outside of what is provided by the design team or the contractor.

DOwnload THE Service map

All that being said, CxP provides a multitude of benefits and we at McCownGordon view CxP as an extension of the already quality-focused services that we provide.  In addition to providing an average of 13-16% annual energy savings, 8 – 20% lower equipment maintenance costs, better equipment performance, and better indoor air quality (IAQ), the average ROI for CxP range from 1.1 to 4.2 years – a solid return on your investment.

Picture your building like a company structure.  Your building has various systems (HVAC, lighting, plumbing) similar to departments within a company (marketing, finance, operations).  Department heads (contractors) ensure their departments are running smoothly and ensure that they are executing tasks and verifications needed to perform their job – this is similar to the start-up process in a building.  Each department (system) is working but are they working together?  Is the company (building) working at the best efficiency holistically?  Is one department causing issues and potentially decreasing the output (equipment life/maintenance) of another?  Has the CEO (Owner) provided her expectations to each department?

If the company operated in this way, it would probably do okay.  It may perform similarly to other average/standard companies of similar size, it may lose a little profit here or there, it may suffer turnover due to burnout, but that’s just part of running a company, right?  Now, if that company had a COO (CxP) who was responsible for communicating the CEO expectations to the departments, formalized communication between departments and documented the results, what would the outcome be?  That company would outperform competitors, be more profitable, and have a lower turnover rate that companies without that role.  This is the same results CxP has for buildings – documented energy savings, lower maintenance cost and better overall performance.


Another way to understand why the CxP process is different than and beneficial to the CM process is to compare the experience to your health.  Compare your body to a building – both have structural systems – building structure/skeleton, electrical systems – power/cardiovascular, HVAC – respiratory, etc.  If you broke a limb and required surgery, the process would be similar to construction.  You might have a team of doctors that are working on correcting the break, monitoring your cardiovascular/respiratory functions during and after surgery (warranty period) and when you have the all clear that you have healed (post warranty sign-off), you go on about your life.  During the surgery and post-care, you felt that you were in good hands and you were being monitored.  This mirrors the construction process in that the CM is creating that team to build/renovate your space and monitoring issues/challenges along the way even through the warranty period.  Would you want to get regular checkups to see that you are still in good health or just wait until you suffer another break or illness?  If the former, you may prevent a break/illness for a longer period of time and save money in the long run.  This is similar Existing Building Commissioning (EBCxP) which is another option to consider.

EBCxP is that annual check-up.   During both visits, the provider looks at the body/building as whole, runs tests and makes sure everything is working properly and together as you intend. Just like your annual check-up, where the doctor may give you recommendations on how to improve your life, the CxP will give you recommendations to improve the life of your systems/equipment.

Even though it’s better to have regular check-ups, we know that not everyone does. So just like a doctor, your CxP can provide benefit at any point whether the building is brand new, 100 years old, performing well, or on the brink of failure.  The benefits of CxP outweigh the initial costs and provide a compliment to the CM process.

McCownGordon Construction has a long history of outstanding performance on our projects and high levels of quality.  Selecting us as your commissioning authority is a natural evolution of this quality process.  Our team is more likely to be impartial than a commissioning authority from the engineering team or trade partners who have designed or installed the work themselves. Our department depth of experience and understanding in all facets of commissioning (design, energy efficiency and construction) give us a unique point of view to help you achieve your goals.  Add that to our ability to integrate easily in these phases of the project are added benefits.  Our ability to plan and have the experience of both design and construction allows us to collaborate, understand and schedule CxP tasks better than firms that have only a design or a construction point of view.  Simplified communication and execution of tasks, reduced costs, fewer delays, and more sustainable and efficient designs are only a few of the benefits to having McCownGordon as your partner.


Ready to work with our commissioning team?