Commissioning tests: how long do they take to write?

How long does it take to write a set of commissioning test procedures? The quick answer is the same as the answer to “How much does it cost to commission a building?” It depends on the size of the project and its complexity.

One way I try to answer this question is by addressing the concept of “commissioning light, medium or heavy.” Commissioning light is typically a lower budget project, such as a small elementary school; commissioning heavy, on the other end of the scale, is more complex, such as a data center.

A set of tests for a small project might take anywhere from a couple of days to as much as a week or two to write. A comprehensive set of tests for a data center could take a team of test writers 4-8 weeks, or more.

So, one factor that affects test writing time is the size and complexity of the project. Another factor is the actual scope of the tests. For example, test writer A may consider the testing of a VFD to be complete if it is proven to operate automatically from the BMS and maintain setpoint, while test writer B may want to also have the VFD demonstrated in various manual modes. Or, test writer A may be satisfied to see the chillers all come ON, stage correctly and hold setpoint, while test writer B may include capacity testing under various load conditions.

Project specifications, including many commissioning specifications, don’t always make these distinctions. In those cases, the test writer and the commissioning firm may be faced with a choice: what’s the maximum value they can provide for the budget that's available?

One of the pitfalls that concern commissioning firms is luxury car expectations on a used car budget. Test writing is one of those areas that can be far more elusive to quantify than buying a ceiling diffuser, pump or light switch – all things that can be thoroughly described in a data sheet. On the other hand, ask six commissioning people what the single most important part of an air handler test is, and you will likely get six different answers.

Ultimately, however, the objective is simple: does it work? That’s what the tests are out to prove.

In any case, commissioning tests should always include “The Six Attributes of Good Commissioning Documentation.” Make sure your tests incorporate these attributes, and that each test is thorough enough that a person with a reasonable amount of experience could administer or perform them. 

Sample Chiller Tests - are these tests light, medium or heavy?

Many other Sample Chiller Tests (scroll down) - do they meet the six attributes?