Price v. Preparation: The Growing Importance of Qualifications-Based Selection

by Shaun May, EIT

This article is part of Wood Harbinger’s newsletter series.

Highly tuned building systems offer the promise of energy efficiency and conservation. This often results in cost savings to building owners through reduced energy consumption and capitalized utility company incentives as well as contributes to meeting building codes, benchmarking policies, and green building certifications like LEED. High-performance systems are often highly complex, with control sequences and programming that must be integrated and optimized in order to realize their benefit.

That is where building commissioning comes in. Whether for new construction or existing buildings, commissioning is the quality-focused process through which an owner verifies that building systems achieve project requirements and work to their full potential. The commissioning team knits together systems knowledge with communication and team collaboration to provide design and installation verification and drive issue resolution to achieve systems integration and optimization.

As owners understand the benefit of optimized systems, they seek out the professionals that help make it happen. This is evidenced by the rapid and continuing growth of the commissioning industry. According to Navigant Research, “global revenue for building commissioning services is expected to grow from $2.7 billion in 2014 to $6.6 billion in 2024.”

As the demand for commissioning services grows, so does the competition. Increased competition can drive a shift toward better service offerings, as providers try to differentiate themselves. However, it can also lead to a perception of commoditization and attempts to differentiate based on price point. The fact remains that commissioning services are not a commodity. Commissioning to achieve system optimization efficiently and successfully takes truly qualified providers. Getting truly qualified providers for your project team takes qualifications-based selection (QBS).

Why QBS?

Federally funded projects have been required to procure architecture and engineering services based on qualification since the Brooks Act of 1972. Many states, including Washington, have adopted versions of this law as well. Many engineering industry organizations have analyzed in depth the benefits of quality-based selection as noted in the examples below.

The American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) outlines four key reasons for the use of QBS for publicly funded projects, including protection for public welfare, protection for taxpayers, helping small firms compete, and promoting technical innovation.

The National Society of Professional Engineers supports QBS because it believes that “qualified professional engineers, on the basis of design ability, experience, and integrity should perform all engineering services.”

The American Society for Civil Engineers recently approved an official position supporting QBS on the grounds that “the relevant experience, ability and specific technical approaches of the proposing design professionals are far more important to the overall quality, utility and life-cycle cost of any project than is the initial engineering fee.”

The Building Commissioning Association released a position paper in December 2014 supporting QBS for the commissioning industry as a way to assure that commissioning provides the “maximum value to owners” and increases “the overall value to the project, the team, and a quality outcome.”

The private sector lacks the same regulation as publicly funded works, but as the benefit of a quality-based selection process proves itself, we may see greater adoption of QBS in these market spaces as well.

How to Tell If You’re Getting the Quality Provider You Need

Bottom line: If you want quality, select for quality. There are some concrete markers that owners can use to evaluate commissioning providers’ qualifications and determine if they’re right for your project team:


Experience ranks above all else as evidence of a commissioning provider’s qualifications. There is no substitute for knowledge gained in the field, encountering equipment, systems, and conditions in real-life operating scenarios. Look for market specialization and experience with like systems. Ask for relevant work samples as proof points of how a commissioning provider goes about their tasks and solving problems. Seek out references with performance reviews for previous projects.


We believe the best commissioning providers are engineers by training. A Bachelor of Science degree in engineering, physics, or mathematics provides a problem-solving-oriented foundation of approach. There’s also continuing education to take into account, be that webinars or conference session attendance, or other courses such as those offered through the BCxA University.


In one of my previous articles, I discussed the variety of commissioning certifications out there. There’s a little more clarity in the certification evaluation process now, with the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) guidelines for commissioning credentials and their requirement for ANSI ISO 17024:2012-accredited certification. The Building Commissioning Certification Board’s Certified Commissioning Professional (CCP) was the first to become an ANSI-accredited credential. ASHRAE’s Commissioning Process Management Professional (CPMP) certification has also achieved ANSI accreditation.


First and foremost, a commission provider is an owner’s advocate, focused on assuring that owner’s needs are met and all stakeholders work toward improving the end-user experience. In evaluating a commissioning provider’s approach, pay attention to the priority they give to the end-users in a particular project space. For educational environments, the end users are the students/teachers; in healthcare, they are patients and providers; for maintenance facilities, they are the maintenance crew comfort and efficiency.

Also look for the commissioning provider’s ideal project involvement – a good commissioning provider advocates for their early involvement in the project process, when the owner’s project requirements are being developed.


This is an important step because it allows the team to see how well they gel. Building projects are truly a team sport. Good listening, proactive problem solving, and creating a collaborative environment are important traits in a commissioning provider. Take this opportunity to get your team in a room together and see how they interact to provide a glimpse of what it will be like to work together.


Without a doubt, we believe in the power of preparation. Only highly skilled, highly qualified commissioning professionals should be put in a position to safeguard your best interest when it comes to huge capital investments in buildings and other forms of infrastructure. Cutting corners in the commissioning process by hiring the lowest cost provider can bring devastating consequences downstream. As the American Council of Engineering Companies, The National Society of Professional Engineers, The American Society for Civil Engineers, and The Building Commissioning Association all agree, credentials do matter. QBS raises the bar for everyone and owners accrue the benefits over the entire useful life of the building. We think that’s a very good thing!

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