Articles - Lighting Controls

Design Intent - The Ongoing Importance of Commissioning Lighting Control Systems

When we discuss commissioning in the lighting industry, what most of us meant (for too long) was initial system startup and programming. 

The long overdue adoption of true third-party commissioning and verification of lighting control systems requires both precision of language and an industry wide consideration of how we specify, install, startup, and commission our lighting control systems. Commissioning is not just good practice, it is frequently mandated. Many energy codes and sustainability programs, such as LEED™, require the adoption of commissioning plans and certified agents for lighting controls. For states and localities that have implemented some version of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), including Washington, Idaho, Montana, and the city of Seattle, refer to section C408 System Commissioning for more details. 

Lighting Design Lab published an article in 2003 noting the importance of commissioning lighting control systems. To say there have been some changes in the industry over the years would be an understatement. The light sources and technologies driving the hardware devices may be much improved, but the concepts and many of the specific requirements and strategies remain the same. Recognizing this, it may be useful to discuss a few specific additional steps that the design and construction community may take to help ensure more successful outcomes.    Commish.jpg

To preface, there are a number of useful references for the commissioning process, including The ASHRAE Guideline 0-2005 The Commissioning Process, the Building Commissioning Association The Building Commissioning Handbook, and the IES DG-29-11 Design Guide for The Commissioning Process Applied to Lighting and Control Systems. These offer a very detailed look at the various steps and requirements inherent in the process.

In DG-29-11, the IES adapts language from ASHRAE 0-2005 to define the Commissioning Process as,
“A quality-focused process for enhancing the delivery of a project. The process focuses upon verifying and documenting that the facility and all of its systems and assemblies are planned, designed, installed, tested, operated, and maintained to meet the Owner’s Project Requirements.”

Well, that seems straightforward. Just meet the OPR, if any have been articulated for lighting or lighting controls, and just make it work. Easy, right? Right?

Ultimately, the point is to engage in a well-defined quality process that ensures that the systems that we design and install will function as effectively as possible; maximizing the benefits to the occupants of the built environment while minimizing energy use to the extent possible - in that order.

Actual project commissioning, as opposed to the control system startup that began this discussion, should be done by a qualified third-party commissioning agent. Commissioning agents offer the project another voice during design to help develop project requirements. They review the documentation and ensure that sufficient information is available for system design to meet those requirements prior to bidding, procurement, and installation. During the construction phase, they may perform verification and acceptance testing. They help ensure that everything is functioning as the design team intended, or supervise necessary adjustments when required. For these benefits to be realized, the commissioning agent must be engaged early in the design process, included in key milestones, and be recognized as a valuable project team member.

That all sounds great – what are some key elements that design teams should include in their documentation and process to help ensure project success in commissioning?

  • Basis of Design (BOD):  A BOD document for lighting should be developed early in the Schematic Design phase and should be updated during Design Development and Construction Documents phases. Include a detailed narrative describing the lighting and control system requirements for all major project space types. Be sure to note specific criteria such as target light levels, switching vs dimming, required dimming levels, timeouts, daylighting criteria, and anything else that may be good for the owner, commissioning agent, and construction team to know.
  • Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) Specifications:  Project specification sections are where control system parts, pieces, and installation requirements are defined. Most commonly, specifications will identify a Basis of Design system or vendor as well as listed approved alternates, or criteria for reviewing alternate submissions. The more detail included in a specification section, the more likely the appropriate hardware will be provided and installed.  Carefully consider requirements for system factory startup, training for users and maintenance personnel, and commissioning agent coordination.    
  • Sequence of Operations:  A comprehensive Sequence of Operations should be developed and provided for all commercial projects. This is where we detail project specific elements such as time of day scheduling, sensor timeout or similar criteria, switching/dimming groups, and dimming presets. This may be included in the CSI Specifications, but may also be provided as detailed sheet notes for some projects. 
  • Owners:  Assume that Commissioning Agents will be part of the design and construction team. Work with your design team to develop strong BOD and OPR documentation on which future project decisions and commissioning may be based. 
  • Occupants:  Commission the occupants – make sure that space users receive an introduction to the installed controls and how they function so they know what to expect. Consider developing a cheat sheet that may be provided to all new occupants during onboarding. This will improve adoption of new controls systems and reduce maintenance calls based on misunderstandings.
  • Architects: Assume that Commissioning Agents will be part of the design and construction team. Work with your design team to develop strong BOD and OPR documentation as well as project CSI specifications. Keep your sub consultants engaged throughout the entire process for best results.
  • Engineers:  Assume that Commissioning Agents will be part of the design and construction team. Review OPR or work with owners to determine OPR. Develop strong BOD documentation and CSI specifications.   Develop detailed system operations narratives and Sequence of Operations documentation. 
  • Lighting Designers: Assume that Commissioning Agents will be part of the design and construction team. Develop strong BOD documentation and CSI specifications. Develop detailed system operations narratives and Sequence of Operations documentation.  Coordinate with engineers and architects to ensure that good documentation is included in final project specifications, plans, and details.
  • Contractors:  Assume that Commissioning Agents will be part of the design and construction team.  Review OPR, BOD, Sequence of Operations, and Specifications thoroughly. Proactively ask the design team to clarify any elements that may not be fully understood or documented during the bid process. Coordinate with design team to provide and install lighting control systems that meet or exceed all OPR, CSI Specifications, and requisite Sequence of Operations documentation. Coordinate with manufacturers and commissioning agents to provide system startup services prior to engaging in system testing. Make sure that factory startup technicians are provided with all Sequence of Operation and BOD documents.  #