Faults occurring in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems have significantly negative impacts on building energy consumption, occupant comfort, and indoor air quality. In the past thirty years, extensive research has been conducted on fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) methods, and there are now dozens of commercially available FDD software tools. Growing adoption of FDD tools has the potential to generate a massive and useful data set on fault characteristics. However, the lack of a unifying taxonomy is a significant barrier to efficient analysis and evaluation of FDD outputs. Therefore, there is a strong need to develop a robust taxonomy which can better represent and interpret FDD output data. This paper documents the development of a unifying taxonomy for HVAC system faults in commercial buildings, with initial focus on air handling units, variable air volume terminal units, and roof top unit systems. The developed fault taxonomy employs both a physical hierarchy of HVAC equipment and a cause-effect relationship model as tools to better understand and support root cause analysis for HVAC faults. A variable air volume terminal unit is used as an example to demonstrate the application of the developed fault taxonomy. The taxonomy has short-term application in a major U.S. study on fault prevalence, and promises longer term benefits to FDD software developers and building operators by creating a foundation for improved approaches to identifying and resolving HVAC faults.