Building services engineers: job role explained

February 11, 2022

Building services engineering is a broad discipline that covers the design, installation and maintenance of all of the services required to keep a building or site operational. This can include a wide range of operations including acoustics, heating, lighting, health and safety, power and supply, access and more.

The role of the building services engineer is broad and varied with a great deal of autonomy over the role. As a building services engineer, you will need to be a self-starter who can take initiative and identify what work needs to be completed. You’ll also need to be versatile in your approach to work, as the role can often expand into other areas of building management.

What is a building services engineer?

A building services engineer is a professional who is responsible for the design, installation and maintenance of all the mechanical and electrical systems in a building.

The job description of a building services engineer includes:

  • Designing, installing and maintaining all the mechanical and electrical systems in a building.
  • Ensuring that these systems are safe, efficient, environmentally friendly and cost-effective.
  • Working with other professionals such as architects, interior designers or construction managers.
  • Retrofitting older buildings with more energy-efficient systems.

As you can see, the role is incredibly varied and could encompass a wide range of responsibilities. Within the building services engineer role, there are also specialist roles to consider. These include:

  • Electrical engineer
  • Heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration
  • Lighting engineer
  • Mechanical engineer
  • Public health
  • Facade and structural engineer

What does a building services engineer do?

A building services engineer can get involved at any stage of a project. They might be involved with designing the internal services of a building during the planning stages. They might be involved with overseeing the installation to make sure everything is working as it should. Or they could be involved with maintaining existing structures and buildings. And with the focus shifting to environmentally friendly installations, a lot of building services engineers are also involved in identifying ways to make structures more eco-friendly.

The role is certainly varied and challenging, you will need to demonstrate the following skills to be able to succeed in the building services engineer sector:

  • Work closely with a range of contractors to commission, organise and assess work.
  • Created detailed plans, diagrams, drawings and other documentation.
  • Use CAD programmes to create plans and design new systems.
  • Utilise and develop Building Information Modelling (BIM) to coordinate systems.
  • Manage budgets and forecast spending for large projects.
  • Design equipment for use on-site, as and when required.
  • Oversee the installation of systems and create maintenance schedules.
  • Decide when to upgrade and replace ageing equipment.
  • Monitor all processes and systems within the building
  • Work alongside other professionals such as engineers, surveyors and architects to plan updates and new building work.
  • As a consultant, you might work with clients to negotiate and develop new projects.
  • Lead project meetings and technical meetings.
  • Ensure all systems adhere to health and safety requirements.
  • Advice on optimal energy usage and methods to reduce the environmental impact of the building or structure.
  • Jump from project to project in a short space of time. 

What skills does a building services engineer need?

What skills does a building services engineer need?

There are a few skills that will enable you to succeed as a building services engineer. These are outside of the technical engineering skills that will be developed during your studies. The skills listed below will enable you to cope with the ongoing demands of the role.

  • Problem-solving. You’ll need to be able to identify issues and take steps to solve them. This is a self-starting role, and you might also be responsible for putting the systems in place that allow you to spot issues when they arise.
  • Multitasking. Your time might be split over multiple conflicting demands. You’ll need to be able to handle multiple things at once and triage issues in order of importance. If you’re leading a team, you’ll also need to be able to delegate tasks and ensure everyone has a fair workload.
  • Communication. The building services engineer might work alone a lot of the time, but this doesn’t mean that they won’t come into contact with lots of other departments. You might need to be able to communicate very complex concepts to those without an engineering background.
  • Analytical skills. You need to be able to take an analytical approach to your role and determine what would be the best use of your time.
  • IT competence. You’ll be expected to use a wide range of computing packages and these may change over the years. Being able to adapt to new systems and quickly learn how to become proficient in different packages will make you a more effective building services engineer.
  • Time management. As mentioned, this is a self-starting role with a lot of autonomy. As such, you’ll need to be able to manage your time effectively and determine how best to devote your attention to different projects. Striking a balance between getting things right and getting things done will be an ongoing challenge.

How do I become a building services engineer

How do I become a building services engineer?

Most people enter the systems engineering sector after completing a degree in an engineering discipline. This could include any of the following disciplines:

  • Electrical engineering
  • Building services engineering
  • Built environment engineering
  • Energy engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Structural engineering

After completing a three or four-year degree programme, you might start in a graduate role with a consultancy. This will enable you to gain a wide range of experience across different sectors.

It’s vital to take a strategic approach to your career early on, as this will enable you to develop the skills you need to succeed in this sector. You might choose to specialise in a specific area such as electrical engineering, or you might take a broader approach by studying for a degree in building services engineering.

It’s also possible to increase your earning potential with chartered status by joining the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE). Chartered status allows you to demonstrate your advanced knowledge of engineering principles and will allow you to work anywhere in the world where the qualification is recognised.

How much does a building services engineer earn?

Engineers are typically well compensated for their work, and you could see you're earning potential increase by taking on roles in dangerous environments such as chemical environments, or by taking a role that will require you to be away from home for an extended period, such as working on an oil rig.

A graduate building services engineer can expect to earn between £26,000 and £28,000. With a few years of experience, you could expect this to increase from £30,000 to £34,000. An experienced engineer can earn upwards of £40,000 and the most senior project managers can expect to earn around £50,000.

Chartered status will significantly increase your salary, with most chartered building services engineers earning more than £80,000. With large consultancy firms, this amount could easily extend to £110,000.

Building services engineers may get additional benefits such as a company vehicle, private health insurance and the possibility to earn overtime and bonuses. Many companies will also offer a generous pension scheme, allowing you to plan for your future with ease.

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