Building services engineers design, install and maintain the services that are needed to allow the building to do what it's designed to. These services include:
- health and safety;
- lifts and escalators;
- power and supply;
There is a growing emphasis on sustainability and building services engineers are at the cutting-edge of designing, developing and managing new technologies that help to reduce the carbon emissions of a building.
While the role increasingly demands a multidisciplinary approach, some building services engineers choose to specialise in a certain area, such as:
- electrical engineering;
- facade engineering;
- heating, ventilating, refrigeration and a/c;
- mechanical engineering;
- public health;
- sustainable and renewable energy.
The role of a building services engineer can vary depending on the specialist area of work and employer. In general though, tasks can include:
- negotiating and developing project contracts and agreeing these with clients if working in consultancy, and putting out tenders;
- commissioning, organising and assessing the work of contractors;
- working with detailed diagrams, plans and drawings;
- using specialist computer-aided design (CAD) software and other resources to design the systems required for the project;
- using and developing BIM (building information modelling) to ensure systems are coordinated in a complex construction or refurbishment project;
- managing and forecasting spend, using whole life cycle costing techniques, ensuring that work is kept to budget and energy efficient systems are implemented;
- designing site-specific equipment as required;
- overseeing and supervising the installation of building systems and specifying maintenance and operating procedures;
- monitoring building systems and processes;
- making decisions about expired systems equipment and the appropriate location of new equipment;
- liaising closely with other professionals, including structural engineers, builders, architects and surveyors and in-house project teams;
- attending a range of project group and technical meetings;
- ensuring that the design and maintenance of building systems meets legislative and health and safety requirements;
- advising clients and architects on energy use and conservation in a range of buildings and sites, aiming to minimise the environmental impact and reduce the carbon footprint;
- working on a variety of projects within a short period of time.
- Starting salaries for graduate building services engineers are generally in the region of £26,000 to £28,000.
- Experienced engineers can earn £40,000, with those working at a more senior level earning over £55,000+. Having chartered (CEng MCIBSE) or incorporated (IEng ACIBSE) status will generally increase levels of pay.
- Partners in a firm of consulting engineers or highly experienced building services engineers with chartered status may earn over £80,000.
Rates of pay can vary substantially across different regions. Pay rates are generally similar to those within civil engineering and are affected by the current economic climate of the construction industry, as is the availability of jobs. At present there is high demand for construction professionals.
Income data from the Chartered Institution of Building Engineers (CIBSE). Figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours usually exceed average office hours but do not usually include weekends or shifts. Some roles, however, may demand call-outs in the case of emergencies. Part-time work is often possible as many contract staff are employed to respond to peaks in the workload.
What to expect
- The job is generally a mixture of office and site work and the amount of time spent in each location varies depending on the role and sector. Some jobs are mainly office-based with much of the work being concerned with design and estimating and with only a short amount of time being spent on site planning and coordinating installation.
- Sites include every type of building from brand new developments, to ancient heritage properties. Each may require you to develop specialist skills.
- Self-employment and freelance work is sometimes possible. Those with chartered status and extensive experience may establish themselves as independent consultants.
- Jobs are widely available in most areas of the UK but there are more opportunities in urban areas, especially London and the South East.
- The role involves contact with a variety of people at all levels.
- The profession has been traditionally separated into electrical and mechanical roles, but the job is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary and diverse, with opportunities to specialise in many areas and an emphasis on low carbon technologies.
- Travel within a working day is frequent.
- Overseas work or travel is available, with UK-qualified building services engineers being in demand throughout the world.
Entry to the career of building services engineer is typically via an engineering qualification. In particular, a degree in one of the following subjects will be useful:
- building services engineering;
- built environment engineering;
- electrical engineering;
- energy engineering;
- mechanical engineering;
- other engineering degrees.
Engineering or technology HNDs/foundation degrees can fulfil all the academic requirements to become an engineering technician (EngTech), or part of the requirements to gain incorporated engineer (IEng) status. Appropriate further learning to degree level would then be needed to progress further in the job.
Chartered engineer (CEng) or incorporated engineer (IEng) status can be gained through membership of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE), or other engineering institutions licensed by the Engineering Council. For chartered status, an accredited first degree in engineering or technology, plus an appropriate accredited MEng or an accredited integrated MEng degree are usually required. You can search for accredited degrees on the Engineering Council website.
Individuals with qualifications not listed on the Engineering Council website are assessed individually and may still qualify for incorporated or chartered status.
CIBSE offers student membership to those on relevant courses, which can lead to valuable networking opportunities at industry events, as well as discounted prices on publications and other resources.
You will need to show evidence of the following:
- problem-solving ability;
- analytical skills;
- communication skills;
- the ability to work as part of a team;
- 3D visualisation, computer modelling and IT competence.
Pre-entry experience is not formally required, but relevant work experience during the holidays or through industry sponsorship can enhance job applications and help with making contacts in the sector.
Building services engineers can find opportunities with a variety of employers including:
- consultancies providing services such as building services design, sustainable energy systems, installation inspections, specification and cost control to a variety of client companies;
- multidisciplinary construction companies requiring specialist design and planning skills for a range of projects;
- major house building companies advising on energy efficiency in design;
- universities and other educational institutions requiring ongoing building systems support and maintenance, in addition to occasional customised design work;
- local authorities requiring systems maintenance and design support across a range of facilities;
- public health and healthcare sectors, including hospitals and care homes, that demand specialist building systems design and maintenance.
A high proportion of building services engineers are employed by consultancies. They work on a range of projects, often at the same time. While they are likely to specialise in a particular area, they are required to apply a range of skills and specialist knowledge to a variety of areas, with an increasing focus on sustainability.
Self-employment as a consultant is an option for those with significant experience.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Building Services Jobs
- CIBSE Journal Jobs
- Fish4Jobs Engineering
- Modern Building Services
- National and local press.
Vacancies are often advertised in graduate and professional publications, but for candidates hoping to work in consultancies, making speculative applications is likely to be the most productive approach.
Specialist recruitment agencies, such as Hays Building Services, also handle vacancies and short-term contract opportunities.
As a building services engineer, you can work towards becoming professionally registered with the Engineering Council. To do so, you must be a member of a licensed institution, in this case the CIBSE.
You will need to prove that you have the necessary competencies and knowledge required for CEng or IEng status, usually through relevant qualifications and experience. Consult CIBSE for more information.
Technology and processes in building services engineering are developing all the time so it is important to stay up to date with this. There are many short courses, conferences and workshops available to help. Professional bodies, such as CIBSE, and trade associations, such as the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) provide opportunities in areas such as:
- design legislation;
- changes in standards;
- amendments to UK building regulations;
- UK/EU health and safety regulations.
CIBSE also has the Young Engineer Network (YEN), which consists of regional centres that provide a forum and support network for engineers new to the profession.
Progression routes within the industry are fairly clear cut. When working for client/end-users or contractors, career progression is usually from engineer to manager.
In consultancy, usually more in companies rather than partnerships, career progression is typically as follows:
- graduate engineer;
- project engineer;
- senior partner/managing director.
However, career patterns are not fixed and career development can depend on the employer, size of the company and choice of specialisation.
It is important to be strategic at an early stage when choosing the type of qualification to take and the areas in which to gain practical experience, as they may lead on to your specialist area. Building services degrees with a general focus provide a useful overview of the whole sector, while other types of degree, e.g. mechanical or electrical engineering, allow the development of more specialised skills.
Gaining experience and training in design, as well as installation and maintenance, can increase the opportunities for career development, whichever qualification route is followed. The profession is also seeing the emergence of new specialisations, such as intelligent buildings and organic lighting, which can open up new career possibilities.
Promotion is dependent upon gaining professional qualifications and appropriate experience, so it is advisable to gain relevant qualifications and become a member of the appropriate professional body as early as possible. Chartered and incorporated engineer status is recognised in the UK and overseas.
In order to progress in this fast-moving industry, it is important to keep up to date with developments and to maintain a combination of skills and relevant experience, together with a professional attitude.