Building Services Engineer

The Job and What's Involved

Building services engineers design a wide range of systems within new and existing buildings. They are also responsible for the installation, commissioning and ongoing maintenance of the systems. The range of systems is likely to include:

  • Energy supply - gas, electricity and renewable sources
  • Natural and artificial lighting
  • Heating, ventilation and refrigeration
  • Water, drainage and plumbing
  • Telephones and IT networks
  • Lifts and escalators
  • Security and alarm systems
  • Fire detection and prevention

Building services engineers can ensure that buildings have a positive impact on the environment. They therefore seek to use environmental technology systems such as solar water and heating, photovoltaics (solar panels) for microgeneration, rainwater harvesting and low-energy lighting.

Building services engineering covers a wide range of jobs. Responsibilities vary but may include:

  • Making presentations to clients on the systems that are being recommended and their benefits.
  • Negotiating contracts with clients.
  • Designing systems with the aid of CAD (computer-aided design) software.
  • Overseeing the installation of systems on site.
  • Testing and checking systems on site.
  • Making sure that systems meet legal and health and safety requirements.
  • Meeting manufacturers of building products to learn about the products.
  • Managing the operation and maintenance of building services in a completed facility.
  • Managing budgets.
  • Liaising with other professionals, including architects, builders, surveyors and structural engineers.

Building services engineers have standard working hours, Monday to Friday, but may have to work longer, depending on the project, priorities and deadlines. They may sometimes have to work at weekends and at night. Part-time work is possible.

Most building services engineers are office based but carry out regular construction site visits, which can involve physical activity and working at heights. They visit construction sites around the UK and may often be involved in projects overseas.

Engineers are expected to wear hard hats, high-visibility jackets, safety shoes and other necessary equipment when on site.

Graduate trainees may earn up to £25,000 a year. Chartered engineers may earn up to £50,000 a year and senior managers and project directors may earn over £70,000 a year.

Some employers may provide additional benefits, including a company car or car allowance, private health insurance and a company pension.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Building services engineers work throughout the UK and are based mainly in cities and large towns. Despite the current recession, the demand for qualified building services engineers remains strong because of increasing demands for energy-efficient buildings. At present The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) has around 20,000 members in the UK and overseas.

Employers include:

  • Design consultancies (the major employers of building services engineers).
  • Building contractors.
  • Building services contractors.
  • Manufacturers of specialist equipment such as lifts.
  • Local authorities.
  • Government departments.
  • Hospitals.
  • Factories and power stations.
  • Companies that service and maintain installations.

A number of building services engineers are self-employed and work on a freelance basis.

Vacancies may be advertised in national newspapers and in publications such as the CIBSE Journal. They are also advertised on the websites of employers and of a number of specialist building services recruitment companies.

Education and Training

The most direct route into this work is with a relevant honours degree, such as:

- Building services engineering
- Building environment engineering
- Environmental and energy engineering
- Electrical or electronic engineering
- Mechanical engineering
- Physics and applied physics
- Maths
- Computer science

Entry to these degree courses is usually with at least two A levels, preferably in maths and scientific subjects. Other relevant qualifications may be accepted, either on their own or in combination with A levels. They include:

  • AS levels and applied A levels.
  • BTEC National and BTEC Higher National qualifications.
  • Access courses.
  • The International Baccalaureate.
  • The Advanced Diploma in engineering or construction and the built environment.
  • A foundation degree.

Candidates should check prospectuses carefully, as the content of courses and entry requirements can vary considerably. Degree courses usually last three years full time or four years for courses that include a year's practical work placement.

It may be possible to enter this work with a BTEC Higher National Diploma/Certificate (HND/HNC) or a foundation degree in a subject such as those listed above. Entry to these courses is usually with at least one A level or equivalent.

Alternatively it may be possible to start at technician level and progress to professional engineering. Entry routes at this level include Apprenticeship training, particularly the Advanced Apprenticeship for building services engineers, or study for a qualification such as a BTEC National Certificate or Diploma in construction and the built environment (building services engineering), operations and maintenance engineering, or mechanical engineering.

Additional resources

A Few More Exams You Might Need

All trainee building service engineers go through a period of initial professional development (IPD) before achieving Professional Engineer status. A number of companies offer CIBSE-approved IPD training programme's - see the CIBSE website for a list of approved company schemes.

Building services engineers may work towards Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng) status, depending on their level of qualification. They may achieve this through membership of CIBSE or another engineering institution licensed by the Engineering Council. Registration can open up further employment opportunities.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is important for building services engineers to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. CPD activities include private reading and study, academic studies, mentoring others and attending courses and conferences.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A building services engineer should:

  • Have strong engineering skills and an aptitude for design.
  • Be proficient in working with computers and computer-aided design (CAD) software.
  • Be able to analyse and solve problems, often creatively.
  • Have good communication and interpersonal skills.
  • Be able to take responsibility.
  • Work well in a team.
  • Have good organisational skills.
  • Be able to work carefully, methodically and safely.
  • Have good budgeting skills.
  • Be able to meet deadlines.
  • Be able to adapt to change.
  • Be capable of motivating others.

Your Long Term Prospects

Building services engineers may become team leaders, project leaders, project managers or department managers. Further progress can lead to general management, and there may be the opportunity to become company directors or partners.

Professional qualifications and relevant experience are important for promotion, as is keeping up to date with changing technology.

There are opportunities to work abroad..

Get Further Information

The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE),
222 Balham High Road, London SW12 9BS
Tel: 020 8675 5211

SummitSkills (The Sector Skills Council for Building Services Engineering),
Vega House, Opal Drive, Fox Milne, Milton Keynes MK15 0DF
Tel: 01908 303960

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