Building services engineers are responsible for the services that make a building function: the lighting, power, ventilation, heating, cooling, water services and so on. Their input begins before construction starts and extends well into the operational life of a building.
Building services engineers work with the client, architects and structural engineers to develop and agree a brief for the building, which is then turned into a design to be installed by a contractor. Once construction begins, building services engineers monitor the performance of the installers to ensure the services are completed according to the design.
Building services engineers play a key role in ensuring that projects are energy efficient and sustainable. There’s a lot of research being done into new types of technology and building services engineers look at how these can be applied to make energy savings. The emphasis on sustainability does not just extend to new-build projects. Since regulation has become more stringent, building services engineers are increasingly concerned with how existing buildings can incorporate sustainable development appropriately, for example by using wind and solar power. This is a particular challenge on historic buildings.
The good news is that you don’t necessarily need a building services engineering degree to work in this sector: a mechanical or electrical engineering degree is also usually accepted and some employers accept other engineering degrees if you have taken relevant modules.
There are two main aspects of building services engineering: mechanical and electrical. Mechanical covers things such as air conditioning systems, ventilation and heating; electrical is concerned with aspects such as power, lighting, fire alarms and security. It is also possible to specialise in a particular area, such as lighting. There are also a number of ‘bolt-on’ specialisms for building services engineers, including sustainability, IT, acoustics and fire consultancy. Larger organisations are able to offer these services to clients in house, while smaller employers buy them in.
The type of job you do will depend on the type of employer you join: consultants tend to have more input into a project’s pre-construction stages, while contractors usually get involved on site, installing the services. When you start, your managers will concentrate on making sure that your technical skills are up to scratch and, if you work for a consultant, you’ll probably begin by doing simple calculations under supervision and turning the designs into installation drawings using a CAD package. You should also begin to work towards your professional qualification. The traditional career route for a graduate is to start out as a graduate engineer and progress into management, but increasingly there is scope to progress within a technical position or to specialise in research and development. Graduates hoping to pursue a career in building services engineering should keep up with developments via the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (www.cibseireland.org in ROI, www.cibse.org in the UK) and Engineers Ireland (www.engineersireland.ie).
Skills required by graduate recruiters in this area include:
- Interpretational skills (the ability to turn computer outputs into practical solutions)
- Strong communication skills
- Once you are chartered you can work anywhere in the world and the salary is generous too.