Building Engineer Tools – what you should have

building engineer tools

The tool pouch they gave all of us Engineers when we first started.

Edit:  NO tools were harmed in the making of this building engineer tools post!

Sat, sat, Saturday.  Good morning and happy weekend!  I am very close to wrapping up my shift here at the hospital.  Get off at 7 in the morning and then back tonight at 7 pm.  Awesome.

With just under 3 hours to go, freezing temps outside, and snow starting to drop, I was starting to struggle with what to do next.  Should I check the boilers?  The chillers?  See if all of the ahu’s are running?  Nah.  Let’s put a post up.  I have been tossing this post idea around in my head ever since the site went live at the end of 2013. – the tools of the rare and endangered building engineer.

I love tools.  Point blizznank.  I love the way most feel, look, and smell.  I love the way my big Craftsman tool chest smells when I open certain drawers.  I could probably write about tools all the livelong day.

I have been putting this topic off ever since then too.  I don’t know why.  Well, let’s do it.  Let’s knock it out.  What sort of tools does a building engineer need?  All kinds.  There should be a literal mega-butt-ton of pics below of my building engineer’s tool pouch and everything I carry.

We are going to try and answer questions like what tools should you have, what tools are basically required, and which are nice to have.  We’ll also try to include some note about building engineer tools along the way, stuff I’ve learned.

Building Engineer’s Tool Pouch

what tools does a building engineer need

My tool pouch.

In this pic you can see the one I use now is one of those leather, pouch type, tool carriers.  It’s my favorite out of all the ones I’ve had.  It was given to all new hire engineers at Hines.  Within the first few days of getting hired, building engineers would get a box full of stuff – Christmas for us.  The box was this tool pouch and then a bunch of brand new, still packaged, perfect smelling tools.

You have any idea how long it took to get all of the tools situated just right?

You want to have enough of a variety of tools so that you can at least correct or temporarily fix whatever it is you’re working on.  Ideally a building engineer or facilities person would have a few electrical tools as well as some mechanical tools.

At first I put all of my tools into one of those wide-mouth bags, then this pouch you see here, and then the upright tool bag you can see in my post here.  I have always gone back to this baby though.  I like the leather, I like how it stains and gets worn in.

Tools & Your Employer

building engineer tools

My pouch – exploded view ha ha.

Sometimes your employer will buy tools for you to begin with.  Other places – maybe not.  The first hospital I worked at upon leaving the military as a maintenance engineer just handed you a list on your first day.  “Get the tools on this list by the end of the week,” they said.

So I was around 25 years old, 2 little boys, a wife that stayed at home, and I had been out of the military for less than a week.  No pay coming in and they hand me a list that probably ended up being around $250 worth of tools.  My (ex)-wife was not pleased.

Other places, like Hines and McKinstry, just gave you building engineering tools.  I agree with this way more, the employer not only provides you with the tools that they want you to use but as an employee you feel more valuable or special.  Like I said – big box of tools = adult Xmas.

If your employer forces you to go out and buy this stuff on your own and DOESN”T reimburse you, you should be able to claim all of them on your taxes as like workplace deductions.  This is for sure what I would do.  Real talk:  companies that don’t provide their building engineering staff with their own tools at company expense is to me, a crap company.  Would a hospital make a doctor bring their own scalpel?

What you want from your tools

what tools does a building engineer need

1 straight slot, 1 Phillips, and 1 mini screwdriver.

You’d like them to be efficient, portable, handy, & multi-use if possible.  As a building engineer, unless you are a PURE stationary engineer, you will most likely end up being on the move a lot.  A rooftop, a garage basement, an office space – who knows.

You don’t want to get tired carrying your stuff around.  You don’t want to have to dig through stuff to get to something you need like a small screwdriver in the bottom of your bag that then stabs you in between your fingers.

Where I work now, most engineers push around entire, full size frickin’ tool chests to any and every call.  Um, what?  How is that efficient?  I do not get it.  I believe out of the entire department, I am the only one that carries around a pouch of necessary tools.  Tool chests people.  Excuse me, coming through, entire line of Craftsman tools in here with 8 full size metal drawers to prove it, look out!

I can sling my pouch over my shoulder and climb a ladder.  These guys all have to open drawers, grab the tools necessary, maybe make trips up and down the ladder to carry the tools.  Insane.  Have a pouch or bag will your most handiest of tools and go.  At the first hospital, we didn’t even carry bags or pouches as first responders.  The building engineer tools you had were a set of pliers, a screwdriver, and a flashlight.

Building Engineer Tools List

building engineer tool list

Channel Locks & a union wrench.

Channel Lock Pliers (aka adjustable slip joint pliers):

Probably the single most important tool a building engineer can have or carry around.  Channel Lock is actually a specific tool name like q-tip instead of cotton swab, but if you ask for Channel Locks, we will know what you want.  Also they generally make the best adjustable slip joint pliers for our field.  Can be used on everything.  They have rough and smooth jaw versions.  Smooth jaw doesn’t wreck the pipe or finish.  If you can only get one tool right now, make it this one.

Union Wrench:

Not enough building engineers have this handy tool.  Useful for most connections that you’ll find in a bathroom as well as for steel & black iron pipe fittings.  A benefit of using this type of wrench on bathroom fixtures is that because of its smooth jaws, it doesn’t leave marks on or scratch up that chrome plated finish.  As you can see, my union wrench is tried and true.  Been through a lot, me and that wrench.


what tools does a building engineer need?

2 kinds of wirestrippers.

I carry one straight slot, one Phillips head, and then one mini straight slot for like landing digital control wiring on a terminal board or smaller, more detail jobs.  I also carry one of those Klein 10-1 multi screwdrivers.  Those are extremely handy.  I keep one in my truck as well.  With the pouch, I carry 4 screwdrivers, without the pouch, I have the Klein in my pocket.  Screwdrivers are another must for a building engineer or homeowner.  Pic is up above.


I have done a post on wirestrippers, the auto stripping kind, that you can check out by clicking here.  The other set, the manual, peasant kind, are just as good for home use or by building engineers.  You need wirestrippers for a variety of things – to replace a ballast, switch, outlet or to do an entire project like moving an outlet in your house.  I also keep a pair of wirestrippers in my truck.  Well, I’ll just say it, I have most of these tools in my vehicles as well.  Be prepared.

building engineer tools

Standard & Metric Allen wrench sets.

Allen Wrenches:

As far as building engineer tools go, you’d need both a standard allen wrench set and a metric set.  You never know when you’re going to come across some set screw that was made in Europe.  You might have every standard size known to man but if it’s metric…  Allen head screws can be found on on like door hardware, pumps/motors/fans as shaft set screws, some elevator components.  I prefer this collapsible kind compared to the all poking out kind, you know what I’m talking about.  I like this kind because I can fit it into my pouch and not have to remove other wrenches in order to get at others.

what tools should a building engineer have

Lineman’s & dykes – cutting me some wire.


Shouldn’t have to say too much on pliers.  Pliers are another one of the building engineer tools that some just carry around in their backpocket.  You should have a variety of them on standby just in case you need one to do one particular thing.  For example, you should have a set of needlenose pliers in your bag, box, or pouch, just in case you need to reach way down into something and get a screw.  You should have a set of dykes or Lineman’s pliers in case you are doing electrical work.  Dykes are what we call diagonal cutters.  They usually have insulated handles, are sharp and pointed, and are used for cutting wire or cable.  How did I not get a pic of my needlenose?  If you look up at the top pic of the pouch, the yellow handled pliers up front are my needlenose.

  • Dykes (aka diagonal cutters)
  • Needlenose pliers
  • Lineman’s pliers
list of building engineering tools

Fluke tester and fuse puller.

Meter & Fuse Puller:

For these I think 3 things are essential when responding to like tenant or house calls – a quick little meter or tester, in this case the Fluke T-3, a standard 600v fuse puller for testing purposes, and then the little pocket Voltalert from Fluke.  With these 3 building engineer tools you can troubleshoot a lot of stuff.


2 sizes of Crescent wrench.  Again, this tool is just like the q-tip, Crescent is who makes it but that is what everyone calls it.  And adjustable wrench.  I hate them, building engineers shouldn’t use them, but they are invaluable in a pinch since they fit everything.

I have a 6″ and a 10″ crescent wrench in my pouch.  Those 2 can

facility maintenance tools

6″ & 10″ Crescent wrenches.

handle just about anything I run into.  My union wrench takes over if these are too small.  A crescent wrench is just too handy to not carry around as part of your tool arsenal but most don’t like them because they can round off fastener heads, or slip and cause you to bust open a knuckle.  Carrying a variety of regular box end wrenches aorund as part of your building engineer tools isn’t worth it.  Inefficient to carry 15 wrenches.

For the next section, miscellaneous, these tools don’t necessarily fit into an easy category of tools that a facility maintenance person would have but they are still important.  I’m going to try and minimize the explanantions here, after all you are a smart person, I think you know the purpose of tape and magnets.


what tools does facility maitenance need

An awl, mirror, & magnet.


  • Electrical tape – black & orange.
  • Teflon tape for plumbing & pipefitting jobs.
  • 4-way water key for turning water supplies on/off.
  • Inspection mirror for leaks or hard to reach spots.
  • Magnet for retrieving.
  • Utility knife.
  • Pressure gauge for old school stuff.

Okay, I’ve still got 2 more pictures I need to share.  How is this going to work?  Damned this alignment stuff.  One is for the tape and water key.  The water key is a must because it can shut off water from 4 different size incoming lines.  If you happen to look underneath a sink out at a restaurant or whatever, usually underneath where the lines come out of the wall to the sink, there won’t be any valves with handles like at your house.  Building engineers must use this style of water key to start and stop the water.  A homeowner doesn’t need this one but a facility person, yes.

Building engineer tools

A t-stat pressure gauge.

The pressure gauge is cool because it represents a throwback to when building engineering was cool.  It still is I guess.  Remember way back when someone would adjust the temperature and you’d hear that hiss?  Pssssss.  Those thermostats, or t-stats as we call and write them, use air to control other parts of the system.  That hiss is the air getting ported somewhere else when you make an adjustment.

Building engineers remove the t-stat from the wall, plug in this pressure gauge with a syringe needle, and this verifies that the t-stat is working properly.  If we get weird readings, we can also use it to calibrate the device.  Not many places still use pneumatic or air controlled thermostats anymore but if you come across one in your travels, you’ll need one of these.

required building engineer tools

Electrical tape and 4-way water key.


In this very lengthy post, we covered what should be expected as far as building engineer tools go.  Or at least what I would expect you to have as a Chief Engineer.  With the tools listed and explained above, you can get a lot of stuff done.  It might be testing, repairs, or troubleshooting but if your puch is full of stuff like what is up above, you’ll be able to figure it out.

So what did I miss or leave out?  There has got to be some tool that one of you has in their bag or on their truck that I forgot that is an absolute must for building engineering.  Whose got one?  Let me know.