The Systems in the Life of a Building Engineer

building engineering systems

The truck doesn’t fit…

Most people haven’t even heard of building engineering.  Sometimes when you tell strangers that you’re a building engineer, they immediately think of something a bit more glamorous like architecture or enormous construction projects.  If they are aware of it, sometimes they’ll have a bad image in their heads, like a sloppy, uneducated dude turning wrenches.

We are neither of those things!  We are a little bit cool, hip, and educated but also blue collar.  Down in the trenches pulling nasty toilets but also at times advising architects and building designers where to put what.
Building engineers have to be at least a little bit intelligent, the job requires it.  This doesn’t mean book smart or test taking smart, it can mean tool smart or system awareness smart.  Everybody is smart about something.

what does a building engineer do

Taking rounds.

Today we are going to quickly cover the systems a building engineer can expect to encounter throughout his day as well as his career.  They are pretty varied which is why we get so much exposure to so many different things (which is one of the reasons our job is so awesome.)  Some are way more important than others and usually people will gravitate towards the systems they are most comfortable with.

Systems You Can Expect to See as a Building Engineer

Like I wrote, some systems are more critical than others, we are going to divvy those up into like major and minor systems.

Major systems include HVAC, mechanical, electrical.  Minors could be I guess subsets of those like irrigation or compressed air.


Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.  Kind of the bread and butter of building engineering.  A lot of the work of the HVAC system goes on behind the walls, on the roof, and elsewhere.  The tenants or customers can’t see it but HVAC is crucial.  The office or building climate dictates people’s comfort as well as in some cases is dictated by their needs – like certain surgeries require that the room be kept at precise a precise temperature and humidity – no variation.  Same with some data centers and computer rooms.

Some subsystems that make up the major HVAC category include:

  • AHU’s– air handling units.  These supply & return the air from wherever to wherever – from the roof to an office for example.
  • Air Conditioning – this system has a variety of minor systems that make it up.  Systems like chilled water, condenser water, chillers or refrigeration machines compose it.
  • Heating – Boilers, hot water pumps, hot water heaters.
building engineer duties

Caterpillar yellow.

This includes power distribution, emergency power distribution, and emergency power generation.  Think big old fat diesels.

This also includes electrical troubleshooting – items such as outlets, light fixtures, & motors.


Plumbing, domestic water, fire sprinkling, piping, drain & waste.  Compressed air, gases, welding, pipe fitting.


  • Pneumatic tube systems like at the bank or hospital.
  • A huge one now, growing, is digital controls due to expanding technology.
  • Energy conservation.
  • Fire & life safety, fire protection.
  • Access controls (keys/locks/badges/ID cards) sometimes.

This list isn’t meant to include everything, not even close.  A day in the life of a building engineer can be stressful, rewarding, crazy, and aggravating.  All before lunch.  Maybe you have a meeting with a developer at 9, a tenant walk through at 10, have to pull at toilet at 11, and then sample the boilers after lunch.

Building engineers do it all, at all hours.  This post was supposed to give you an idea of some of the building systems you’ll encounter as you learn different buildings.

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