Understanding the Different Players in the Industry – Building Services Engineers

The construction industry is made up of a series of relationships with architects; designers; engineers; contractors; sub-contractors all working together to meet the needs of the client. This blog is the fourth in the series looking at the different players in the industry. The aim of this series is to provide a clearer view of the complex construction industry and how the different members of the project team work together. In this blog we review the role of the Building Services Engineer.


The Building Services Engineer – a brief history

  • 1729 “La Science des Ingénieurs” published – Written by French engineer Belidor – First study of the science of structure
  • 1735 John Desaguliers designed the first modern heating blower, turned by hand by an operator referred to as the “ventilator” for the Houses of Parliament
  • 1745 Steam heating proposed by William Cook
  • The Industrial Revolution provided the catalyst for more advanced warm-air systems.
  • 1792 First commercial use of gas lighting
  • 1790’s Steam engine pioneers Matthew Boulton and James Watt had installed steam heating in their residences
  • 1805, William Strutt invented a warm-air furnace
  • 1810 Manual on steam heating was published, titled An Essay on the Warming of Mills and Other Buildings by Steam, published in Glasgow by Civil Engineer Robertson Buchanan
  • 1818 Institution of Civil Engineers founded
  • 1821 Dr. Paul Meissner of the Vienna Polytechnical Institute, Vienna, published a book on heating with hot air
  • 1878 Sir Joseph Wilson Swan patented his incandescent lamp
  • 1831 Angier Perkins high-pressure hot water system was patented
  • 1837 Charles Hood of London wrote the first engineering handbook for hot water heating, which was subsequently published in revised editions for 50 years.
  • 1863 Radiators as we know them date to when Joseph Nason and Robert Briggs patented a new design
  • 1874 Nelson Bundy invented the first popular cast iron radiator
  • 1897 Institution of Heating and Ventilating Engineers founded
  • 1890s ‘Hot blast’ heating systems for large building established
  • 1905 Professor Warren Johnson invented the humidostat for control of the humidity in buildings
  • 1909 Illuminating Engineering Society founded
  • 1926 The Electric Refrigeration News first published
  • 1930s Gas lighting for streets gave way to low pressure sodium and high pressure mercury lighting and the development of the electric lighting at the turn of the 19th century replaced gas lighting in homes.
  • 1976 Chartered The Institute of Building Services Engineers received its Royal Charter
  • 2013 CIBSE has numerous specialist groups including Lighting, Public Health, Facades, Ventilation and Low Carbon.


The role of the Building Service Engineer

Building Services Engineers specialise in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering or public health. The role of the Building Services Engineer is to design, install and maintain the services in new or existing buildings. These services cover areas such as lighting, heating, air-conditioning, energy supply, security systems etc. In summary they are responsible for the engineering of the internal environment of the building. And with sustainability firmly on the construction agenda Building Service Engineers play a significant role in ensuring a building’s performance is ecologically sound. They work closely with architects, structural engineers and quantity surveyors, having a strong influence on the product choice in relation to sustainability and energy demand.

With the advent of BIM this influence can only be set to increase. The design team are already experts at modelling many aspects of the built environment including daylight, lighting, ventilation and energy to name but a few. BIM will see this modelling taking place on a larger more integrated scale. BIM goes beyond 3D modelling, it includes building fabric modelling for example, which looks at the embodied carbon and accessibility and will incorporate maintenance and operational information for building components. The Engineer will play a key part in developing these early stage models for projects. BIM will also bring a step-change to the monitoring of buildings in-use, information can be drawn on to enhance the way a building is used and inform future design practice.


Communicating with Building Service Engineers

Our research into the communication channels used by Building Service Engineers shows that a third do not read hardcopy journals, with qualitative feedback indicating a move away from this publication format. At the same time there has been an increase in companies allowing the use of social networks at work. Over three-quarters of Building Service Engineers said they were a member of a social network, such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, with nearly half saying they have used Twitter to assist them with work.

With this in mind it is increasingly important to include digital channels in your communications mix. Tina Cardy, then Head of Communications at CIBSE (now with IStructE) gave these pointers:

  • “Most people’s lives are heavily influenced by the web so anyone researching anything pretty much starts with Google. From a marketing perspective this means, of course, that manufacturers must have a robust digital and SEO strategy.”
  • “Documentation and information should be easy to find and simple to access. Choose carefully which content you decide to ask people to register for as this can become a barrier to engagement.”
  • “Not many of us enjoy unsolicited approaches by sales people so the use of social media is no different in this regard. Providing information to help the specifier is always a way forward so for example joining technical and construction groups on Linkedin are a good way to watch and only take part when you have something worthwhile to add e.g. not to be brand specific. Recommendations from peers which is often what social media is about, has far more gravitas than a direct sell.”



  • Have a robust SEO strategy to ensure you can be found online.Be active on social media sights.Provide technical support in a format that fits the needs of your audience.
  • In all your communications avoid a sales pitch, instead present yourself as knowledgeable – a trusted advisor.
  • Be aware that with the advent of BIM the influence of the Building Service Engineer is set to increase, especially in the area of sustainable design.


Further reading