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The changing role of the building services engineer

by mel starrs on April 17, 2006

in Engineering & Science

Last September an ‘open mike’ piece in Building magazine written by Bill Ireland of White Young Green addressed the identity crisis facing building services engineers. The piece (subscription required) mirrored my own views:

Over the past three decades the M&E engineer has moved on from just designing the ‘pipes and wires’ that service a building, to advising the design team on building orientation, levels of thermal insulation, building airtightness, glazing performance, daylighting, geothermal heat sources, aquifer water supplies, rainwater reclamation, combined heat and power and tri-generation, the effects of earth mounding buildings, wind power generation, photovoltaics, biomass as an energy source…the list goes on. Once this has been achieved, the conventional building services role of designing the ‘pipes and wires’ can be undertaken where necessary’

building services professionals are clearly changing to become building physicists and energy specialists to accomodate these needs’

‘the new engineer has an ever-increasing set of tools to accurately simulate building options… but without being involved early enough, being given the time at the appropriate stage or adequate funds or foresight, we’re on a sticky wicket. Our involvement is essential at the inception of a project as our input can have a major effect on its viability and its performance’

An interesting fact I hadn’t appreciated before was that CIBSE has only been in existence since 1976 (shortly after the oil crisis of 1973). Compare this to RIBA (1837) and ASHRAE (1959). In 30 years CIBSE has tried to adjust to the scenario Bill describes. Last week, their strategic vision for 2006-2010 landed on my doorstep along with the Annual report for 2005. Of the 6 strategic objectives, the one that most resonated with me was the register of competent persons, which CIBSE have addressed with the Low Carbon Consultants scheme. This ‘elite’ squad of engineers signal the way the industry is headed…

  • Daryl Wood

    what are the roles nd responsibilitys for building services?

  • Gordon Hudson

    November 2011 – Interesting to read this early posting. CIBSE was IHVE before 1976, so was around in another form. The low carbon consultants register seems to have faded away, is that right ? It would be interesting to see if the numbers on the register have dropped throughout the last two/three years. The rise of the building physics person has, i think continued though.