Building engineers administer maintenance and repair services for apartments, workplaces and healthcare facilities. They come to the rescue when lights fail, air conditioners malfunction and roofs leak. Some building engineers learn their trade through formal education, while others refine their skills through on-the-job training. Building engineers earn a moderate income, but enjoy a wealth of job opportunities.
What Does a Building Engineer do?
Building engineers—also called building services managers and building supervisors—are responsible for the maintenance and repairs of all types of buildings, including office buildings, apartment complexes, hospitals, churches, hotels and manufacturing facilities. Typically, their responsibilities encompass maintaining virtually all physical aspects of a building, from the structure to heating and cooling equipment to electrical infrastructure.
Building engineers must have working to expert knowledge in many areas of maintenance and repair. They must have the ability to make at least minor repairs to heating, cooling and ventilation equipment, as well as electrical features such as wall outlets and light fixtures. For example, if an air conditioner in an apartment malfunctions due to a faulty compressor, the building services manager must order the part and make the repair.
Building features such as heating boilers, alarm systems, swimming pools and closed circuit TV systems typically fall under the authority of a building engineer. Building engineers often work closely with building managers to determine the physical needs of the buildings they operate. For example, a building manager might task the building services manager with researching, soliciting bids for and overseeing the installation of a key card security system.
To comply with local fire and building codes, building engineers must follow regular inspection schedules for equipment such as elevators, fire extinguishers and smoke detectors. It is their responsibility to ensure that the buildings they maintain meet local, state and federal health and disability codes. For instance, a building engineer must ensure that her building has the requisite number of ramps for wheelchair users.
The duties and responsibilities of a building services manager can depend on the type of building he maintains, along with local maintenance and repair laws. For example, a building engineer for a food manufacturing facility might administer maintenance and repair of refrigeration equipment.
In certain locations, building engineers must outsource certain tasks due to state or local licensing laws. For instance, a building manager at a hospital might contract a licensed plumber to repair a broken pipe.
Building engineers often manage the renovation of vacant office or living spaces, or perform the tasks themselves. For instance, a building services manager of an apartment building might repair a unit’s drywall and install new carpeting to prepare it for a new tenant. She also might order and install new appliances, replace broken windows or install bathroom tile.
Typically, building engineers are responsible for obtaining work permits from government agencies. For example, a building services manager for an office building might submit technical drawings to a city building code agency and apply for a renovation permit before expanding an office space.
Some building engineers work alone, while others manage a crew of maintenance technicians, grounds keepers, renovation professionals, electricians, plumbers and heating, ventilation and cooling specialists. While some building engineers take their orders from managers, others work directly with tenants to maintain facilities and make repairs.
Building Engineer Education Requirements
Typically, employers require building engineers to have at least a high school education. Many building engineers gain experience through on-the-job training or through previous employment in fields such as plumbing, electrical repair or home renovation. Others learn certain aspects of the building services manager trade through high school coursework such as woodworking or mechanical drawing.
Some community colleges and vocational schools offer associate degree and certificate programs designed for students seeking careers in facilities maintenance and repair. For example, Remington College, which has campuses throughout the southeastern United States, offers a Facilities Maintenance and Technology associate degree. The 21-month program teaches students how to install and repair drywall, make electrical repairs, maintain and repair heating and air conditioning equipment, perform carpentry tasks, maintain plumbing , repair hydraulic and pneumatic systems and repair small appliances. The Remington program also includes general education coursework, including psychology, algebra, communication, business principles and career development to provide students with a well-rounded education.
Building Engineer Licenses and Certifications
In many locations, state and local governments do not require building services managers to hold a license. Nonetheless, many building engineers choose to obtain certifications to boost their careers.
Professional organizations offer certifications specific to the building services manager profession. For example, Building Operator Certification (BOC), a Seattle-based program affiliated with the Northwest Energy Efficiency Council, administers the Certified Building Operator program, which provides certification for maintenance workers, electricians and operations supervisors. The program requires candidates to pass a training course and examination to earn certification.
The National Association of Hotel and Lodging Engineers administers the Certified Chief Engineer (CCE) program, which consists of a training and certification program for building engineers in the hotel industry.
Building Engineer Experience Requirements
Typically, employers look for building engineers who can perform tasks relative to the buildings they must maintain. For example, California State University in Fullerton, California requires its building engineers to have experience maintaining and repairing boilers, air conditioning systems, refrigeration equipment and ventilation systems.
A hospital might seek a building manager with a background in working in the sterile environment of a healthcare facility. Likewise, an apartment complex might seek a building manager with renovation experience such as painting, carpet installation and woodworking.
Building Engineer Essential Qualities
Building engineers need more than training and experience to succeed in their jobs; they also must possess certain personal and professional qualities. Since building engineers must perform maintenance and repairs in people’s homes, they must be able to pass a background check.
Building services managers must have good customer service skills and an empathetic nature when dealing with tenants’ repair issues. To diagnose problems and devise a solution, they must have good troubleshooting and analytical skills.
The physical challenges of a building engineer’s job requires dexterity. They must have the physical stamina to climb ladders, carry heavy equipment and work in close quarters every day.
To prioritize job requests, building services managers must have good project management and organizational skills. And to keep up with regularly scheduled maintenance, building engineers must have good time management skills.
Building Engineer Salary
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not track salaries for building engineers. However, according to a Bureau survey, general maintenance and repair workers earned a median income of around $38,000 in 2017. The median salary represents the middle of the maintenance and repair worker pay scale.
Numerous jobs websites offer average salaries for building services managers, based on subscriber-submitted data. According to Indeed and ZipRecruiter, building engineers earn an average salary of about $53,000. Glassdoor’s estimate places building engineers’ incomes at an average of $48,000.
Job location can play a big role in the income you can earn as a building engineer. According to a Neuvoo survey, building services managers in New York earn an average of more than $100,000, while their California colleagues take home around $70,000. Texas building engineers make an average of $50,000 per year and their Alabama counterparts average $30,000 annually.
Which Type of Engineering Has the Highest Salary?
The role of a building engineer is more akin to a maintenance technician than it is to a civil, electrical or mechanical engineer. Education and salaries reflect the differences in career paths. Unlike building engineers, civil, electrical and mechanical engineers must earn a college degree to practice their trades. According to the BLS, civil and mechanical engineers earn a median annual salary of around $84,000, while electrical engineers take home a median wage of $94,000 per year.
Building Engineer Employment Outlook
In 2016, about 1.4 million maintenance and repair professionals worked in the United States, according to the BLS. More than 20 percent worked for real estate rental companies; government agencies and social assistance organizations employed about 20 percent.
The BLS expects employment opportunities for maintenance and repair workers to increase by around 8 percent, through 2026. Numerous factors account for the field’s job growth, including an increase in new home buyers, an aging homeowner population and a trend toward home improvements. The market also will need more building services managers to replace those heading into retirement.