Building Services

Building services are the systems installed in buildings to make them comfortable, functional, efficient and safe. Building services might include:

  • Building control systems.
  • Energy distribution.
  • Energy supply (gas, electricity and renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass).
  • Escalators and lifts.
  • Facade engineering (such as building shading requirements).
  • Fire safety, detection and protection.
  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC).
  • Information and communications technology (ICT) networks.
  • Lighting (natural and artificial).
  • Lightning protection.
  • Security and alarm systems.
  • Water, drainage and plumbing (including sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS)).
  • Carbon emissions calculations and reduction.

Specialist building services might also include systems for bacteria and humidity control, specialist lighting and security, emergency power, specialist gas distribution, fume cupboards, operating theatres and so on.

Building services play a central role in contributing to the design of a building, not only in terms of overall strategies and standards to be achieved, but also in façade engineering, the weights, sizes and location of major plant and equipment, the position of vertical service risers, routes for the distribution of horizontal services, drainage, energy sources, sustainability and so on. This means that building services design must be integrated into the overall building design from a very early stage, particularly on complex building projects such as hospitals. Whist it is usual for a building design team to be led by an architect, on buildings with very complex building services requirements, a building services engineer might be appointed as the lead designer.

The detection of clashes between building services and other building components is a significant cause of delays and variations on site, not just in terms of the physical services themselves, but also access to allow the builders work in connection with those services. The use of 3D computer aided design (CAD) systems and building information modeling (BIM) should help reduce the occurrence of such problems.

Increasingly building services engineers are central to the design and assessment of sustainable systems, assessing the life cycle of buildings and their component services to minimise the resources consumed and the impact on the environment during fabrication, construction, operation and dismantling.

According to The Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE), “In any new construction project, building services typically account for 30 – 40% of the total cost.” and buildings account for almost 50% of carbon emissions. As a consequence, many aspects of building services design are regulated (the building regulations, the energy related products regulations and so on), and clients may impose their own standards on top of these regulations or seek certification under schemes such the Building Research Establishment’s (BRE) Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM).

Ensuring that building services meet the standards set can involve the use of sophisticated simulation tools to predict the likely performance of buildings during the design stages (including the assessment and comparison of different options) as well as monitoring actual performance in use.

However clients and designers are becoming increasingly aware of a disparity between the predicted and actual performance of buildings, with many buildings using considerably more energy than had been expected (up to 5 times as much according to the Carbon Trust‘s Low Carbon Buildings Accelerator and the Low Carbon Buildings Programme). This may be as a result of; a lack of proper understanding of building design and the interaction between components, poor prediction tools, inadequate detailing, discrepancies between specifications and actual construction, poor build quality, the use of idealised performance data for products, improper user behaviour or operation and unexpected power loads (such as additional ICT equipment, external lighting and so on). The collection of more data to feedback information about performance in use will be necessary to rectify this problem.

Building services engineers work closely with other construction professionals such as architects, structural engineers and quantity surveyors. They influence the architecture of a building and play a significant role on the sustainability and energy demand of a building. Within building services engineering, new roles are emerging, for example in the areas of renewable energy, sustainability, low carbon technologies and energy management. With buildings accounting for around 50% of all carbon emissions, building services engineers play a significant role in combating climate change. As such, a typical building services engineer has a wide-ranging career path:

  • Design: designing layouts and requirements for building services for residential or commercial developments.
  • Design Management -Design management is the business side of design, which aims to create the right environment to control and support a culture of creativity and innovation, and to embrace the iterative nature of design involving the many disciplines that, collectively, will deliver design solutions – and all at the same time as ensuring that an organisation’s commercial goals and objectives are achieved and that all is done in an ethically sound way. Typically the building services engineering installation is worth 30–60% of the total value of a contract, Design management is not the same as project management. Project management focuses on a wider range of administrative skills but is not normally sympathetic to the peculiarities of delivering a fully coordinated functioning design, taking into account its unique nature and dealing with the changing requirements of clients and the external factors over which there is little control.
  • Construction: supervising the construction of the building services, commissioning systems and ongoing maintenance and operation of services.
  • Environmental: developing new energy saving methods for construction, designing new and improved energy conservation systems for buildings.
  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC): specialising in the design, development, construction and operation of HVAC systems.
  • Electrical technology: specialising in the design and development of electrical systems required for safe and energy sustaining operation of buildings.

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