Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Scroll down on this page to find answers to the following questions:
What are commercial buildings?

What is a building engineer?

What is a typical day for a building engineer?

What is the career path for a building engineer?

How much does a building engineer make?

How do I advance my career? 

What training/education does a building engineer need/?

How stable are engineering jobs?

How is technology changing the building engineer’s job?

How do I reach out to companies who may be hiring?  Check out the links to the HR Department of local property management firms!

What are the skill set levels and training courses required for various level positions within the Building Engineering Field?

Building Engineers explain what they do and why this career is so exciting!

What are commercial buildings?

Commercial buildings are all around us.

Your doctor’s office is probably in a medical office building.  That coffee you picked up this morning might have been from a tenant in a retail building.  The latest shipment that arrived on your doorstep most likely came through one or more warehouses or distribution centers before you received it.

Commercial buildings include:

  • Office buildings
  • Warehouse and industrial buildings
  • Retail buildings
  • Mixed-use buildings (that combine several different space uses in one location – like office, retail, and apartments)

In some cases, each of these categories can be further sub-divided:

  • Office buildings
    • Medical office buildings
    • Government buildings
  • Warehouse and industrial buildings
    • Distribution centers
    • Warehouses
    • Manufacturing facilities
    • “Flex” buildings
  • Retail buildings
    • Malls
    • Shopping centers
    • Power centers

Commercial buildings cover a wide spectrum – from relatively simple (like a single story industrial building) to extremely complicated (like a large office park with multiple buildings sharing the same building systems).  

What is a building engineer?

Regardless of the complexity of the building, it takes a team of people to manage and maintain commercial buildings.  Building engineers are important members of that team.

Building engineers operate the building – and maintain and repair its major systems, including:

  • Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC)
  • Lighting
  • Electrical distribution
  • Plumbing
  • Life safety systems (including fire alarms and fire sprinkler systems)

In today’s highly competitive business environment, building engineers are building operators.  They optimize building operations to keep tenants happy – while at the same time ensuring the property operates as efficiently as possible.  Not only does efficiency help the tenant (by reducing their occupancy costs), but reducing expenses also helps to improve the building owner’s financial performance.

In order to optimize the performance of a commercial building, building engineers are tasked with the responsibility to maintain the building systems.

And, in the event a building system breaks down, it is the building engineer who repairs it.

Building engineers are also among the most customer-focused members of the team.  In many cases, they represent the “face” of the building manager because they tend to have a great deal of contact with tenants.  Building engineers are focused on keeping the tenants happy and comfortable, and one of the most important aspects of their job is a customer-service focus.

Sustainability and energy efficiency program are also important aspects of the building engineer’s responsibilities.  Many buildings in the Washington, DC Metro area are rated under the Leadership in Engineering and Environmental Design (LEED) program as designed by the US Green Building Council.  And almost all office buildings in the market use sustainable practices – even if they do not pursue LEED certification.  On top of that, the most desirable engineers are those who can optimize the performance of building systems and who can drive down energy costs in the process.

Although he or she might work in a retail or industrial building, the majority of building engineers work in mixed-use or office buildings.

What is a typical day for a building engineer?

It depends!

In some cases – particularly at those buildings with a large building engineering staff – the building engineer might have a very specific role, and his/her day-to-day responsibilities might be somewhat predictable.  In these cases, the building engineer might be responsible only for one trade – like HVAC, electrical, or plumbing.

In most cases, the building engineer is a “jack of all trades” – responsible for all operational issues at a property.  For these building engineers, there is no “typical” day – and that is one of the biggest draws for many people who gravitate to this career path.

What is the career path for a building engineer?

While the titles might change from company to company, building engineers tend to be grouped by their skillset.  Common titles include:

  • Maintenance Helper (or Porter) – an entry-level position for a person with very limited engineering skills and experience
  • Maintenance Technician (or Maintenance Mechanic) – an entry-level position for a person with limited engineering skills and experience
  • Building Engineer – a mid-level position for a person with solid engineering skills and several years of experience
  • Lead Building Engineer – a mid-level position for a person who wants to supervise other building engineers or for someone with strong engineering skills
  • Chief Engineer – an upper-level leadership position for a senior building engineer – chief engineers manage the engineering team members, optimize the operation of major building system, manage operational budgets, and “run” a building
  • Senior Chief Engineer – an upper-level leadership position for experienced chief engineers – senior chief engineers serve as executive leaders, and they often manage the engineering staff for a larger portfolio of buildings
  • Vice President of Engineering – often the executive leader of a company or a region within an national/international company

How much does a building engineer make?

Most building engineering team members are paid on an hourly basis.  While there are a number of factors that go into compensation, here are some general pay guidelines for the various positions identified above:

  • Maintenance Helper (or Porter) – $10 to $15 per hour
  • Maintenance Technician (or Maintenance Mechanic) – $15 to $25 per hour
  • Building Engineer – $25 to $40 per hour
  • Lead Building Engineer – $30 to $45 per hour
  • Chief Engineer – $45 to $60 per hour
  • Senior Chief Engineer – $100,000 to $200,000 per year
  • Vice President of Engineering – $100,000 to $300,000 per year

In addition to base compensation, these positions often come with a lucrative benefits package that typically includes:

  • Overtime for hourly employees
  • Paid Time Off (PTO) – holidays, vacation, sick days
  • Annual bonus
  • Uniforms and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Health, prescription, vision, and dental insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Disability insurance
  • Retirement (pension, 401(k), or other retirement vehicle)
  • Flexible spending accounts
  • Wellness programs
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Education, training, and development
    • Many employers pay for the cost of your industry-related training – and encourage your attendance at training programs

It is common for at least some members of the building engineering team to be on-call 24/7 to support the needs of their assigned building(s).  However, if you end up working additional hours, the overtime you earn can substantially improve your pay.

How do I advance my career?

The good news is that the “sky is the limit” in terms of how far you can go in your building engineer career! 

You can grow your career – at your own pace – by:

  • Working hard
  • Committing to lifelong learning and development
  • Seeking out new opportunities and challenges
  • Working with a mentor (or more than one mentor) who can guide your career path

Remember that the building engineer is part of a larger team of professionals who work together to optimize the performance of a commercial building.  Being able to work as a member of a team – and, if it is part of your career plan, to lead a team – is critical to your success.

What training/education does a building engineer need?

Although it depends upon the company you join and the needs of the specific position, as an entry level employee you might not need much formal training to get started.  Employers are looking for team members who are:

  • Self-motivated
  • Flexible – able to adapt to constantly-changing conditions
  • Mechanically inclined
  • Service-oriented and customer-focused
  • Life-long learners

A high school diploma (or GED) is a prerequisite for almost all engineering positions.

For details about what skills you need for different positions within the industry click here.

Entry-level building engineering team members will focus on learning how building system operate and will gain the “tool skills” needed to repair and maintain these systems.  You can expect to be promoted to a building engineer position once you have shown proficiency in repairing and maintaining building systems.

Through a combination of on-the-job training and formal education (often paid for by your employer), building engineers will learn about:

  • HVAC systems
  • Electrical systems
  • Plumbing systems
  • Energy efficiency strategies
  • Customer service

As you acquire more skills, the engineering pathway often branches in two directions – engineering and engineering management.

If you choose the engineering pathway, you will focus on repairing and maintaining increasingly complex building systems.  With the right education and experience, you can become an exceptional practitioner – someone who can expertly operate building systems.

If you choose the engineering management pathway, you will focus on first supervising, then managing, and then leading other team members.  As a lead engineer, you will learn how to supervise other members of your team.  As a chief engineer, you will manage a team of engineering employees.  And, as a senior chief engineer or vice president of engineering, you will be responsible for leading a larger team of engineering professionals.

The AOBA Engineering Talent Task Force (ETTF) created this Competency Guideline to explain the various skill sets that are needed at each progressive level of responsibility in building engineering.

How stable are engineering jobs?

Building engineering positions are incredibly stable careers.

Some commercial buildings have been owned by the same entity for decades, and others are bought and sold many times over time.   However, no matter who owns the building, there is always a need to have high performance building engineers to operate it.

A number of factors are fueling the demand for engineering jobs, including:

  • An increased number of commercial buildings in the Washington, DC market
  • Increased sophistication of building systems – requiring a different skill set for building engineers
  • Impending retirements of senior engineering professionals in the next 5-10 years

How is technology changing the building engineer’s job?

Today’s high-performance buildings are highly automated, and the best and brightest building engineers will work with some of the latest technology as they work to optimize the performance of the various building systems.   Today’s building engineers are as likely to rely upon their laptop, tablet, and smartphone as they do their hand tools.

The building engineer is exposed to a variety of different technologies, including:

  • Digital communication (email, text messaging, etc.)
  • Work ticket apps (to manage tenant service requests and preventive maintenance tracking)
  • Building Automation Systems (BAS) – computer systems and apps that monitor and control the various building systems, including:
    • HVAC
    • Lighting
    • Elevators
    • Life safety systems
    • Access control systems
    • CCTV and video surveillance

To excel in this business, the building engineer needs to show proficiency in both tool skills and well as the use of technology.

 

Additional Employee Resources:

Akridge

Brandywine Realty Trust

COPT

JBG Smith

Tishman Speyer

Blake Real Estate

Lincoln Property Company

MRP Realty

Stream

What are the skill set levels and training courses required for various level positions within the Building Engineering Field?

Engineering team members go by a variety of different titles, and job descriptions vary widely from company-to-company. However, the competency guidelines outline four specific career levels: entry-level, mid-level, senior-level, and executive-level. Click here for details.