Last edited 09 Jun 2021

Building services


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

Building services might include:

For more information, see Types of building services.

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. Whilst 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 modelling (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.' (Ref. CIBSE fact sheet) and buildings account for almost 50% of carbon emissions (Ref. CIBSE).

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 the following:

The collection of more data to feedback information about performance in use will be necessary to rectify this problem.

NB: Building services will have to be upgraded and equipment replaced a number of times in the life of most buildings, building services engineers should consider this throughout design development as well as ease of maintenance and running costs.

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