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Mechanical engineer

Mechanical and plumbing engineers, and commissioning agents, are involved in the design and testing of mechanical and plumbing systems and devices, which translates to many different roles in the green building industry. 

Quick facts: Mechanical engineer
2019 Median Pay $88,430 per year; $42.51 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Number of Jobs, 2019 316,300
Job Outlook, 2019-29 4% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2019-29 12,400

In the planning and design phases, their duties typically include creating drawings and diagrams of building HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), and refrigeration, and plumbing systems. The HVAC and refrigeration systems include chillers, boilers, air-handling, ventilation, pumping, exhaust systems, cooling towers, and more. The plumbing systems typically include plumbing fixture selections and water, gas, and sanitary piping design.

In the construction and verification phases, commissioning agents confirm the architects’ and engineers’ designs meet the owner’s project requirements, and that the contractors have installed and programmed systems correctly according to the design. These tasks are performed through rigorous testing of the building equipment and systems before occupancy to ensure that everything performs as expected.  In the post-construction occupancy phase, mechanical engineers provide services for buildings that are in-use through operational maintenance as well as retrofit services to increase performance and reduce energy consumption. The construction and post-construction roles have more on-site responsibilities while the pre-construction roles have responsibilities that are typically performed in an office.

There are buildings and systems which may require specialized plumbing system design professionals, for example, manufacturing piping systems which include hazardous chemicals.

Additionally, mechanical engineers can perform Commercial Building Energy Modeling, which constructs engineering and economic models to represent the performance of buildings in order to evaluate and quantify the impact of policy, design, retrofit, and operational decisions. This role is often referred to as energy engineer. All of these positions have an impact on the process of producing efficient and sustainable buildings.

Role on a LEED project

LEED is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. Available for virtually all building types, LEED provides a framework for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings. LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement and leadership.


How to become a mechanical engineer

Mechanical engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology. All states and the District of Columbia require mechanical engineers who sell services to the public to be licensed. Mechanical engineering programs usually include courses in mathematics and life and physical sciences, as well as engineering and design. Mechanical engineering technology programs focus less on theory and more on the practical application of engineering principles. They may emphasize internships and co-ops to prepare students for work in the industry. Skills recommended for mechanical engineers include math, mechanical, problem-solving, listening, and creativity.

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Green building profile: Mechanical engineer

View Sarah's USGBC profile to learn more about her career journey.