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What do consulting engineers do? Architects and facility owners hire consulting engineers to draw system plans and write specifications for their buildings; including, (but not limited to), electrical, heating, ventilating, air conditioning, plumbing), fire protection, structural, and civil. Electrical systems, (for example), include: utilities serving the building (power, telephone, cable TV &  fire alarm); lighting; power distribution; fire alarm systems; telephone distribution; cable TV distribution; and any other electrical system that the particular building might require. The consulting engineer is responsible for designing within the architect’s/owner’s budget limitations; and coordinating with the requirements of utility companies and inspection authorities. At the end of the design phase the consultant prepares a specification document, detailing the material requirements and system functions. During bidding he attends pre-bid meetings, clarifies issues for his trade, and prepares addenda to be issue to inform bidders of changes in the requirements. After a contract is awarded, the consultant reviews/approves shop drawings detailing all equipment that the contractor proposes. During the construction phase he visits the job site to record progress and clarifies the contract documents. At the completion of the construction phase he prepares a “punch-list” detailing corrections to the work, if needed.


  • Interesting Work – Each project is unique with specific requirements, existing conditions, options and cost constraints.
  • Participation in all aspects – You create (your engineering specialty) of a project, from the study through design, approvals, bidding, shop drawings, clarifications, construction observations, and the final “punch list”. You actually see the project go from a blank sheet of paper to a constructed, one of a kind project that you can see and touch.
  • Not stuck behind a desk – Some of your day will be made up of meetings with clients, vendors, colleagues, utility companies, and contractors and others; field investigation; and job site observations.


  • You are in an adversarial position – Your oversight of a project is to make sure that the owner gets the equivalent of what you specified. The contractor typically wants you to accept an inferior product; your client expects you to protect the building owner’s interest and the owner often wants better than what you specified.
  • The Construction Industry is “cyclical” – If you’re good at your job, you will usually be working. But, if a recession it too deep or lasts too long, you may find yourself unemployed.
  • Dead-line Pressure – Deadlines are constantly changing and often there are multiple projects pressing for your for attention. Overtime and sorting-out the top priorities can be stressful.
  • Profitably Pressure – Everyone in business is driven by a profit motive; even consulting engineering firms. No matter how good that you are at your job, if you can’t make a profit for the company, you will not last.
  • Too Much Work – Consulting engineering firms are reluctant to turn-down projects because they can never tell when current projects will be delayed and they may have spent a year or more waiting for a project that suddenly gets the go-ahead. That creates more stress for you.
  • Too Little Work – Conversely too little work is even more stressful; it almost never seems like the work load is steady.
  • You’re the “bad guy” – During construction, the owner sees you occasionally, but usually sees the contractor every day and friendships are formed. Before you know it, in protecting the owner’s interest, you are being too hard on his friend.

Do you want to learn more?

Read the details in the new book The “Complete Guide” to CONSULTING ENGINEERING, by John D. Gaskell, Retired Professional Engineer. Go to and use coupon code “paperback” and save.