Yeah, that's the general perception of people who don't know. What they don't see is the computational fluid dynamics required to design a smoke control system to keep an atrium safe while people evacuate a building during a fire, or how the dew point temperature of the air coming out of your air conditioning unit is more critical than the actual air temperature.
It irks me when the janitorial staff is placed under the domain of the engineering department, and a typical building engineering staff contains no degreed mechanical engineers, much less professionally licensed engineers.
There are laws against using the word "Engineering" in a company name or description when that company has no licensed engineers on staff. They are enforced occasionally, but never make the 6:00 news.
Apparently, this subject is a hot button with me, so I promise this will be my last post on this thread.
The engineers (civil, structural, mechanical, and electrical) who design the public environment (buildings, roads, traffic control, bridges, etc) are first and foremost charged with protecting the public safety. First, do no harm.
The same is true for engineers who design products that people use. Our cars are becoming safer because engineers are charged with protecting the safety of those using the products, especially when they are travelling 160 mph down the highway.
Believe me, if you are a degreed mechanical engineer working in a position with an engineering title, you are most likely being challenged to bring your education and experience to bear on the task at hand. It's a rare non-engineer that would be able to perform your work, no matter what field you are in.
It's not a letdown to work in the HVAC industry. It's a lot more complicated and challenging than you think. If you are really interested in why it's not a trade job, go to www.ashrae.org
and poke around a bit. Who do you think are trying to figure out how to design net-zero-energy buildings?