To find the right answers, you have to ask the right questions. When it comes to questions about homes and buildings, who better to ask than a structural engineer?
Still, you need to know if the answers you get are correct. With that in mind, here are some of the most common questions every structural engineer hears and how the top-quality pros should respond.
1 – What, exactly, does a structural engineer do?
Structural engineers specialize in determining the integrity of a home or building. They evaluate problems and establish solutions.
A building or home must withstand numerous factors throughout its lifetime. Weather, gravity and the pressure that a structure affects upon itself can all lead to major consequences if it cannot endure against these forces. In the event that something goes wrong, you need to call a structural engineer.
These are licensed professionals educated about the physics, materials and calculations that can affect how a structure will hold up under various conditions. They can determine the strength, durability and safety of a structure. This usually includes the building as well as related structures such as retaining walls, garages and new additions. If damage has been done and repairs are needed, a structural engineer will give you an objective breakdown of the issue and recommend the appropriate next steps.
Most importantly, a structural engineer can help allay your fears. Often, homeowners are told they have structural damage that requires extensive repairs, especially older homes. These reports can come from contractors, inspectors or builders, telling homeowners the work will cost $10,000 or more. Many times, a structural engineer will conduct an impartial, third-party review and determine that while some repairs are necessary, it will be far less than the tens of thousands of dollars in the original estimate.
2 – There is a crack in my foundation. Should it be repaired?
The foundation is undoubtedly the most vital part of any home or building.
A structural engineer can look at the loads transferred and determine the root of the trouble. Load transfer could be the cause but sometimes, it may be a design issue. You might also be facing a drainage problem or too much root growth. He will determine the true cause and advise next steps.
3 – My building was reviewed by a home inspection company. Do I really need a structural engineer, too?
A home inspector is typically a generalist who looks for signs of a potential problem. If they find something of note, they will usually advise you to consult a specialist to look at the issue in depth.
A licensed structural engineer will know what to look for. In addition, he will have more knowledge and training on the problem than a home inspector would. Think of it this way: if you had a medical issue, a registered nurse could give you sound advice but for an expert opinion, you would ask a trained physician. Whether buying or selling, it’s crucial to hire your own structural engineering experts.
4 – What structural issues should I be concerned about when remodeling?
In addition to the cost and time commitment of improvement projects, there may be many structural concerns. For example, before removing a wall, you need to know if it is load bearing. You might also want to correct sloped floors or bowed walls in basements.
Prior to any significant retrofitting or remodeling project, it’s important to consult a structural engineer. They can make recommendations, conduct a review and keep your newly redesigned structure from falling down around you.
5 – What structural problems can be handled by a structural engineer?
Soil movement (especially on a hill), damage from the weather or other natural causes, and destruction to load bearing wood by termites can be disastrous. There could also be issues regarding either interior or exterior stairs.
6 – How do I know you are qualified?
Every state and the District of Columbia require structural engineers to be licensed in order to provide services. There are different fields, such as electrical engineers or chemical engineers, so be sure the professional you hire has the appropriate specialization.
To obtain a license, they need at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Additionally, some states require at least four years working in the field and passing the licensing exam.
After receiving the license, structural engineers are assigned a special identification number. This number will appear on all approved plans and prepared reports. Beware of any structural engineer who will not or cannot provide his or her license number.
7 – What are some of the signs that I might need an inspection by a structural engineer?
A cracked foundation or walls, sagging ceilings, windows that stick or won’t close completely and doors that jam or can’t be closed properly could all be signs of trouble. You might also notice leaning walls outside, a bulge or curve in a concrete wall or weakness and chipping in your concrete foundation. Other problems can include moisture in your basement or crawl space and cracks in ceramic or vinyl tile on your floors.
Many of these troubles indicate a problem with the foundation. It’s best to fix smaller issues today before they become big headaches tomorrow.
8 – How can I know for sure that your work is high quality?
You should ask for and expect a portfolio of recently completed work and references. Some good questions for references include whether the work was delivered in a timely manner and whether the project was explained in easy-to-understand terminology.
9 – What should I expect from an inspection by a structural engineer?
All visible areas of the foundation are examined for signs of stress or deterioration
Basement and crawl space is looked at for any evidence of moisture
The framing should be inspected for signs of insect activity, rot and weakness
Elements of the roof, such as flashing, surfacing and gutters are checked to ensure the best performance and no leaks
10 – How much does it cost to have an inspection done by a structural engineer?
When buying or selling property, the costs can really add up. Many people don’t want to tack on the added expense of hiring a structural engineer to offer yet another opinion. On average, a structural engineer will charge $300-$500 an hour. Others may determine price based on a percentage of the total cost of a project.
Although some companies offer free assessments, customers may still be worried that the engineer will over estimate the necessity of fixing a potential problem, leading to thousands of dollars in repairs. However, the price of any inspection is small change compared to repairing a major structural issue in the future.