Why Do I Need A Structural Engineer?
Even for professionals, many renovation and remodeling projects turn out to be more complicated than first expected. As a contractor, you may include a small contingency reserve in your bid to cover unexpected problems that arise, to eliminate alarming the homeowner with every cost fluctuation. Since you don't have x-ray vision, you may uncover a potential problem once work has already begun, resulting in the need for a consultation with a structural engineer. This leaves you with the unpleasant task of telling the homeowner - who does not always understand why you couldn’t identify all problems in advance - that he should keep his checkbook handy to cover any potential major problems.
If you've ever found yourself in this situation then you've probably been asked "Why do I need a structural engineer?" Here's how you can help your client understand the need for this important expense.
Calling In A Structural Engineer
With a background in civil engineering, the structural engineer is a specialist in determining building integrity. He is equipped to advise you on how to make a building safe, in view of the weight it will bear and the environmental conditions it must withstand.
A structural engineer does not need to weigh in on general layout of rooms, ceiling heights, room sizes, traffic flow, stairway geometry, energy efficiency, or many other aspects of constructing or remodeling a home. For certain types of jobs, however, such as moving walls that may be load bearing, or adding an addition, particularly a second-story one, you are likely to need structural engineering expertise.
With his particular expertise, the structural engineer can make judgment calls as to what will support the structure in the following cases:
Load paths that go down to the foundation.
Connections between beams.
Adding beams, enters, columns.
Lateral load resisting systems.
Footings and foundations.
By properly specifying certain design parameters, materials, and construction techniques, the structural engineer offers recommendations to assure that the building will hold up to wind and weather, temperature variations, creep, cracking, and the expected load it will bear. You may also need his expertise if you suspect that termites have damaged the structure, or if poor drainage has led to moisture buildup.
Bad News Now Can Prevent Future Problems
While the homeowner seldom wants to hear that he must now use the money he planned to spend on fancy upgrades to instead cover unexpected hidden costs, taking the precautions suggested by the structural engineer will prevent future problems. Correcting foundation problems, adding secure steel beams, and reinforcing footings may increase the cost of a project, but making sure things are done correctly will ensure that the addition, new open room design, or finished basement will be as finely crafted as it looks beautiful.
To prevent sticker shock for your client down the road, you might budget for an evaluation by a structural engineer at the onset, and advise the homeowner as to what you doing. What the engineer tells you may allow you to more accurately estimate repair or construction costs so your job can come in on budget.
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