Maybe you’re the proud new owner of one of the more than 5 million homes that sell each year. Maybe you finally bought the building that serves as a home for your small business. Odds are good that whether you’re a longtime homeowner, new homeowner, or own a commercial property, you’ll want to remodel at some point.
A lot of remodeling projects are simple things, like adding kitchen cabinets. If you start talking about knocking out walls, though, a good contractor will recommend you get a structural engineer.
Are you wondering, “What does a structural engineer do?” Keep reading and we’ll cover what they do and why you’ll want them on board for your remodeling project.
What Does a Structural Engineer Do?
Most home or commercial building owners will probably think, “Can’t my contractor handle this?” Contractors bring a tremendous amount of knowledge about how to build with given materials. That can translate into some working knowledge about what materials are best for a given situation, but it’s not the same as professional training.
A structural engineer gets advanced training in materials, mathematics, and physics. All of that training lets a structural engineer look at a building or design, the proposed materials, and run an analysis on it. That analysis tells them whether or not the building can stand up to the kinds of forces it will face.
For example, the earthquakes common in California apply unique pressures on a building’s foundation and walls. Buildings on the Florida coast face hurricane-force winds. A structural engineer helps ensure that the design or design changes enable buildings in those locations to better survive.
Benefits of Hiring a Structural Engineer
Hiring a structural engineer isn’t just for ensuring that new building designs are safe for their location. Let’s say that you want to buy a home, but the home inspection identifies a structural problem.
Again, a contractor can recommend potential solutions. A structural engineer can come in, look at the problem, and provide a list of solutions that will fix the problem.
More importantly, they can back up those recommendations with hard science and math. They don’t rely solely on experience when making recommendations.
That lets you go back to your contractor with the list of solutions. Your contractor can price out the various solutions. That lets you decide if the home purchase is within your budget or not.
A structural engineer can also help prevent problems before they start. Let’s say you want a solar roof system.
While environmentally-friendly, solar systems can weigh a lot. Many roofs can’t support that weight without some reinforcement. A structural engineer can provide guidelines for how much your contractor should reinforce the roof for safety.
Structural engineers also help ensure that your project is code compliant.
Should I Hire a Structural Engineer?
Of course, not every remodeling project requires input from a structural engineer. Any remodeling projects that only make cosmetic changes to the building can move along quite nicely with your contractor’s input. Putting on new siding or a new roof, interior or exterior painting, new flooring, and even installing cabinets are typically engineer-free projects.
When your project requires a meaningful change to the actual structure, though, the changes could undermine the stability of your home or business. Some common projects that should get input from a structural engineer include:
- Interior wall removal
- Chimney additions
- Foundation changes
- Door or window frame changes
All of these projects can mean adjustments to or the removal of a load-bearing part of your home or business. A structural engineer can tell you where and how you should reinforce the structure.
They can also tell you when the project won’t threaten the building. For example, not every interior wall serves as a load-bearing wall. You can just rip those walls out to expand a room, as long as you mind any wiring.
Where to Hire a Structural Engineer
Does your proposed remodel fall into that category or structure-changing projects that need a structural engineer? If so, you’re probably scratching your head about where you can hire one. While contractors advertise, structural engineers don’t do a lot of consumer-facing marketing.
The good news, if you’re using a contractor, is that many contractors know at least one or two structural engineers. Too many common projects need one for a contractor not to know any. You can ask for a recommendation.
You can also look online. Just take care that you check their qualifications before you give them a job or cut them a check. Anyone can call themselves an engineer, but professional engineers must get a license from their state.
You can also look for services that connect customers with licensed engineers.
How Much Do Structural Engineers Cost?
The overall cost for a structural engineer varies based on several factors. For example, does the structural engineer work for a firm?
If so, the firm sets the rate at whatever the local market will bear. That might mean $100 an hour or $300 an hour, depending on where you live. A one-person firm may charge less per hour.
The type of project can also affect the cost. For a basic inspection, you may pay an hourly fee or a flat fee. If you hire a structural engineer for a renovation analysis, you may pay a flat fee and an hourly fee. As a general rule, expect fees in the $100/hour to $200/hour range.
Structural Engineers and Your Project
With the what does a structural engineer do question out of the way, now you must decide if you need one for your project. You can always ask your contractor if the project needs one. If they tell you it does, trust that advice.
If you’re just toying with a project idea, you can always reach out to local structural engineers and ask for a consultation. It’ll cost you something, but you’ll get some peace of mind.
P.E. for Hire, LLC. specialized in connecting customers with licensed engineers. For more information, contact P.E for Hire today.