Structural engineers analyze a building’s ability to withstand forces and stresses. They’re called upon during the design and construction of homes and buildings, and they’re consulted when existing buildings face structural issues.
Specifically, structural engineers are trained to:
- Evaluate building plans and review designs to make sure the structure is safe for occupants and can withstand the elements.
- Analyze the safety and strength of new buildings in various stages of the construction process by inspecting the foundation, walls, infrastructure, the building envelope and the like.
- Approve building plans or new buildings as structurally safe.
- Analyze the structural safety of building additions or remodeling projects, particularly those that involve removing walls.
- Assess the extent of structural damage from things like shifting foundations, termite infestation, mold, fire damage or water damage.
- Assess the structural integrity of a home or building during a real estate transaction.
When a structural engineer visits a home or building, he or she inspects the property and compares those findings to the approved building plans. If there is a problem with the integrity of the structure, the engineer will suggest improvements. Most states require a structural engineer to sign off on new construction or remodeling projects, so check with state or local officials before beginning any construction project.
In addition to buildings, structural engineers are called upon to analyze the safety of retaining walls, above-ground storage tanks, freestanding signs and more.
All structural engineers must have at least bachelor’s degree in engineering - typically in structural engineering or civil engineering. Structural engineers are also required to obtain a license from the state in which they work. Licenses are issued following successful completion of an engineering degree, several years of work experience and a passing score on a state exam. In most states, licensed structural engineers are also required to participate in a continuing education program.
The cost of hiring a structural engineer depends on many factors, including your location, the size of the project and the complexity of the project. Hourly rates for structural engineers range from about $75 to $200. You’ll pay on the lower end of that range for an independent structural engineer in an area with a low cost of living and on the higher end if you hire a large firm in a major city.
Total costs can be just $500 or tens of thousands, depending on the project. You might pay $500 or $1,000 for a design review of a very small, simple home. For a large home with a complex design, you might pay $2,000 to $10,000. A mid-construction site visit usually costs $1,000 to $3,000 for a single-family home.
- Seek quotes from multiple engineers or engineering firms to compare prices, and get each quote in writing. However, never choose on price alone. Always weigh the cost with the firm’s experience and reputation.
- Ask for references from any engineer or firm you’re considering - and make sure you actually check them. It’s important to make sure the engineer has experience with jobs similar to yours. Also, find out if previous jobs have been completed on time and within the expected budget.
- Double check to make sure the structural engineer you’re communicating with is licensed. Ask for his or her state-issued license number, or contact your local building or surveying office for a list of licensed structural engineers. However, keep in mind that unlicensed engineers are allowed to perform certain services under the direct supervision of a licensed engineer.
- When you decide on a company, always get a signed contract outlining project costs and the anticipated timeline. Be sure to ask what happens if the engineer runs into unexpected costs - this happens frequently.
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