Working Structural Engineering2019-06-28T18:33:58+00:00

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What is Structural Engineering?


Structural engineering is a sub-discipline of civil engineering in which structural engineers are trained to design the ‘bones and muscles’ that create the form and shape of manmade structures. Structural engineers need to understand and calculate the stability, strength and rigidity of built structures for buildings [1] and nonbuilding structures. The structural designs are integrated with those of other designers such as architects and building services engineer and often supervise the construction of projects by contractors on site. [2] They can also be involved in the design of machinery, medical equipment, and vehicles where structural integrity affects functioning and safety.

Structural engineering depends upon a detailed knowledge of applied mechanics, materials science and applied mathematics to understand and predict how structures support and resist self-weight and imposed loads. To apply the knowledge successfully a structural engineer generally requires detailed knowledge of relevant empirical and theoretical design codes, the techniques of structural analysis, as well as some knowledge of the corrosion resistance of the materials and structures, especially when those structures are exposed to the external environment.
Structural engineers often specialize in particular types of structures, such as buildings, bridges, pipelines, industrial, tunnels, vehicles, ships, aircraft and spacecraft. Structural engineers who specialize in buildings often specialize in particular construction materials such as concrete, steel, wood, masonry, alloys and composites, and may focus on particular types of buildings such as offices, schools, hospitals, residential, and so forth.
This is subtly different from architectural design, which is driven by the creative manipulation of materials and forms, mass, space, volume, texture and light to achieve an end which is aesthetic, functional and often artistic. The architect is usually the lead designer on buildings, with a structural engineer employed as a sub-consultant. The degree to which each discipline actually leads the design depends heavily on the type of structure. Many structures are structurally simple and led by architecture, such as multi-story office buildings and housing, while other structures, such as tensile structures, shells and gridshells are heavily dependent on their form for their strength, and the engineer may have a more significant influence on the form, and hence much of the aesthetic, than the architect.

The structural design for a building must ensure that the building is able to stand up safely, able to function without excessive deflections or movements which may cause fatigue of structural elements, cracking or failure of fixtures, fittings or partitions, or discomfort for occupants. It must account for movements and forces due to temperature, creep, cracking and imposed loads. It must also ensure that the design is practically buildable within acceptable manufacturing tolerances of the materials. It must allow the architecture to work, and the building services to fit within the building and function (air conditioning, ventilation, smoke extract, electrics, lighting etc.).
Critical skills that a person needs in structural engineering include an in-depth understanding of physics and mathematics. A structural engineer must also know the properties of various materials, such as their density, hardness, tensile strength, bulk modulus and bending strength. They need to be able to calculate how different materials will perform under stresses such as compression, tension, bending and twisting, as well as under various environmental conditions of temperature, pressure, corrosive gases and liquids, and even radiation. They also need to be able to predict how these materials will perform over an extended period of time.

Structural Renovation Consulting

Satisfaction goes up when you have concrete expectations. The unglamorous truth is that planning ahead saves money. In order to plan effectively, homeowners should seek assistance from two types of renovation consultants. Early in your project, each of these pros will ask different, equally important questions to help you translate a design vision into a built reality. Is renovating truly necessary? An interior designer can outline options that require little construction-or none whatsoever. Such designers typically charge about $50 to $80 an hour for a consultation and plan. Unlike contractors and real estate agents whose ‘consulting’ is a sales tool to get you to buy additional services, a designer familiar with contracting and remodeling will listen to your lifestyle goals and help you see all the options. If, for example, you’d like more entertaining space, the designer might say, “If you move your dining table over there and your sofa over here, you’ll have the space”. A contractor will never tell you that. Designers can also recommend low-cost solutions to lighting, traffic flow, and functional problems. Even if you decide to go ahead with a renovation, the designer’s input can help you envision the end result. In addition, the designer can assist you in determining the specifics of layout, lighting, storage and finishes.

A structural engineer is the second professional you didn’t know you needed. In the early planning stages, he or she can plot the structural requirements of the construction options you are considering, and the associated $500 fee can steer you away from a plan that is impractical at best, impossible at worst. Designers may or may not have the expertise to review the structural underpinnings of your project, and you cannot count on a contractor’s staff to think through those essentials. Finally, consulting with a structural engineer at the beginning can help you synchronize your renovations plans with the local building code, and having plans developed in collaboration with the engineer should speed the process of getting permits and of inspections.



What Is Renovation Engineering?

Renovation Engineering is the engineering process to repair, replace, re-establish or maintain a structure in its desired condition. Renovation engineering may incorporate solutions that range from extensive repairs and protection of critical building components to reinstate the structures for a long-term serviceability or may be as simple as temporary repairs to maintain the safety of the structure at its current condition.


Why Hire A Structural Engineer?

Structural engineers are licensed professionals who are trained to analyze the factors that exert force, such as gravity, wind, temperature and pressure, upon a building and to make the call about whether or not the structure can hold up and resist those forces. They have training in areas concerning the structural soundness of buildings. While there may be some overlaps, a structural engineer is not the same as a contractor, inspector or architect. Contractors and inspectors are skilled at detecting early warning signs that indicate there may be a problem, but engineers can analyze the severity of the problem, what is causing the problem, and what an appropriate solution would be. While architects concentrate on the aesthetics and functionality of a building, the structural engineer makes sure structures support and resist the loads to which a building subjected.


Building additions or altering a house’s layout. An addition could be anything from a room, studio, garage, or in-law suite to something like a glass sunroom or glass enclosed pool. A structural engineer will be able to determine if the planned addition will be able to be built without compromising the original structure’s integrity. He or she can also ensure the addition’s foundation is adequately reinforced. If you’re thinking about altering your house’s layout, keep in mind that removing or altering a load-bearing wall could cause significant structural damage to a home. A structural engineer can accurately determine which walls carry the weight of the home’s structure and how the planned renovations would affect the structural integrity of a home.
Solar panel or wind turbine installation. If, instead of an addition, you’re looking to add sustainable structures to your home or property, such as solar panels or a wind turbine, a structural engineer can perform the appropriate feasibility studies. With solar panels, a structural engineer can verify that your desired panel layout and that the brand/type of panel that you have chosen will work on your roof. Roof systems are not usually designed for the weight of solar systems or for the foot traffic that installation and maintenance bring. The structural engineer will make sure that your roof can handle the load and lift of the panels and will recommend reinforcements, if necessary. With wind turbines, a structural engineer can perform a wind feasibility study and provide you with a probable cost for the installation of the correct equipment for the site. He or she can also identify the zoning restrictions relative to the installation

Purchasing or selling home. Whether you are purchasing or selling your home, if an inspector says that a house has a structural problem that requires extensive repair, hire an engineer to review the situation. In some cases, an engineer can save homeowners large amounts of money in situations that aren’t nearly as bad as they are initially made out to be.
Building a new home. If you’re building a custom home, you’ll want to hire a structural engineer to make sure the plans for the house are sound. An engineer will also consider the building site for suitability for the intended use, integration with existing site features and impact on the environment.
Structural damage. Whether you have noticed structural damage, or a contractor or inspector has pointed it out to you, it is best to contact a structural engineer in order to determine the seriousness and cause of the issue, as well as recommend solutions. Signs of structural damage might include cracks in foundation walls, bowing walls, uneven floors, cracks around windows, doors that stick or standing water in your basement after a hard rain. Water, fire, wind or termite damage. Wind, fire, termite, water or flood damage can threaten the integrity of a home or other structure. As with other forms of structural damage, a structural engineer can evaluate the degree of the problem and recommend an appropriate solution. Through forensic investigation, an engineer will also be able to determine whether or not an issue existed prior to an event for a claims adjuster. If any of the above situations apply to you, seek out a structural engineer with the appropriate state licenses and certifications, as well as insurance. He or she will be able to ensure that your structure is strong, stable and able to stand for many years to come.

Benefits of Hiring a Structural Engineer

Residential structural engineers have specialized knowledge and training to calculate forces in residential buildings. Structural engineers can make sure that the structural members in your house are the correct size (not too big and not too small) to resist and transmit forces in buildings. They do this by using regulatory standards to calculate forces in members and member capacity manuals to check that the members are strong enough to avoid collapse or too much deflection. You may not need a structural engineer if you are building a simple new home or extension.

Simple projects can be designed by qualified building
designers or drafters without the input from an engineer.

However sometimes houses and units are complicated or are built on poor ground. In these cases, your building designer might recommend that some or all of the building be designed or checked by a structural engineer. Footings in clay soils or on soft or sloping sites. Suspended concrete slabs. In some states, the builder’s insurance policy requires that a structural engineer must design and certify house footings, steel floor beams and retaining walls.



How do I select a structural engineer?

It makes sense that if you are building or renovating a house that you select a structural engineer that specializes in residential buildings. How do you find a structural engineer?


First, ask your builder, building designer
or architect for a referral.

They will probably have an existing relationship with one or more structural engineers that they have worked with before. You can also try this link for a list of structural engineers for your area. Look for an engineer with recent experience in your type of project. If site inspections are required, limit your search to engineers that service your area from a local office. Try to speak directly to the engineer that will work on your project. A good structural engineer will want to know about your project, what you hope to achieve and what services you are expecting. How the engineer responds to your questions will tell you a lot about the engineer. Pertinent questions show that the engineer is interested in you and thinking about your project. A little bit of informal advice from the engineer means that the engineer wants your project to go well.

Look for an engineer that is accessible and one that doesn’t hide behind secretaries, standard forms and junior staff. Take note of how long it takes to respond to your request for a formal quotation. Big companies might have more paperwork and policies, better quality assurance but take longer to respond to simple requests. Smaller companies might be more personal, quicker to respond to questions and offer personal service. Try to match your requirements to an appropriate structural engineering firm.

Does the structural engineer need
to inspect my renovation property?

If you are renovating or extending an existing property, it makes sense to arrange for your structural engineer to inspect and view your property. They will want to look at the floor framing, the location of wall framing and the type of roof framing. Some of the existing structure might be hidden by wall and floor cladding, but an inspection of the shape and layout of the building will still reveal clues on the existing structural framing. Another inspection might be required once your builder has started work and more of the structure has been exposed. Expect to pay more if more inspections are required.

Can a structural engineer determine if I can remove a wall?

If you’d like to remove an existing wall to create a larger space, a structural engineer can inspect your building to work out if the wall is loadbearing. You can use a builder or a building designer to do this inspection too, but if the wall is loadbearing you will need a structural engineer to design a new beam to replace the carrying capacity of the wall. If the wall you want to remove is loadbearing, expect to receive some drawings showing where new beams are required, where replacement bracing walls are required or both.

What things doesn’t a structural engineer do?

Structural engineers prepare drawings and specifications that document the required structural member sizes and how to connect them. These are some of the jobs structural engineers normally don’t do: Structural engineers rarely remove wall or ceiling linings to look for internal structural damage. If the damage is not evident on the surface of the building, a visual inspection by a structural engineer might miss it. Structural engineers do not submit your drawings to a certifier or to council. Application fees need to be paid when submitting plans and these costs are not included in the engineer’s quote. This service is normally performed by your builder or building designer. When doing damage assessments, structural engineers can’t see behind walls or in hidden spaces any better than you can. They look for indications of movement and damage, but unless the cladding is removed or the roof space is totally accessible, structural engineers cannot find every building defect or locate every problem.

Will an engineered house be
guaranteed to be ‘crack-free’?


If you are renovating or extending an existing property, it makes sense to arrange for your structural engineer to inspect and view your property. They will want to look at the floor framing, the location of wall framing and the type of roof framing. Some of the existing structure might be hidden by wall and floor cladding, but an inspection of the shape and layout of the building will still reveal clues on the existing structural framing. Another inspection might be required once your builder has started work and more of the structure has been exposed. Expect to pay more if more inspections are required.

Sample Home Inspection reports

This free printable home inspection checklist is perfect for home inspections.



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