October 13, 2020

What Does a Structural Engineer Do?

Structural engineers are licensed professionals that are trained in engineer design configurations for man-made structures. A structural engineer focuses on the design and physical integrity of tunnels, buildings, and bridges. Their purpose is to ensure the physical structure will be able to handle the loans and force it will encounter and remain structurally sound. 

Two adults look at a construction project

Many of us have heard the term structural engineer, but it’s not always clear what they do. As a property owner, you’ll want to know the basics of engineering services so you can determine when you need the help of a professional engineer. 

Read on to learn all about what a structural engineer does. 

What’s a Structural Engineer?

Structural engineers are licensed professionals that are trained in engineer design configurations for man-made structures. A structural engineer focuses on the design and physical integrity of tunnels, buildings, and bridges. Their purpose is to ensure the physical structure will be able to handle the loans and force it will encounter and remain structurally sound. 

There are many different types of projects, so some structural engineers focus on a certain sector like commercial, residential, or townhome/condo construction. Structural engineers often get to work with a wide range of clients and can be involved in several areas of work. 

Structural Engineer Salary 

Structural engineer salaries vary depending on location and experience. For example, the average salary of a structural engineer in North Carolina is $68,060 per year, while it’s $92,800 in New York. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $55,380, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $144,560. As you can see, the salary is generally higher in states with a higher cost of living. Overall, structural engineers make good salaries and can earn higher salaries as their level of experience increases. 

When Do I Need a Structural Engineer?

As a homeowner, you may think you can just hire a contractor or inspector, however, there are certain times you need a structural engineer. Keep in mind that structural engineers can analyze the severity of a problem, get to the root cause, and find the best solution. They will be able to ensure that your building can support and resist the loads it will encounter. The top reasons you would need a structural engineer include:

  • Structural inspection/damage. You want to know about any structural damage to your property. If you notice any structural concerns you must contact a structural engineer to examine the problem further. They will conduct a detailed evaluation of the structural issues, and advise you on the best resolution based on local building codes. 
  • Building a custom home. The engineer will advise you on structurally secure home plans and assess the building site for integration. 
  • Building additions or changing the layout. Before building any additions onto your home, you should consult a structural engineer. They will help you choose the right structural elements and make sure your building can withstand the new loads. Additionally, they can confirm that your foundation properly reinforces, and tell you which walls carry the weight and how the renovations will impact its structural integrity.
  • Renovations. You need a structural engineer prior to making any remodeling or renovations that could impact the stability of your home. They will make sure your renovations meet building codes and regulations. Some renovations that require consulting and engineer include: retaining walls, underpinning foundations, fitting solar panels, chimneys, decks, removing/changing internal walls, loft conversions, modifying doors and windows, and building additions. 

Learn About Structural Engineer Costs: What Does it Cost to Hire a Structural Engineer?

Before hiring a structural engineer, most people will want to know what they can expect to pay. Most will charge based on a percentage of total construction costs. That fee will include a certain amount of site visits and scope of work, anything outside of that will be charged hourly. 

According to HomeAdvisor, the average cost of hiring a structural engineer is $501, with the costs ranging from $341 to $709. For a structural engineering plan, you can expect to pay anywhere from $800 to $3,000.  Large remodeling projects or new constructions typically allocate 1-20% to the structural engineer ($1,500 to $20,000) depending on the project. 

However, the Department of Labor states that most structural engineers only take home $40 per hour from their fees. 

How to Find & Hire a Residential Structural Engineer

Given the importance and cost of hiring a residential engineer, it’s important to find a high-quality, trustworthy engineer for your project. Here’s what to look for when choosing a professional engineer:

  • Qualifications. Ask for official qualifications that demonstrate formal training, reliability, and experience. They should be able to show a post-graduate degree or a degree in a related subject like construction or quantity surveying.
  • Relevant work experience. You want a professional engineer with relevant experience. Look for an engineer with a scope of work that aligns with your project. 
  • Problem-solving. The best engineers not only have formal and hands-on experience, but they also have innovative thinking. Every project is different, which is why the top engineers are able to think outside the box and develop creative solutions. Ask for examples of complex projects or times the engineer has created an innovative solution. 

Once you find structural engineers that meet the qualifications above, you should consider affordability and the project time estimate. Get a quote from all of your top considerations and make your decision from there. All quotes should be transparent and easy to understand where the numbers come from. By looking for the qualities above, you’ll be able to find the best structural engineer for your project. 

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