Frequently Asked Questions

When do I need a structural engineer for a project?

The vast majority of home construction and improvement projects can be completed in accordance with prescriptive residential building code requirements that do not require professional involvement in the design or construction. However, in jurisdictions that enforce the International Residential Code, any structural elements and system that do not comply with the prescriptive residential code provisions must be designed in accordance with “accepted engineering practice”. Such elements include large beams, all columns, and foundations other than spread footings. Unusually high design loads, also exceed the code limits and require engineered design. This could be the result of occupancy, such as having basement space below a garage. It could also be the result of high environmental loads (wind, snow, flood), as is the case for snow load in much of New Hampshire and northern Maine.

In most states, engineered design for residential projects must be performed by a licensed design professional, like an engineer and architect. While architects will often provide limited engineering design, engineers by virtue of their education and experience have greater capabilities to solve design problems.

There is a crack (or some other distress) in my home – do I need an engineer?

Structural engineers are best qualified to evaluate cracks and other structural distress conditions, because of their advanced education and experience with structural mechanics, material behavior and design. These qualifications allow engineers to assess the cause(s) of distress. This can be crucial to developing repair strategies that prevent the problem from recurring. The cost of an engineering assessment can be small compared with the cost of a failed repair. See more…

My town has no building official. Does my project have to comply with building codes?

Yes. In most states, the building code is enacted at the state level. Like other state laws, the state building code applies even if your town has no one designated to enforce it. It is the responsibility of the building owner, along with their contractors and design professionals to comply with the code.

How much does it cost to retain a structural engineer?

In short, it depends. To become licensed as a professional engineer one must have years of experience and pass multiple day-long exams. Expect to pay what you would pay for other educated professionals. As is the case in other fields, specialists, like structural engineers typically cost more.

At some level, engineering practices sell their time. The cost of a particular scope of services will depend on the time required to complete each task. A site visit and report to evaluate a single foundation crack will cost substantially less than an assessment of the whole building or a forensic evaluation of a potentially hazardous condition. Likewise, designing several large beams and columns, along with connections for a custom home will cost more than reviewing a conventional framing plan. Structural drawings will cost more in jurisdictions requiring more detail. See more here.

RJD Residential usually charges a fixed fee for a well-defined scope of services, including most investigation and design services. More open-ended engagements are charged hourly. See more: Working with RJD Residential.

How do I know what to expect, when retaining an engineer?

Your relationship with your engineering carries risk and benefits for both parties. Written contracts are normal and are considered good practice for managing risks and minimizing disputes. RJD Residential always uses written agreements consisting of a proposal defining the scope of services and fee basis, with attached terms.

Note that just as a lawyer cannot guarantee the outcome of a case and a physician cannot guarantee the effectiveness of a treatment, engineers cannot guarantee their services. As a professional, engineers in providing their services must exercise judgment gained from experience and learning under circumstances that they cannot fully measure or control. The law recognizes that professional services are imperfect. Instead, an engineer must comply with what is called the professional standard of care, which is the degree of care and skill of an ordinary professional providing similar services under similar circumstances. This standard is different from product manufacturers, construction contractors and some other service providers. An engineer cannot and should not guarantee their services.

Can an engineer be retained by my architect, contractor, insurance carrier, etc.?

When professional engineering is required for a residential project, it is often reasonable for the engineer to be retained by your architect, contractor or insurance carrier. This is particularly true for situations, in which the engineering required is reasonably well defined and the homeowner’s interests in the solution to the problem are minor. This is often the case of new buildings and renovation of limited scope. However, an engineer retained by another party will be responsive to that party, who is the client, rather than the homeowner. If you are significantly affected by the outcome of an engineer’s services, then you should consider retaining an engineer directly to ensure that he or she can be responsive to your questions and concerns.

Why are so few engineering firms interested in my project?

Most mid-sized and large engineering firms will not work with homeowners. One reason is that their large staffs and overhead costs make small projects unfeasible. The engineering fee for a commercial or institutional building or government project may be more than 10 times greater than a residential project. Another reason is that homeowners are generally inexperienced with construction and can have unrealistic expectations and limited budgets. As a small practice, RJD Residential has the flexibility to work collaboratively with homeowners, their architect or contractor to develop an appropriate scope of services for the project and the client’s risk tolerance.