Homeowner’s Guide For a Structural Engineer Inspection

A structural engineer inspection keeps structures safe and saves homeowners money. These inspections aren’t widely known about though.

Most homeowners think structural engineers only design bridges and skyscrapers. But, they also do all types of structural inspections, from bridges to home remodels. It goes without saying, the best design is only as good as the construction and maintenance.

In our discussion, we’ll answer all the following questions on structural home inspections:

  • What’s a structural engineer inspection?
  • Do you need a licensed structural engineer to do your home inspection?
  • When do you need a structural engineer inspection?
  • What’s the cost of a structural engineer inspection?
  • What are the deliverables from a structural engineer for a project?
  • How to find a licensed structural engineer?

These questions will ensure you receive a quality product, without compromising on quality.

What’s a structural engineer inspection? 

structural engineer inspection

It’s a visual inspection of a structure done by a licensed structural engineer. The engineer checks the structural integrity of a structure or building. While also checking the structure for compliance against all applicable standards and codes.

For example, the structural engineer would inspect the following inside a home:

  • Beams
  • Columns
  • Foundation
  • Framing
  • Posts Trusses

A passing inspection means the home is safe for the public and nearby infrastructure. At the same time, the engineer would point out potential problems and how you can remedy them.

Then sometimes, the inspection sets the stage for structural modifications. Before you can modify a structure, you need to know its current condition.

Do you need a licensed structural engineer to do your home inspection?

Every human-made structure can collapse, no matter how well done the design is. A collapsing residential home can hurt or even kill a family. While a bridge collapse can put the lives of hundreds of people at risk.

To reduce risks, a licensed professional should inspect your home. It’s no different than going to a board-certified surgeon to cut you open to operate on you. You don’t want a random unlicensed person to do surgery on you, putting your life at risk.

All licensed engineers follow the engineering code of ethics. This ethical code places public safety at the forefront of any and all engineering work. Also, these engineers have the skills to fix any structural problems.

You can look up and verify a structural engineer’s license in any state you live in. Simply type the following into Google:

“Professional structural engineer license lookup, California”

Swap ‘California’ with the state you live in. You’ll then land on a page like this.

When do you need a structural engineer inspection?

home structural damage

The following are the 8 most common times you need a structural engineer inspection:

  1. Discovery of structural issues
  2. Accidental structural modifications
  3. Damage from natural disasters and insurance claims
  4. External nearby infrastructure issues
  5. Before and after the completion of a newly constructed structure
  6. Selling a home
  7. Buying a home
  8. Home remodeling

We’ll now go over each in detail.

#1 Discovery of structural issues

With every passing year, there’s a greater chance you’ll find a structural problem in your home. So if you suddenly discover any of the following, call a structural engineer:

  • Large foundation and wall cracks
  • Sagging, bowing, cracks, and slopes in floors
  • Ceiling cracks and loose drywall
  • Foundation sinking or upheaval
  • Sagging or uneven floors
  • Bulging walls
  • Poor drainage despite new plumbing
  • Doors and windows separating from walls

If caught early, you can fix these problems or at the very least control them. But if you ignore them long enough, they’ll turn into nightmare costly fixes.

#2 Accidental structural modifications

I’ve been a part of projects, where contractors made accidental building modifications. It’s actually more common than you may think.

In one project, the contractor had to install the power feed to EV chargers for a parking garage. Accidentally though, the contractor bored into the wrong part of the building wall. Then soon thereafter, we found out the bore was in a load-bearing building pillar.

In these instances, you absolutely need to have the structure inspected. You need to ensure the structure isn’t compromised in any way. Because every structure’s design is per a set of structural requirements.

#3 Damage from natural disasters and insurance claims

Natural disasters are becoming more and more common. You can experience floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, and earthquakes.

Each of these natural disasters can compromise the structural integrity of your home. So after a damaging natural disaster, seek a structural engineer to inspect your home. Ensure your home is still structurally safe to live inside of.

At first, you may only see a small crack and think nothing of it. But this small crack may be from a compromised foundation, which one day will destroy your home.

Even more, a structural engineer inspection will help get an insurance claim approved. Often, insurance companies require an inspection from a licensed structural engineer.

#4 External infrastructure issues affecting surrounding areas

Beyond natural disasters, other external issues can wreak havoc on your home. For example, drainage issues can throw your life into a tailspin. In fact, any problems involving unplanned water and structures are a reason to worry.

A structural engineer can help mitigate potential issues with water management. At the same time, they can rescue your structure from potentially costly damage.

One other common issue is extreme temperatures. This can lead to mold, high energy bills, and ice dams. These problems won’t make your home crumble to the ground, but they’ll hurt your wallet.

#5 Before and after the completion of a newly constructed structure

You’d think after a newly constructed project, everything would be perfect. Because everything is brand-spankin’ new. But the most important parts of structures are invisible at the end of construction. A great example is structural foundations.

So, it’s important to have routine inspections done in various project phases. Once a foundation is set, problems become invisible until above-grade exterior cracks appear. Then, fixes become difficult and insanely costly.

I suggest structural inspections before the pouring of concrete for a foundation. This allows an inspector to properly verify all foundation dimensions. Also, to verify the spacing and number of rebar installed among other things.

Finally, once the project is complete, do one last inspection. At this stage, the inspector can see the settlement of the foundation and look for cracks.

#6 Selling a home

Structurally inspecting your home, before placing it for sale isn’t common. But sometimes, it’s the smart choice to maximize your home’s sale price. Especially, if you think your home has a structural issue.

Because any serious potential buyer will inspect your home before buying. They want to make sure they don’t buy a dud home, with a $100,000 problem hidden away. For example, say a buyer’s inspector discovers a series of cracks in your home’s wall. This then causes the buyer to step back due to fear of a potentially larger problem.

But, you can pull your ace card. You have papers from a licensed structural engineer showing the cracks aren’t an issue. Or, your paperwork reads the cracks will cost $X,000 to fix. So, you price your home’s sale price with this fix considered.

In return, you’ll put your buyer at ease and you can sleep better at night knowing you didn’t screw someone over. Plus, your buyer will take notice of the effort you put into hiring a licensed engineer to inspect your home. This will help you close on the sale, especially in a slow real estate market.

Important Note: present the buyer with the documents submitted by your structural engineer. Include cost estimates from contractors to fix the discovered problems too.

#7 Buying a home

Not surprisingly, when you buy a new home, you need an inspection. You need to know what you’re getting into. Because for most people, a home purchase will be their largest life investment.

To point out, most people get a general home inspection. In this inspection, you get a general overview of your home’s condition. This includes structural issues like cracks and sloping floors. But, you won’t receive an in-depth analysis telling you why you have cracks and sloping floors.

This is where a licensed structural engineer comes into play. The structural engineer will tell you the extent of your home’s problems and the cost of the fix. Thereafter, you can negotiate the home price with the seller, or walk away. You don’t want an exciting life moment to turn into a nightmare.

#8 Home remodeling

With big home remodels, you need a structural engineer to review your design plan. Especially, if you want to alter the load-bearing parts of your home. The city will only issue you a permit, with P.E. stamped drawings and calculations.

So always check the building requirements in your city before any home remodeling. For example, the County of Santa Clara’s Department of Planning Development states,

Any foundation system that deviates from the standard foundation system described in the California Residential Code shall bear the seal and signature of a registered civil or structural engineer or licensed architect and have supporting calculations to substantiate the design.

What’s the cost of a structural engineer inspection? 

Not cheap, but worth every penny when you consider what can go wrong with an unstable structure.

Depending on the cost of living in your city, you can pay anywhere from $150 to $400 per hour. Your project scope will then dictate the total number of required hours.

For home remodeling, a structural engineer will quote anywhere from 6 to 10 hours. In San Francisco, at a rate of $350/hour, this will cost you $2,100 to $3,500. This could be for removing an existing wall, to extend out your living room for example.

Also, consider the following when requesting a quote:

  • The engineer will provide a cost only after fully reviewing the project scope.
  • It’s common for the engineer to request a viewing of your home before providing a cost.
  • The engineer’s cost includes their travel time and in-office engineering analysis.
  • Get several quotes, but NEVER use a non-licensed engineer for structural work.
  • Aim to get a fixed cost, but expect a change order if something unexpected comes up.
  • Provide the engineer with all existing home and city design plans. Request any drawings from your city before you approach the engineer.

What are the deliverables from a structural engineer for a project?

Once the structural engineer completes their work, they’ll provide you with documents. This includes drawings, specifications, and calculations to submit to your city’s building department. These are formally called the project “deliverables.”

Again remember, the building department requires engineer-stamped documents. There’s no way around this.

To better understand the deliverables, below is an example. It’s an engineer’s work scope for a typical home remodel.

Structural Calculations

  • Analyze the client’s suggested home remodel layout.
  • Calculate the demand-capacity ratios (DCR’s). This is for the attachment components and anchorage to the foundation.
  • Analyze the DCR’s for the supporting foundation/slab.
  • Discuss new design options with the client, if the design isn’t code-compliant.

Structural Drawings

  • Inspect the home to gather data for design.
  • Add structural notes for seismic, wind, snow, dead, and live loads.
  • Draft details of foundations and structural connections.
  • Submit structural design for the client to buy and install structural materials.
  • Provide construction specifications for installation.
  • Provide design support and guidance.
  • Respond to building department plan check comments. This includes providing revision of plotted sheets.

How to find a licensed structural engineer? 

home construction inspection

For home inspections, first Google “structural engineer inspectors” followed by your city name. It’s important you find someone local. You don’t want to pay someone extra to travel to you.

Also, more times than not, large engineering firms won’t provide residential inspection services. It’s simply not cost-effective for them. But, if you happen to connect with a large firm, ask them to recommend you a smaller firm.

On the same note, ask around. If you’re already working with a contractor or architect, ask them for a referral. Most contractors in the business know a structural engineer or two.

Most importantly, always check to be sure the structural engineer holds an active P.E. license.

The structural engineer inspection wrap up

A structural engineer inspection is a critical part of every structure around you. So much so, without them, I wouldn’t feel safe in and around almost any structure.

So if you know you need a structural engineer inspection, don’t cheap out. It’s like breaking your arm and saying you don’t need a doctor to take a look. Because your arm will heal on its own. Not smart!

In the end, the inspections may seem pricey and overkill, but they’ll allow you to rest well at night. You’ll know your home is structurally secure and safe.

What are your thoughts on a structural engineer inspection? Have you ever had a structural engineer inspection? If yes, what was your experience like, and is there any advice you’d give other homeowners?

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4 thoughts on “Homeowner’s Guide For a Structural Engineer Inspection”

  1. My favorite part of your blog is when you said that you must consider a local structural engineer to make sure that you won’t need to pay travel fees. I need to have our two-story house’s foundation inspected and repaired as needed on Friday. The walls of our house have e signs of cracks, and the flooring appears to be uneven. Since we have a limited budget to consider, we will do your tips.

    Reply
    • Sounds like the perfect time to search for a structural engineer.

      Treat your search as you would any other contractor though. Ask all of your questions, and thoroughly vet their history of work.

      Reply
  2. Thanks for pointing out that a licensed structural engineer checks the building’s compliance with all applicable standards and codes for the safety of the public. As you said, they also point out potential problems that need remedies. This sounds like a helpful tip because I noticed the alarming number of cracks in the basement of my house, I am planning to have my two-story house remodeled next month, so it is important for me to ensure that it is still safe place to live in.

    Reply
    • Glad you found the info helpful.

      Just be sure to vet the structural engineer you contract out – not all engineers are created equal.

      I also suggest you make a punch list of all the issues in your basement to share with the engineers who inspect/bid on your project. This will better allow you to evaluate their offered services.

      Reply

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