Do You Really Need A Structural Engineer For That??
Not as often as Home Inspectors Seem to Recommend Them.
In the construction industry there is something called prescriptive code. Follow it and you will build a quality structure, go against it and you're asking for trouble. Decades of engineering, construction trial and error have taught us many important lessons. These lessons are outlined as laws or guidelines in code like the ICC Residential Code.
Would you hire an engineer to design tires for your car?
Of course you wouldn't. It would be a ridiculous waste of time and money. You wouldn't because these problems have already been solved over and over again. You would get new tires that follow the guidelines put in place by the tire manufacturing industry.
So why is it that Home Inspectors are calling for a structural engineer so often?
Answer: They fail to diagnose the specific cause of the problem they have observed. Whether from lack of time or lack of Construction Experience. They may know something is not right but can’t or won’t explain why.
How would knowing the Cause change anything?
Let's use an example: Say your heel hurts at the end of a long day and you don't know why. Literally anybody off the street can tell you to have a doctor look at it, and that's good advice. However someone who would first examine your shoe and find the nail stuck in the sole would save you a lot of time and money. Not to mention make your pain go away faster.
In this same way an Expert Home Inspector will carefully look for causes of a problem before raising the alarm for a structural engineer.
If you know the cause, chances are the solution falls under prescriptive code and can be easily handled by a qualified contractor, No re-engineering required.
So When Is An Engineer Needed?
It’s important to note that recommending a Licensed PE(structural engineer) is sometimes the best course of action. When the structure has been compromised, the extent is unknown or not visible without dismantling. Further evaluation by an expert is the best possible recommendation in these cases.
There are very few times when you truly need to hire a structural engineer to evaluate your home. Just because an issue involves the structure or foundation does not by itself mean you need an engineer. If the problem, cause and solution are apparent and fall under prescriptive code. Correctly identifying the issue, including the cause and recommending correction by a qualified contractor is a good recommendation that won’t waste a homeowners time and money.
Arthur Duhaime is a Ohio Licensed Home Inspector and Ohio Department of Commerce Certified Instructor for Real Estate Continuing Education. Arthur’s industry leading home inspections glean insight from 2 decades of real construction industry experience.