Many people don't appreciate the importance of having a structural engineer (SE) oversee crucial aspects of the home. For instance, many homeowners will hire an architect during construction but not the SE. They will consider home inspections done by contractors (who aren't qualified for structural assessment) as the gospel truth. This article explains the value the SE will bring to your home design, construction and inspection
1. Home inspection
You'll need a thorough home inspection before buying a home, just to be sure that you're buying a sound structure. There are home inspectors who offer the standard home inspection report covering all aspects of the home, but you may need a specialised structural inspection if:
Unless they're upgraded over the years, older homes are likely to have foundational issues or to have been built according to outdated building codes
Homes in quake-prone regions have certain reinforcements done to make them less prone to damage in the event of an earthquake, called seismic upgrades. Remember that the effects of an earthquake can be felt miles away from the actual epicentre
You notice potential structural damage in your home, e.g. leaking or sagging roofs, deep cracks in the walls or foundation (especially ones going from top to bottom), water infiltration in the house, etc.
You're planning substantial demolitions or renovations, such as creating an extension in the house
The advantage that the SE has over a contractor is that they're objective because they aren't the ones going to do the repairs (and so do not benefit from recommending needless repairs, unlike a contractor).
2. Home construction
Designing your house is actually the most important phase of home construction, and all professionals have their part to play in it. While the architect focuses on the aesthetic and practical aspects such as the number and size of rooms, the SE designs the foundation, framing and roofing parameters that will result in a structurally sound building.
It's the SE who considers building codes, particularly related to safety and efficiency. He/she considers the worst weather conditions in the region, soil characteristics, home orientation, slope of the land and your budget to give their recommendations. He/she also helps you select the right materials for the support beams, posts, foundations, walls and roofing, especially for custom home construction projects.
Bringing in the SE during the conceptual planning stage can save you a ton of time and costly repairs or changes later in the project. You may hire your own SE or ask your architect to bring in one (a good architect will always consult an SE before starting construction). Finally, the SE should come in periodically during construction to ensure that their recommendations have been followed or to offer advice if there are changes to be made.