Selecting a structural engineer

leaning tower of pisaSelecting a structural engineer

What do structural engineers do?

A structural engineer designs structures. Okay, you are saying to yourself: that answer is not very helpful without an explanation of what a structure is and why it has to be designed. So let’s start over and explain what a structure is.

A structure in this context is an element that carries a load, other than its own weight, from one place to another. An example is a slab-on-ground foundation: it transfers the weight of the supported building to the supporting soil in a way that assures that the soil will not fail by say, settling excessively.

You have probably seen images of the leaning Tower of Pisa such as the one above to the right. The fact that it leans to the right to such an extreme os strong evidence that the supporting soil at the right side has failed by settling excessively. Soil mechanics was virtually unknown to the Romans who were agrguably the greatest engineers and builders of the ancient world.

What it means to say someone is a structural engineer

The term “structural engineer” is a legal term. In Texas, It means first that the person is a Texas Professional Engineer. Second, it means that the person is qualified to design structures.

In most cases a person who calls himself a structural engineer will be listed on the roster of the Texas Board of Professional Engineer as structural using the abbreviation STR as shown below.

structural roster

I need to be clear about the meaning of STR. It simply means that the engineer was judged by the Texas Board of Professional Engineers to be more qualified to practice structural engineering that any other engineering field. It does not mean that an engineer who is listed on the roster as a structural  engineer is not allowed to practice, say, civil engineering. It also does not mean that an engineer who is listed as, say, chemical, cannot design structures. The only restriction is that a Professional Engineer is not allowed to take an engagement for which he is not qualified. That applies to Professional Engineers who are listed as structural also. Almost all structural engineers in a particular type of structure such as reinforced concrete buildings, or steel building or pressure vessels. My point is that even a Professional Engineer listed on the roster as structural might know little or nothing about how to design slab-on-ground foundations or how to assess their performance. On the other hand, a Professional Engineer listed as chemical might be well qualified to assess the performance of a foundation.

The reason I am going into all the detail is that any Professional Engineer you retain should have the necessary experience and training. That is what is really important. Here is what I would recommend you ask:

  • Do you do work for foundation repair companies?
  • Have you ever worked for a foundation repair company?
  • How are you listed on the TBPE website, are you listed as structural or something else?
  • How long have you been assessing the performance of slab-on-ground foundations?
  • Approximately how many slab foundations have you evaluated?
  • How do you evaluate the performance of a slab foundation?
  • What are the criteria do you use to determine if foundation repair is necessary?
  • What are the criteria you use to judge whether foundation repair is or is not a reasonable option.

What are other important factors to consider?

  • It goes without saying that price is important. My advice is to find the engineer who you are most comfortable with and then ask for the fee. If you can afford it, then retain the engineer. If not, then you may be buying a house that you cannot afford.sirs0oir the y nsot   The technical aspects of foundation performance evaluation are not nearly as important as the judgement of the engineer.
  • As you listen to the answers to your questions, ask yourself, does this make any sense, is it all engineering jargon, or is there enough plain English that I can understand him or her? The engineer may really know his stuff technically, but if you cannot follow his explanations, how are you going to understand his report..
Print Friendly, PDF & Email