What does a structural engineer do?

Last updated: May 2024 | 3 min read

Learn about the indispensable part which a structural engineer plays in everything related to a building's structure. This article will guide you about the responsibilities of structural engineers, at what point to consult with them and their costs for the current year. 

Curious about the role of structural engineers in your future home? This article discusses the impact of ensuring safety and design standards using good structural engineers. When buying a house, you will need to have house surveys carried out. These will prove to be your best allies to uncover any structural problems.

What is a structural engineering?

Structural engineering is a branch of civil engineering focusing on the framework of structures, ensuring they withstand the stresses and pressures imposed by their environment while remaining safe, stable, and secure throughout their use.

It applies principles of physics, mathematics, and empirical knowledge in the designing of structures capable of resisting both static and dynamic loads, like gravity, wind, and earthquakes.

What do structural engineers do?

Structural engineers are primarily responsible for designing structures that meet the required standards of robustness, durability, and functionality. These professionals assess building plans, ensuring every detail aligns with current building regulations and safety standards.

Their work often involves specifying appropriate materials, ensuring structures can withstand various pressures and forces. Structural engineers work closely with architects and project managers, contributing detailed analyses and progress reports to ensure structural integrity.

They conduct structural inspections of existing buildings, offering expert guidance on necessary repairs or alterations.

How they differ from civil engineers and architects

Structural engineers, distinct from other engineering professionals, specialise in understanding and predicting the stability, strength, and rigidity of built structures.

Unlike architects, who focus on design aesthetics and functionality, structural engineers ensure designs are safe and structurally sound.

While a civil engineer might oversee a broader range of engineering projects, including transportation and environmental developments, a structural engineer focuses intensely on the specifics of a building's or structure's physical integrity.

They provide crucial input on large structures like bridges and buildings, ensuring the technical aspects meet rigorous safety and quality standards.

When should you consult a structural engineer?

Structural engineers provide expert opinions on the stability and safety of a building. Here are some things to consider about when to talk to them.

Problems of structural issues

You should consider their expertise when you notice signs like cracks in walls, uneven floors, or doors that jam or fail to close properly. These symptoms can signal serious structural problems requiring a professional assessment.

House surveys will highlight problems with the building. Here is a detailed article about the costs of surveys depending on their types.

During renovations and extensions

Renovations, particularly those involving the removal or alteration of load-bearing walls, demand a structural engineer's input.

Their guidance ensures your planned modifications do not compromise the building's structural integrity.

New construction projects

Involving a structural engineer in a new construction project ensures the structural design is sound and complies with building regulations.

They assess factors like ground conditions and material choices, influencing the project's safety and durability.

UK building regulations often necessitate a structural engineer's involvement in certain types of construction projects.

Their sign-off is usually required to get building control approval, particularly for works affecting the structure's integrity or safety.

Working with a structural engineer

Following are the steps:

Initial consultation and site visit

An initial consultation with a structural engineer includes discussing your project's scope and objectives. This is followed by a site visit, where the engineer assesses the property and any specific issues or requirements.

Assessment of structural integrity

Structural engineers employ their analytical skills to evaluate a building's integrity. They might review architectural plans, inspect the condition of internal walls and foundations, and consider factors like load distribution and potential environmental impacts.

Structural drawings and construction methods

Structural engineers design and provide detailed drawings specifying the construction methods and materials to be used. These drawings ensure that the project is constructed safely and in compliance with legal standards.

Collaboration with architects and construction teams

Effective communication and collaboration with architects and building contractors are integral to a structural engineer's job.

They work together to ensure the structural elements of a project align with the architectural design and practical construction considerations.

Structural engineer fees in 2024

In 2024, the rate for a structural engineer is approximately £100 per hour.

Several factors influence the structural engineer's cost. The complexity and scale of your project primarily dictate the cost. Simpler tasks like assessing load-bearing walls for a residential renovation will cost less than full-scale structural analysis of a property.

Location also plays a role; rates in urban areas, especially in regions like London, might be higher than in rural settings. The engineer's experience and reputation can impact their fees too. Experienced chartered engineers might charge more, reflecting their expertise and qualifications.

Estimating costs for your project

Some engineers may bill by the hour, while others might provide a fixed price for specific projects.

Hourly rates usually range from £90 to £200.

Fixed-price quotes are common for well-defined projects. For example, evaluating a single beam might cost around £250 to £500.

Basic projects might cost between £350 and £450, while complex ones could reach up to £10,000.

For a structural engineer inspection, expect to pay between £175 and £300, and for a report, the range is £500 to £2,000.

Consultation fees for a structural engineer regarding a loft conversion or extension generally fall between £750 and £2,200.

Larger projects, like overseeing an extension or major renovation, can run into thousands.

Always request detailed quotes from multiple engineers. This practice not only gives you a cost comparison but can also highlight different approaches to your project.

If you need the structural engineer to produce technical drawings for submitting to the local authority check if site inspections are included. Any changes to the design of the project will mean additional costs, because the engineer will need to update the original drawings.

Cost vs. benefit analysis

Spending on a structural engineer ensures your project's safety and regulatory compliance. This investment can save money in the long run. A professional's input often results in efficient use of materials and minimizes the risk of costly errors.

Their approval can be a necessity for securing building regulation consent, which is a must for legal and insurance purposes.

Consider these costs as a part of safeguarding your investment and peace of mind in your construction or renovation journey.

Finding and choosing the right structural engineer

Qualifications to look for: when selecting a structural engineer, start by checking qualifications. A chartered engineer (CEng) or an incorporated engineer (IEng) status signifies a high level of expertise. These titles, granted by institutions like the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) or the Institution of Structural Engineers (IStructE), guarantee thorough training and professional competency.

Look for someone with relevant experience in similar projects to yours. Specialized knowledge in areas like solar panels or other structures can be advantageous for specific requirements.

Questions to ask potential candidates: you'll need to assess the engineer's suitability for your project. Key questions should cover their experience with similar projects, their approach to potential challenges, and their availability.

Inquire about their past work and ask for case studies or examples. Understanding their working style is imperative - ensure it aligns with your needs.

If they'll coordinate with other professionals like a building contractor or architect, ask about their experience and communication skills in collaborative environments.

Reading reviews and checking references: lastly, never underestimate the power of reviews and references. Online testimonials provide a window into others' experiences with the engineer.

Take a balanced view- everyone has the odd project that doesn't go perfectly.

Direct references are gold. Speak to past clients about their experiences, specifically around communication, adherence to deadlines, and how the engineer tackled unforeseen issues.

This step will give you confidence in your final choice and ensure that your structural engineer knows your expectations and project requirements.

The importance of structural engineering in safety and design

Ensuring safety in structures 

Structural engineering ensures the safety and durability of buildings.

In the UK, structural engineers analyse how buildings withstand environmental stresses and usage, focusing on preventing collapses and enduring harsh conditions.

They examine each building aspect, from foundations to roofing, and incorporate materials that maximise safety.

Their detailed work includes calculating load-bearing capacities, crucial for renovations involving structural changes like removing load-bearing walls.

Contributions to energy efficiency and aesthetics 

Structural engineers impact a building's energy efficiency and aesthetic appeal.

They collaborate in the design phase, selecting materials and designs that enhance thermal efficiency and reduce heating costs. Here's a more detailed article on the energy proficiency of a home.

Their expertise is required in realising architectural visions, making sure that creative designs, like large open spaces or expansive windows, are safe and feasible.

Structural engineers and sustainability 

Structural engineers play a key role in sustainable construction, choosing environmentally friendly materials and reducing waste.

They contribute to sustainable practices, such as using renewable materials and advocating for techniques like rainwater harvesting or solar panels.

Their efforts help create homes that are not only structurally sound but also environmentally responsible.

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