What is a Structural Engineer and When Do You Need One?

5 min read
A structural engineer is an engineer who specialises in the structure of buildings and their knowledge is indispensable if you want to alter your property's structure.

They can determine a building's strength, durability and safety using specialist measurements and, most importantly, they can calculate how (and whether) you can carry out a home improvement project, like building an extension or removing a chimney breast, where your property's structure will be altered.

This knowledge can include the recommendation to use particular building materials and safety is always foremost in their calculations. They should all carry professional indemnity insurance to practise, but as this is (strangely) not a legal requirement, you should always check this before using one.

What's the difference between a structural engineer and an architect?

Structural engineers work to ensure a proposed structure is safe and supported correctly, taking into account matters such as the materials to be used in the build, the location of the site and the weight of the build.

Architects design and sometimes oversee projects, carrying out work which is very similar or the same as that of structural engineers but they are perhaps more generally known for their role in building design.

The difference is a subtle one and there is considerable crossover in work. Sometimes the two work in unison and you can also get architectural engineers(!).

There is, however, evidence to suggest that for a given residential structural improvement task which requires calculations and drawings, structural engineers are less expensive to hire than architects.

This article looks at the following:

Thinking of a home improvement project?

If you're looking to build an extension, take out a chimney breast or remove a load bearing wall, you should hire one of our experienced structural engineers to help you. 

They produce calculations and drawings for your building contractors to follow safely and get the job done efficiently.

NB All our structural engineers carry professional indemnity insurance.

*Structural Engineers – Detailed Drawings – Same Week Availability
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    When do I need a structural engineer?
There are a number of renovation projects for which you would hire a structural engineer.

These include:
You might also hire a structural engineer's services for the following:
  • Structural inspections
If there is a problem with the structure of your property – from signs of subsidence such as movement or cracking walls or sagging ceilings or roofline – you may need a structural engineer to carry out an inspection.

When you hire a RICS chartered building surveyor to carry out a home buyers survey on a property you're looking to buy, they might identify structural issues and advise you to have a more detailed investigation of the issue from a structural engineer. This often occurs when your surveyor has highlighted suspicions of subsidence.

You might also want to hire a structural engineer for the same purpose directly if you notice cracks or other causes of concern in your property and you want an expert to assess the damage, identifying possible causes and treatment.
  • Expert Witness services
Should you find yourself in a disagreement with another party over a structural matter related to your home, a structural engineer can provide an unbiased view, in the form of an independent report and advice on your options. If necessary they can follow this right through to a court appearance. Ending up in court, however, is far from ideal, particularly because of the potential expenses involved, but an expert witness' input earlier on can often prevent this outcome.

Our structural engineers can also provide structural inspections (including for subsidence) and expert witness services. Call our experts on 0333 344 3234 (local call charges apply) to find out more.

    What are the professional bodies which structural engineers belong to?
The main two professional organisations of which structural engineers are members are:
Please note, however, that someone practising as a structural engineer does not have to be a member of either body in order to practise; they may be a member of another related professional body or not be a member of any.

    What does a structural engineer do when you hire one?
Depending on the job you have in mind, when you hire a structural engineer, they will ask for an initial brief regarding your project and for you to provide any necessary background information. This might include, for example, sending them the home buyers survey which flagged up suspicions of subsidence.

The structural engineer will then carry out a site visit and inspection. In the case of checking for subsidence, this differs from a home buyers survey inspection in that it is intrusive; floorboards may be lifted for example.

For a home improvement project such as a loft conversion, the structural engineer takes a series of measurements which they will use in their calculations and/or to create accurate drawings. 

If your project involves building work, ultimately you end up with a good set of drawings, schedules and specifications which building contractors can then use to realise your project accurately, using appropriate materials and according to prevailing building control standards. The structural engineer may be able to suggest an appropriate contractor for the job, if required.

    What are structural engineer costs for various projects?
This is highly variable as it depends on the type and scale of project and your location in the UK. However, you can expect a structural engineer to charge perhaps £600 - £1000 (incl. VAT) for any project which involves a site visit, the production of calculations, plans and drawings and for these to be compliant with building regulations.

Naturally the full cost actually realising a project like a rear extension is likely to be several times more than this when you include contractor costs (material and labour).

However you can rest assured that hiring an experienced structural engineer is likely to result in better execution of the project, much better value for money overall (mistakes after all are costly and possibly very dangerous) and legal compliance (which is advantageous not only from a safety perspective but also in removing the possibility of being fined further down the line by your local authority).

*Structural Engineers – Detailed Drawings – Same Week Availability

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