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Understanding the financials of a commercial property is only part of the picture in a commercial real estate investment. The physical integrity of the building itself is critical to properly price any project, and this understanding becomes especially important during major renovations. It’s a shockingly common situation for property owners to make a decision based entirely on the optics of a few pictures and the bottom line of an excel model. Only later do they find that cracks in a property’s foundation have put them in the red. Structural engineers are indispensable in finding these types of defects in a property.
They are also able to help select appropriate materials, calculate live loads (the weight when a property is occupied) and project how environmental stresses can create issues. Like a doctor that has seen countless patients, experienced structural engineers are in the best position to diagnose issues in existing properties or in construction plans. And like finding a good doctor, searching for an experienced structural engineer can be a daunting process. Fortunately, PropertyCashin can ensure that property owners are able to find the right professional by providing a stack-ranked list of nearby experts suited to each project.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Who are structural engineers and what do they do?
Structural engineers examine the integrity of a structure by calculating how the weight of a building interacts with the structure and the building site. This allows property owners to identify issues during the inspection phase of a property purchase or to create issue-free construction plans.
For an industrial structural engineer, competency is quite literally a matter of life and death. Incorrect weight calculations on a bridge or tunnel project can easily lead to a disaster. For most commercial real estate projects, sloppy calculations are usually a matter of a project’s financial feasibility.
During the design and construction process, structural engineering consultants can be invaluable in ensuring that projects are delivered under budget, on time, and safely.
They can review design plans and are also uniquely qualified to inspect the reinforcing steel or concrete forms and other construction materials on a job site. For example, defects in roof trusses are actually rarely caused by overloading, but commonly occur during the transportation or installation of the truss.
How much do structural engineering services cost on average?
In general, commercial structural engineers will bill on an hourly basis, with rates averaging between $100 – $150 per hour. For new property construction and industrial projects, many structural engineers will use a percentage of overall construction costs to calculate their rates. For commercial properties, pricing will depend on the square footage and complexity of the property.
A six unit apartment building may be a relatively simple inspection that costs less than $1000, while a 100 unit apartment tower might cost significantly more per square foot inspected. Larger commercial buildings tend to be more complex to inspect, as factors such as elevator shafts and horizontal wind forces need to be taken into account.
For inspections of existing structures, you can expect that structural engineers will provide quotes based on the size and complexity of the property. Quotes will also usually be provided in advance during the review of design projects. For ongoing consulting services, such as hiring a structural engineer to inspect building materials onsite, structural engineers will still provide customers with an hourly fee schedule.
What does a structural inspection cover?
A structural inspection report will usually be limited to a visual inspection of the property, as the vast majority of issues will be readily apparent to the eyes of an experienced professional. A structural analysis of a building is split between two elements:
(i) The substructure inspection, which provides a visual assessment on the foundation of the property and the surrounding soil. Structural engineers will pay close attention to drainage issues, the integrity of the concrete and for signs of subsidence.
(ii) The superstructure inspection, which assesses everything above the foundation, including floor joists, walls, and roof trusses. For the superstructure, a regular inspection will generally be limited to a visual inspection of the floors, walls, and roof. Any visible defects such as sagging floors, will signal that a deeper inspection is needed to observe parts of the structure hidden by drywall.
A full structural inspection will always include both of these two elements, but property owners can direct structural engineers to focus on either. Generally, the substructure inspection is more critical, as superstructure issues are relatively rare and when present, are often caused by defects in the underlying foundation.
How much does it cost to have a structural inspection?
With structural engineers charging an average of $100 – $150 per hour, the total cost of a structural inspection will depend on the size and complexity of the property being inspected.
A small multifamily building like a fourplex, for example, will generally cost between $500-$750 for a structural inspection. For larger buildings, property owners can expect this cost to increase linearly.
Are structural engineers civil engineers?
Civil and structural engineering are very similar disciplines and both deal with the design, construction and maintenance of building and public works, such as bridges and tunnels. Structural engineering is a subcategory of civil engineering that focuses on the structural elements of buildings and public works. It takes a four year degree to become a general civil engineer, while it takes postgraduate specialization to then become a structural engineer.
While professionals practicing as civil engineers need to be licensed in most states, they are usually limited in their ability to inspect and design structural elements of buildings. All 50 states require that engineers – both civil and structural – be licensed and registered before practicing or soliciting business.
What is the difference between a structural engineer and an architect?
Architectural design is limited to the aesthetic and functional properties of a building and stops short of validating that the structural elements of a building can handle the weight of the occupied building. The latter is the responsibility of a structural engineer.
Do structural engineers work with architects?
Architectural and structural design are closely connected, and it’s the norm for Architects to have an ongoing relationship with a structural engineering consulting firm.
The building design process generally starts with an Architect who creates a draft design for a new building. A structural engineer then confirms that the Architect’s design is workable, and makes changes as needed.
Where to find a qualified structural engineer?
Choosing the right structural engineer will pay enormous dividends to any property owner during the purchase, renovation or construction of a building. Using search engines and random local directories is inherently risky.
Commercial property owners and buyers can rely on PropertyCashin to provide a directory of top-rated structural design companies and independent structural engineers, perfectly suited to their needs.
We have already taken the time to identify the best structural engineers in your area so that you can get back to focusing on your project. Just choose your location on this very page and pick one of the most reputable professionals from our list.
Are you a reputable commercial structural engineer?
If you’re an established, reputable and licensed commercial structural engineering company that provides services to commercial building owners, apply to get listed on our directory.