If you're planning a renovation on one of your investment properties, you likely already have a contractor lined up. But before jumping in, you should assess whether a structural engineer will be necessary to complete the project as well.
Structural engineers can be crucial not just for new construction but for any number of renovation projects -- including some you may consider small projects. Read on to find out what a structural engineer does, how much they typically cost, and when you should hire one as an investor.
What does a structural engineer do?
A structural engineer analyzes, identifies, and designs the physical integrity of a building or structure, specifically dealing with force and loads. For example, you're redoing your upstairs master suite. You want to tear out the small sitting area and enlarge the bathroom to include a claw tub and double vanity.
Tearing down walls and adding additional weight, especially on a second floor, would almost certainly necessitate hiring a structural engineer. Here, the engineer would do an inspection to make sure the wall isn't load-bearing and the floor can support the additional weight of a heavy bathtub and enlarged vanity.
When should you hire a structural engineer?
Structural engineers aren't cheap. According to Home Advisor (NYSE: ANGI), you can expect to pay between $100 to $150 an hour for their services. Particularly with a renovation, it's unlikely you'll need to hire one, but when needed, they are absolutely essential for a properly designed project. You should always listen to suggestions from other professionals you've hired, like a general contractor, inspector, or architect, if they recommend having a structural engineer come out.
Projects that need a structural engineer
Several projects are guaranteed to need a structural engineer, and some smaller projects may surprise you.
Hire a structural engineer for any new construction, whether building a whole house or an addition or even adding a porch or balcony. Another sure sign a structural engineer is needed is any sort of settlement, cracking, or sloping issues. These are indicators of major issues already occurring. The structural engineer will be able to assess the visible damage, identify the underlying cause, and provide the appropriate steps to correct it.
You'll also need to call a structural engineer if you've had any sort of property damage (fire, natural disasters, a car hitting the house, etc.). A few projects where you'll need a structural engineer might surprise you, like when you're adding solar panels to the roof or any weight-bearing feature, like a hot tub, to your deck.
The bottom line
If you're on the fence about your project, give a structural engineer a call. It's better to have one come out for a quick inspection and confirm their services aren't needed than to move forward with a renovation that could cause serious damage to the property.
A reputable structural engineer should have a degree in structural or civil engineering, both of which would provide the necessary training, and ideally several years of experience on multiple projects.