There are a variety of reasons you may need to hire a structural engineer; the most common is if you are starting a remodel project and need an expert to tell you (or your contractor) whether your planned removal or addition of walls and structural features is safe and meets local building code requirements. Homebuyers or sellers may call in a structural engineer to look at plans or conduct a physical inspection to verify structural soundness and rule out potential problems. A home inspection may include looking at structural areas of a home, including the foundation, roof, ceilings and walls, porches or other structures attached to the main building, and anything else that might raise concerns about the building's structural soundness. You will likely want to hire a structural engineer to offer guidance, draw up plans, complete an inspection or even offer project management services if:
You’re building an addition
You’re significantly changing the layout of the home
You can see structural damage to the building
You need independent project management from someone who is not completing the work
- You are buying or selling a home in which any of the above has taken place
Structural engineers may work independently or may be on staff at a civil engineering or architecture firm. In some cases, your general contractor can refer you to a structural engineer or will be able to call someone they regularly work with who can inspect the structure, make recommendations, and even draw up plans for necessary alterations or reinforcement. Some structural engineers charge a flat rate for certain types of consultation, such as inspections,while others will charge an initial fee to make a site visit, then charge by the hour after that. Hourly rates for a structural engineer range from $100 to $150.
Dave Johnson, owner of Full Moon Engineering in Westminster, Colorado, charges $200 to visit a client’s site and inspect the building for structural soundness. If the client needs more than an hour or so of his time, he charges $125 per hour after that.
If you are remodeling a part of your home and need an engineer to draft plans indicating the type and number of beams, columns or other structural supports that must be installed, for example, you should budget $350-$600. Johnson of Full Moon Engineering says he recently visited a client’s home to inspect a wall they were planning to remove and drew up plans for the client’s contractor indicating how to reinforce the structure after removing about 10 feet of load-bearing wall. After the $200 site visit fee, Johnson says the plans cost an additional $400.
If your home has an attached structure that is in disrepair, such as a porch, deck, staircase or other structure that is 4 or more feet off the ground, it may be a good idea to have a structural engineer take a look before having a contractor or builder reinforce or rebuild the structure. If it’s simple, you may not need the engineer to draw up plans, but paying $150-$200 for an inspection can prevent worries about safety later on. If you need to obtain a building permit for the project, you may be required to have a structural engineer sign off on the work and/or inspect the project.