Every building, addition, extension, and structure you need for home or business will require structural engineering expertise. Even something as seemingly simple as a bigger loading dock or entryway will need someone with structural engineering skills to ensure it makes sense and will achieve what you intend, and will fit the existing structure without causing problems.
When you’re evaluating which structural engineering firm to engage for the job, make sure you’re asking the following questions:
Do you specialize in the type of project I need?
Every different type of project has its own unique requirements, design methods and standards. Ask the structural engineering firms you’re considering whether they’ve ever done the type of project you’re planning. If so, how many times? Ask them to show you their portfolio and results and whether you can talk to the clients.
Who are your typical clients?
This affects the way a structural engineering firm is organized and the people they have on staff. Ask whether they typically work with, for example, homeowners’ residences, or long-term, large commercial projects? This will show you the depth of experience they have in your type of project.
Do you have up-to-date knowledge on local ordinances and bylaws?
Every structural engineering project will have to meet a range of local, state and federal legislation and regulations, as well as professional and industry guidelines. Talk to every structural engineering firm on your short list to get a good idea of their depth of knowledge on ordinances and bylaws.
Do you have the skills I need on staff?
Ask whether they have full-time people who have the skills and experience needed to carry out your project. Get a good idea about the people who are full-time, indeterminate, and who they’re bringing in on contracts. Make sure that the full range of knowledge and skills needed to execute your project plans are available when needed.
Who will be the primary point of contact?
No matter how large the team will be that’s dedicated to your project, there should be one person who is charged with being the “go-to” person — the person who not only answers your phone calls and texts, but acts proactively to keep you up to date on progress and any problems, changes or options. Ask about their experience with the type of project your’re planning.
At the very least, make sure you get all their communications coordinates: direct phone line, mobile number, email address, etc.
How will I be charged?
Ask for a firm quotation, which should spell out in detail costs of options, changes to the plans or scope of the project, timing, and the payment plan.
Which BIM system do you use?
Building Information Modelling is a digital strategy that uses three-dimensional models that integrate all the information about an engineering or construction project. It’s a best practice in 21st-century structural engineering, and is becoming a necessity in modern projects.
BIM allows for closer coordination between all the phases and skills involved in construction: architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical and more. It helps make plans clearer and more definite, and points out potential conflicts ahead of time, allowing reconciliation in advance.
Demand BIM in your request for bids. This will give you a 3-D model of your building in advance, helping with visualization and with maintenance in the future.
What insurance do you carry?
A structural engineering firm must carry professional indemnity insurance. Ask for a copy of the certificate of coverage, and make sure it’s up to date.
What services do you offer after the project is complete?
Firms should invite clients for regular inspections at key milestones of the project in progress. The key point of contact is the one who should schedule and coordinate these inspections.
Communication is key.
Throughout the bidding, development and construction process, open and clear communication between client and engineering firm is crucial for the success of your project. When you’re trying to decide on a structural engineering firm, be sure to include the quality of their communications with you in your decision process.