“We bought a piece of land, and we’d like to build a house.” The prospect of building your dream home is exciting as well as daunting. If you don’t have experience in construction, it can be difficult to know what is important. Contractors are not always obligated to involve a structural engineer when building; however, it can be well worth the time and cost to involve a structural engineer in the planning and design of your house. Here are a few reasons.

Peace of Mind

With a set of structural engineering plans, a contractor who follows the plan, will build the house to code. Not all contractors know or respect building codes. In the mountains, where we are located, houses are often built on steep slopes and foundation walls can get quite high. The single most common structural issue we see in the mountains is foundation settlement. The footings need to be at least two feet into residual soil at the shallowest point. Foundations should NEVER be set on fill material! When the slope of the property where the house will be constructed exceeds a 2:1 slope a geotechnical engineer should be consulted as well to verify the foundation soils.

Over time, wood framing will deflect and “creep”. Yes, this is a technical term for permanent defection due to sustained loading. Think about any sagging floor you may have seen; this is called creep. An engineered floor is designed to mitigate against movement. The minimum code requirements allow building of floor and roof systems that inevitably deflect and creep. An engineered floor system will strike the right balance between cost and long-term serviceability such as deflection.

With a set of structural engineering plans, you can have the peace of mind that your house will be constructed to withstand the test of time due to loading, weather (such as wind or snow) and slope conditions we experience in the mountains.

Budget Management

Keep a handle on your budget. Going over budget during construction can lead to stress of all the people involved. It can also lead to a souring relationship between you and your contractor.

With structural engineering plans, the contractor should know exactly how much material will be needed upfront. Therefore, you can order the optimal material to get the best unit price ultimately saving your money. When your contractor doesn’t have accurate estimates, they often have to order additional material later and you pay the bill for the extra time to do this. In addition, you will be paying a higher unit price because of the loss of economy of scale. When you order smaller quantities, you pay more for each item. This may sound trivial, but this can add up over the course of a project if quantities are not accurately estimated at the beginning of a project.

“Apples to Apples” Bid Comparison

It is always wise to get at least three quotes for building your house. If you have a set of structural engineering plans, your contractors will be bidding apples to apples, and you are less likely to have someone under bid and then come back to you for additional cost later.

When you have complete set of structural engineering plans, your contractor is more likely to be able to give you a lump sum price for your project. This can be advantageous if you are on a very set budget and also puts the risk back onto the contractor for overages.

Engineering Cost

The structural engineering cost for a full set of plans is approximately 1% of construction cost. Typical design fees are $2.50 per square foot for heated space and $1.50 per square foot of deck area.