Skip to content


Four Reasons to Choose Your Structural Engineer Wisely

A structural engineer designed this!

1. It will save you money in the long run.

A low fee often means a low effort, low experience… or both.

Typically, a person hires a structural engineer based on their fee and level of experience. However, the initial cost can be deceiving since a good structural engineer will work harder than one that cuts costs in order to win work. Often, having a low fee means they won’t have enough fee to do the job right.

For an engineer to economize the structure, it takes time. It’s much easier to use slightly more conservative (larger) loads/forces and/or design for the worst case and apply that to all members. It’s actually common practice at many firms. This results in typical details and much fewer calculations which allow an engineer to speed through the project. That conservative design will cost more, and often isn’t well thought out or coordinated enough with other trades to be built easily.

Also, while one doesn’t typically think of creativity and engineering in the same way as one would think of traditional artistic creativity, thinking outside of the norm and seeing solutions to problems that aren’t traditional is a key aspect of a good structural engineer. If you allow for 10 times the number of possible solutions, often one of the solutions in the 2-10 group is more cost effective, quicker, and easier for the contractor. That unique design or solution in the field can make all the difference.

The bottom line: The more time the right person spends, especially on the elements that are repeated throughout a project, result in savings that can easily be 10 or even 100 times the fee that would have been saved when using an engineer with a different mindset. Spitting out numbers in a meeting, designing on the fly without models to back it up and combativeness when their design is questioned should all be red flags. Not taking shortcuts, coming up with field-oriented and well thought out solutions and doing more drawings will take more time, but a good engineer knows it is worth it.

2. It will make for an easier, more enjoyable project.

Every project has issues that arise in the field; however, it’s impossible to know how many will come up until construction starts. A small issue in the drawings can make for a big issue in the field or during budgeting if it’s not addressed proactively.

Working with an engineer that knows how to prioritize can make a huge difference. Ultimately, it can be great if you talk to your engineer every day and see them in the field often. However, it may also be that they didn’t get enough information into the plans, or the project was put together poorly, which can lead to months of headaches in the field. The goal of the engineer should be to reduce the potential issues that come up in the field through well thought out design and detailing. This also includes being proactive with issues that may arise and being extremely responsive to questions that come up, whether they’re to blame for the issue or not.

I’ve known engineers at other firms that make contractors’ lives difficult when they miss something critical in the field, as a form of punishment. That’s obviously an extreme approach, but taking shortcuts is fairly common. What we do is difficult enough. We’re all on the same team, and it should feel like that throughout the current project and on to the next one.

3. You’ll get a permit more easily, and that permit will result in fewer changes.

Permit questions arise on every project. It’s common practice to have plans examiners outsource the review to a structural firm for review. This can result in large cost increases if the projects were designed incorrectly, or the engineer isn’t able to convince the jurisdiction that the plans are done correctly through code knowledge, additional calculations, a structural model, etc.

This can result in large cost increase after the project has been bid and can have the added negative impact of making the team look uninformed. A good structural engineer will still have comments but will typically be able to get through a plan check with only very minor actual changes to the plans and get through the plan check quicker.

4. It will result in a code-compliant building.

Buildings are constructed according to plans created by and submittals reviewed by the structural engineer. The building department, while doing the best they can, will typically not catch structural issues. The ins and outs of the code are too nuanced, and the building departments are typically very busy.

For example, understanding that wall anchorage forces have a factor applied to the steel and not the concrete, or knowing where a drag member with specifically increased forces is needed, isn’t always readily apparent. However, during a sale, these buildings often are checked by third party structural engineers during the due diligence period. We have seen many instances where the building was over designed in many aspects and wasn’t code complaint in others, which impacted the sale price and comfort of the buyer. It has even caused purchases to fall through.

Bonus: If you end up in prison, there’s a chance they’re the only one that can get you out!

It was fun watching a structural engineer be the hero in a TV series Prison Break. You’ll have to be a really good client for us to get a full body tattoo, then commit a crime so we could go to prison, and then break you out. You never know, though!

There you go, more than four reasons to hire a good structural engineer. With so much of the cost and construction effort of a project wrapped up in the structure, it’s worth carefully considering the person who will be designing it!

Did you see our recent article on the reasons why it’s important to hire a good civil engineer?