MANY RESIDENTIAL Licensed Engineers offer Structural and Foundation Engineering services WITHOUT being Structural Engineers
Not all medical doctors are made equal just as not all engineers are made equal. When was the last time you had your Eyes checked by your Dentist? If an eye exam performed by a dentist sounds wrong then hiring a mechanical, civil, industrial, electrical or petroleum engineer to check your house for structural or foundation reasons should also sound wrong to you.
The Law: Texas Board of Professional Engineers
The Texas Board of Professional Engineers makes it very clear (In fact, it is the law) that an engineer MUST practice engineering in the field that he/she is competent in. The Board’s first check of competency is the field of practice license that the engineer has been granted. All licensed engineers have a specialty or designator that indicates their competency. All engineers are reminded of this law during the annual Ethics seminar.
Don’t just take our word for it, anyone can check the specialty designator for a professional engineer by visiting the Texas Board’s of Professional Engineers website (http://www.tbpe.state.tx.us). A structural engineer will have an STR Or STR2 or STR16 designator as their specialty. If your engineer does not have this designator then they are very likely practicing outside their engineering specialty (Although sometimes engineers have the CIV designator and have failed to update their records with the board of professional engineers instructing them of their competency in Structural Engineering; to be certain, make sure they have the designation because unfortunately, many of the engineers offering services to the residential clientele are Electrical Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, Civil Engineers, etc.). When you ask an Engineer if he is a Structural Engineer and he answers “Yes”, make sure you look him up in the board of professional engineers to ensure that he is indeed qualified as a Structural Engineer (Structural Engineers, by the way, are the only qualified engineers to design, and therefore, inspect Foundations – not to get confused with geotechnical engineers, who are qualified on giving advice on the soil properties to be used for the design of a foundation, which also would be qualified to know and understand foundation behavior).
You get what you pay for
As a consumer, the first red flag should be an Engineer “selling” you an inspection or report for a lot cheaper than a licensed structural engineer. Since many, if not most, of the Engineers offering foundation and structural inspections for residential purposes are NOT structural engineers, then most of the engineers you ask might give you a pretty cheap fee compared to the fee proposed by actual structural engineers. Some of them ask for fees that are about half or 2/3 the fee of that of a respectable Structural engineer! Ask yourself; is it worth to you to pay anything more than $0 for an Engineer who is NOT a structural engineer? An opinion on your foundation or structure from an Engineer who is not licensed with the designation as a Structural Engineer or Geotechnical Engineer is, we hope you agree, vitually completely USELESS.
Many Engineers (even many Structural Engineers) get a commission from foundation repair companies… this is perhaps why you might get not only a cheap inspection report but sometime also be able to find “free” inspections by actual structural engineers.In the past months we have come across several engineering reports/assessments that raised our suspicion on whether the engineer was an actual structural engineer or just another engineer that felt he understood structural engineering and foundation performance. Yes it happens in our profession as well. There are engineers that practice outside of their designated specialty simply because they have an engineer’s seal. The seal of an engineer is sacred and symbolizes that we are protecting the public by using our experience, objective judgment and competency in practicing engineering. If an engineer offers structural engineering services to the public, by law, he/she must be competent in that specialty. This means most of the time that he should have a STR or STR2 or STR16 designator as his/her specialty. BE SURE to check your engineer’s approved licensed designator.
Engineers may misinform you
If you suspect you have some problems with your foundation then you need a structural (STR or STR2 or STR16) engineer to assess the condition. If you hire an engineer that has an industrial (IND) designator, mechanical (MEC) designator, civil (CIV) designator or anything other than structural or geotechnical designator then very likely the engineer WILL NOT fully understand design considerations and performance of the foundation and your house structural framing. This is a serious issue since you are relying on the engineer’s judgment and guidance on the potential problem, but the engineer’s real experience and knowledge (and license) is in a completely different field of engineering; like mechanical or civil. Being a professional engineer does not grant the engineer the right to design, assess, investigate or consult on any engineering issue under the sun (Although sometimes engineers have the CIV designator and have failed to update their records with the board of professional engineers instructing them of their competency in Structural Engineering; to be certain, make sure they have the designation because unfortunately, many of the engineers offering services to the residential clientele are Electrical Engineers, Civil Engineers, etc.).
The experience Excuse
Some engineers without the STR or STR2 or STR16 designator claim that since they have been doing assessments for many years then this is sufficient to claim competency in structural engineering. First, it’s illegal to claim competency if you don’t actually have a specific type of license designation. Moreover, the development of a structural engineer takes years of strict supervision and ample design experience from the very beginning. If a structural engineer makes a mistake in a calculation, then buildings may fall and kill people. If a mechanical engineer mistakenly under calculates your air conditioner unit then the most immediate effect is the purchase of a new unit without the loss of life. Because of the sensitivity and the reliance on qualified engineers to practice structural engineering the State has even created a list of structural engineers that can design buildings along the coast. We doubt any mechanical, electrical or industrial engineers are in that list. If your engineer can not design the walls that support your house then why hire him/her to assess the building and the foundation?
Simply put, you cannot claim years of experience if all those years of experience you might have been doing the WRONG thing!! Who would you rather hire, someone who has 100 years of experience in Civil or Mechanical Engineering or 1 Year of Structural Engineering? It doesn’t matter how many years of experience an Engineer has, if he doesn’t have a Structural designator to prove his competency, then that Engineer’s experience, opinion, and reports are a most likely a complete WASTE of your time and money.
For this reason, the State of Texas recently has actually considered making the STR or STR2 or STR16 designator a very specialized field that not just anyone can practice in. Unfortunately the bill in the Texas congress (officially known as the Texas Legislature) did not pass and it’s back to the drawing board so this continues to allow for any engineer to freely practice engineering in whichever field pays them a fee, unless the Texas Board of Professional Engineers is contacted. So the moral of the story is, be sure that engineer that assesses your entire house structure is a structural engineer or even geotechnical engineer when it comes to the foundation only.
And not all Structural Engineers are made equal either…
A common problem among many structural engineers is that they work for companies that provide foundation repair. It is clearly to us a conflict of interest if a Structural Engineer main business is to provide foundation repair… how can he advise you honestly, free-from-self-interest, on what to do if he makes money selling you a particular system? It would require, we believe, an almost miraculous strong moral character to be able to provide such independent advise consistently and for free.Another common problem among many structural engineers is that although their company may not be a foundation repair company, they get a substantial commission from a foundation repair company every time they refer or require foundation repair on a house. This clearly is a conflict of interest!
A-1 Engineering is purely an Engineering company comprised of only Structural Engineers; we are Structural Engineers in Austin and Structural Engineers in San Antonio. 100% of what we’ve done is structural engineering (which includes foundation engineering, retaining walls, etc.). We also receive $0 in commissions from foundation repair companies; we have no financial gain when we see a foundation to tell you whether or not you need a foundation repaired and how to repair it. And most importantly, we know what we’re doing! Just look at the wealth of knowledge we provide on this website alone.