Q: Structural engineering consulting would seem to be an unnecessary expense for most building repair and maintenance projects. When is a structural engineer needed?
A: Structural engineers offer a different perspective. Although you typically look to these professionals for structural issues, you’ll also want to bring in a professional consultant when dealing with things like wall settlement and cracking, soil erosion along structures, cracks in concrete and masonry, corrosion in metal railings and supports, and water leakage that has caused severe deterioration of building components. Simple and minor deficiencies in building walls or roof can lead to costly repairs if not addressed properly. A qualified structural engineer has the tools and knowledge to identify the underlying causes behind these symptoms and can recommend an appropriate course of action to permanently address any issues they find.
Q: What added value does a structural engineering professional provide that building owners and managers are most surprised to discover?
A: Cost savings. The structural engineer can determine the most cost effective and permanent solution to address any building issues they uncover. They know what it will take to provide a long-term resolution vs. a Band-Aid approach that may only last one or two years before failing again – costing the building owner even more time, money and aggravation.
Q: What is the most unnecessary expense you encounter when dealing with building managers and owners who are working directly with contractors?
A: We see a lot of Band-Aid-type fixes—particularly with parking garages. Concrete deteriorates and spalling (small, pebble-like pieces) occurs and a contractor will simply patch over the area. In about a year, that same area will show even greater deterioration as the underlying concrete continues to erode and the patch separates from the deteriorating concrete below. This starts a continuous cycle of yearly repair and expense. We also see a lot of situations where new sealant is applied over old—a repair that will give out fairly quickly as the old sealant keeps the new sealant from adhering properly. We once encountered a building owner whose contractor provided tuck pointing for numerous buildings to address water intrusion issues. Because the contractor did not properly cut-in and repack the mortar, the repair only lasted three-to-four years, rather than the 15-20 years the building owner expected.
Q: Why are these contractors not making appropriate repairs? Do they just not know better?
A: For the most part, it’s because the contactors think they are making small fixes. They don’t understand the underlying issues and how to address them. A lot of bigger contractors will contact a structural engineering consultant because they know the consultant will tell them the best way to remediate the problem and deliver a long-term solution.
Q: Do contactors feel threatened when a building owner or manager brings in a structural engineer?
A: No. Most contractors want to do the best job possible and a structural engineer can make it easier for them by providing clear recommendations as to the scope of the project and the steps to be taken. They learn new skills to do the job properly and may gain additional job opportunities.