Structural Engineering FAQ

What is a structural engineer and what do they do?

Simply put, a structural engineer is a licensed professional engineer who designs structures for safety and structural integrity. Structural engineers are involved in the design of everything from buildings and bridges to towers, walls, culverts and piers. They also often evaluate existing structures, like homes, to determine if they are able to withstand any environmental pressures and are safe for people to use. Structural engineers can help evaluate any issues that your home may be facing and assist you in determining what the appropriate next steps are.

Besides evaluating a home’s structure, structural engineers can also create and approve of designs for new construction. They can help in managing projects, obtaining building permits and work with other engineers or architects to ensure proper construction. Structural engineers are involved in the design, inspection and management of construction projects and use their knowledge of mathematics and physics to ensure a structurally sound building.

When should I call a structural engineer?

It is important to keep an eye out for any signs that your home may need the help of a structural engineer. Some indicators of potential issues include: cracks in the foundation, sagging walls, and windows or doors that won’t close properly. Moisture in your basement or cracking floors can also be a sign of structural complications. If you notice any of these red flags in your home, be sure to get a structural inspection started right away.

If you are starting a new construction project on your property, you should consider calling a structural engineer. Projects like removing a bearing wall, adding a retaining wall over 4 feet tall, adding onto an existing structure or building a new structure may require a stamped drawing. Stamped drawings are sketches of the project with detailed instructions on the materials to be used, the size of the project and a signature or stamp from a licensed SE. These drawings will help ensure that your project is structurally sound.

Why should I hire a structural engineer?

As mentioned above, structural engineers are trained specialists who have extensive knowledge and experience. Hiring a structural engineer can not only help reassure you that your home or structure is foundationally solid, but they can also produce reports with specific guidelines for contractors to follow when making repairs or additions. Almost all new building projects require the stamp of a structural engineer in order to be permitted.

What questions should I ask a structural engineer before I hire them?

Before you start a project, it is essential to ask your structural engineer some questions about their work and your upcoming projects. Ask about your engineer’s qualifications, licensing and specialties. It is also important to ask about your local regulations for construction projects and figure out if any permits are required before you begin. When choosing a structural engineering firm, be sure to ask about their predicted timeline and costs for the project and see if it fits with your own personal schedule and budget. These questions can help you find the perfect fit for your project needs and hire a reliable company.

What is the difference between an EIT, a PE-licensed engineer and a SE-licensed engineer?

With all the different levels and titles of engineer, it can be confusing to determine the difference between them all. An EIT– Engineer-In-Training– is someone who has completed 4 years of schooling and has passed a Fundamentals of Engineering exam. EITs work as apprentices under a field professional. A licensed PE– Professional Engineer – is someone who has accumulated enough experience as an EIT and has passed a state-sanctioned professional licensure exam. A licensed SE– structural engineer – is a professional engineer who has apprenticed under another licensed SE and has completed the additional necessary exams that their state requires. An SE license is often required for projects that require stricter design standards because of their use, location or size.

I want to become a structural engineer, where do I start?

If you are interested in becoming a structural engineer, it starts with getting the proper education. Earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering–typically civil engineering is the first stepping stone in becoming a structural engineer. After completing your education, you need to follow the requirements set forth by the state in which you are seeking licensure, which may include a combination of tests and experience.

How do I become a licensed structural engineer in Washington state?

After completing all the necessary education and training, you can move on to obtain your structural engineering license. In Washington state, you need to have completed 4 years of school, pass the Engineering-In-Training (EIT) exam,  and participate in a 4 year apprenticeship under a licensed engineer. After that, you can take the Professional Engineer (PE) exam to be considered a professional engineer. Finally, you must work 2 more years and pass the Structural Engineering (SE) exam to become a licensed SE.


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