Patty Wilkinson put her 120-year-old McCordsville, Ind. home up for sale last December, but was unsure of what to do when a prospective buyer had concerns about cracks in the foundation
“That was one of the things he wanted checked out before they agreed to buy the house,” Wilkinson says. “Our Realtor told us we needed to get a structural engineer. I’m a member of Angie’s List, so I went through them (to find one) because I wanted somebody legit. I didn’t know anything about structural engineers.”
The structural engineer checked the home’s foundation and basement and told Wilkinson and the buyer that the cracks would not affect the integrity of the structure and the home would stand another 100 years.
“He told us then and there and then he wrote (a report) up for the potential buyer to put into the contract,” says Wilkinson, who now lives in Greenfield after successfully selling the home to the buyer once his fears were allayed. “It was a big relief.”
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Where home inspectors review an entire structure from top to bottom, structural engineers specialize in focusing on assessing the integrity of the structure itself, potential problems and solutions.
“A lot of calls stem from when a regular home inspector goes through and reviews the home and they see something they deem to be suspect, which may or may not be structural related, and don’t believe they have the qualifications to offer an opinion or give information on what needs to be done,” says Kevin D. Beil, a Professional Engineer with Structural Engineering Consultants in Indianapolis. “So, they’ll reference in the report to have an engineer take a look at it. Sometimes, I get calls if there’s a retrofit or remodeling project in the house and they want to move bearing walls, which is something done quite a bit these days. We get foundation settlement issues; bowed walls in basements; framing issues; sloped floors; roof systems where there’s either a failure in place or something that wasn’t designed properly when they built the home.”
Beil often provides customers of his findings with verbal and written reports, drawings and designs.
Structural engineers can even act as a watchdog of sorts for homeowners who are told they have structural damage that requires extensive repair, but in reality, it doesn’t.
“Sometimes, people are living in a home that’s 50 or 60 years old and a foundation (repair) contractor walks in there and says, ‘You have a structural problem.’ As soon as people hear that buzzword, they get anxious. We’ll get a call and they say, ‘I’ve got an estimate here for $10,000-plus of work.’ This has happened multiple times over the years. We go in with our third-party, impartial review and determine there might be a little bit of a problem, but certainly not $10,000 worth. It can save lots of people lots of money in that regard.”
Structural engineers typically charge by the hour, anywhere from $300 to $500, on average. Structural engineers should hold a valid Professional Engineer license from the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency. A quick consultation by phone can help consumers determine if they need a structural engineer’s expertise for their issue.
“If there is ever any question that a consumer may have regarding a problem that they believe is structural related, or if they are questioning confusing information provided by a contractor on a home project, I would encourage them to call a structural engineer,” Beil says. “Typically, with a short conversation, we can determine if an engineering review would be prudent and cost-effective for them to pursue. Besides, it doesn't cost anything for a quick discussion that may help ease confusion and concern. If we can't help, most likely we can steer them in a direction to find a solution.”
Editor's note: This article was originally published in July of 2012.