Saturday, February 13, 2010
The recent quake in Haiti has raised public awareness about the dangers of building structures without taking safety into consideration.
Ironically, though the SF Bay Area is located on more than one major fault line, we still encounter many situations where ignorance contributes to irresponsible building practices.
As a drafting service we get plenty of inquiries from potential customers who are hoping to find a cheap and easy way to renovate their property by avoiding the costs of hiring a licensed engineer or architect. We can attest that this is often the best way to end up paying more in the long run!
Here are a few reasons why we recommend asking a civil or structural engineer to review your renovation project at the start. You can save time, money and aggravation by getting a professional’s input before you even draft proposal plans.
1. Existing structures may not be up to date in terms of compliance with current codes. Building codes are constantly evolving based on experiences of building failure, accidents or hazards. Making a change to an old building may result in the need to comply with today's regulations. This makes your property safer and a better investment for future owners, too. The local building department can advise you about applicable codes and let you know if they require a signed set of plans to approve the changes you envision. Though we’ve seen many attempts, we can tell you that it is counterproductive to try to get around the building department. You’ll just have to pay extra for your project to be corrected or rebuilt, later.
2. Design changes that look great on paper may involve moving walls, doors, windows, beams that are part of the structural integrity of the building. It’s much easier to consult an engineer early in your project with a rough sketch than later after you have drafted a full set of detailed plans. Your structural engineer may decide that additional modifications to the roof and foundation will be required because you want to add some rooms, another story or a garage. An unlicensed designer may or may not be able to advise you of same. Don’t count on a drafter to know all the risks you are taking by altering your existing structure.
3. The soil of your property may be too unstable to support the type of remodel you envision. Consult an engineer to find out if a soils test is recommended for your property. Conceptual plans might look inspiring but find out before you draw them up if the drainage or solidity of the ground will be an issue.
4. If you are contemplating the purchase of a property for remodel it's not wise to rely on the advice of your real estate broker regarding its suitability. Get an appraisal and estimate from a licensed Structural Engineer before you decide to purchase and remodel. A good engineer can let you know in advance what kind of structural changes are recommended for the building. They can even advise as to the style of architecture that is safe for the property.