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When is the best time to hire your structural engineer?  The short answer to the question is as soon as practical. As a structural engineer myself, I am of course biased in my response, but let me offer a few reasons why I believe you should try to get your structural engineer involved early.  Then I will offer some implementation tips for doing so.


3 Reasons to Hire your Structural Engineer During the Early Phases of a Project  

Design Feasibility:  This is probably the biggest case for getting your structural engineer involved early. If you meet with him early, he can help you to identify conditions that could be problematic. While the engineer might not be able to design the building on the spot, he can help identify spans, sizes, framing concepts, and systems that would fit the project’s needs. It is much easier to address these things early in the design process rather than later.

Design Options: It is nice to know what your design options are and what the parameters for design are.  Your engineering consultant can help you brainstorm all of the possible options. Believe it or not, your engineer may help you develop an idea you had not previously considered or thought possible.  I have brought up ideas during early design meetings that allowed projects to explore new and different materials that the architect had not considered before.

Value Engineering:  With design options also comes the idea of cost and value. Hopefully your consultant provides value (link to value article) to the project by providing the most efficient structural design options. These options obviously come with various pros and cons that have to be considered along with the cost benefit.  But the sooner the design team as well as the owner can begin to consider these things, the better.


A Brief Example of Getting Involved Early

I recently had an early design meeting with one architectural company on a small wood framed commercial building that was still in schematic design.  During the meeting, I was able to explain that if we used a few 4-foot long sections of wall along the major building walls, then we could likely avoid the use of any steel frames to resist wind and lateral forces on those walls.  The architect then used that concept in his design for the building, and we were able to design the building without steel. By having a design meeting early, the design team was able to save the owner money down the road in the cost of the steel frames.  In addition, it saves the architect and design team time and headache as well.

How would the implementation of hiring my consultant early work?

I get it – the consultant is probably going to have his hand out, it is a hassle to have meetings, and you are not even sure if or when the project is definitely moving forward.  You may feel that you don’t want to get your engineer involved until you have to. Well, hopefully you do not feel that way about your engineer! Regardless, here are a few simple tips for getting your consultant involved early.

Have a structural design charrette as early as possible with your structural engineer.  I believe the best result will occur during the conceptual or schematic phase. The initial meeting can last an hour or so, and can be in-person or even using a video conferencing tool where you can review and markup the plans virtually.  The goal of the meeting is to try to get some ideas from your engineer that will help ensure the design concept is feasible, provide design options, and try to provide a cost-efficient design. As for the consultant having his hand out, you may be able to get the meeting as a free consult.  But I believe it is worth it to you and the project even if you have to pay a few hours of your engineer’s time.


Re-published from 2018 by Andy Richardson