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WHAT DOES A CHARTERED STRUCTURAL ENGINEER DO?
Although other construction professionals are familiar with the expert skills of Chartered Structural Engineers, the general public tend not to know what Structural Engineers do.

Structural engineering is a speciality discipline within Civil Engineering. Chartered Structural Engineers are qualified to review building plans and advise on stability, strength, deflection and other performance issues. They are also able to advise on the suitability of proposed materials with respect to durability and deterioration over the design lifetime of the project.

They will advise on damaged buildings as well new builds and refurbishment projects; including but not limited to safe removal of walls, chimney breasts, etc; on groundwork issues/types of foundation and solutions; and much more. Usually this will involve a site visit from which design details and calculations will be produced to substantiate to Local Authority Building Control the sizes of the building elements needed.

However please note that not all who purport to be ‘Structural Engineers’ are fully qualified or experienced. Therefore when employing a Structural Engineer always ensure that they are “Chartered”. This can be done from the links on our useful links page.

To quote the Institution of Structural Engineers, “Chartered Members have achieved a high level of personal achievement and professional competence. Chartered Structural Engineers are entitled to use the designation MIStructE.”

Steve Johnson and his Associates are Chartered Structural Engineers and members of the Engineering Council.

WHEN WOULD I NEED TO EMPLOY A CHARTERED STRUCTURAL ENGINEER?

If your project effects what are know as the structural elements of a building then you will normally require a Structural Engineer to substantiate these changes to Local Authority Building Control, this applies to both new build and refurbishment projects.

Some examples of when you would need a Structural Engineer are listed on the Local Authority Building Control web page (replicated here as part of this list):

  • new dwellings (house, bungalow, maisonettes or a block of flats or any other type of new building)
  • extensions (see exempt works for porches and conservatories)
  • loft conversion
  • garage or basement conversions to form a habitable room
  • conversion of a house into flats
  • underpinning
  • structural alterations such as removal of load bearing walls and chimney breasts
  • re-roofing, as the structural and thermal performance of the new roof will have to comply with the regulations
  • material change of use (such as converting office, shop or other commercial building into flats)
  • conversion of commercial properties such as shops and offices into flats

If you notice (or a Surveyor has expressed concern regarding) cracking, bulging or subsidence.

WHAT IS A STRUCTURAL ENGINEERS REPORT?

There are typically 2 types of Structural Engineer’s Report:

  • Full Structural Appraisal Report
  • Report on Specific Structural Defects

Full Structural Appraisal Report

HOW DO I FIND A GOOD STRUCTURAL ENGINEER?

Quality standards are in place to protect you, as a member of the public, as well as the reputation of the industry.

Therefore, it pays to carry out checks before you employ anyone who calls him or herself a Structural Engineer.
You get what you pay for!

Things to check before engaging the services of a Structural Engineer:
· Are they a Chartered Structural Engineer registered with the Engineering Council?

An Engineers qualifications can be checked by requesting their membership number and
Entering it in the directory of members at the Institution of Structutal Engineers web site at the following link https://www.istructe.org/finding-a-structural-engineer/members-directory

Not all ‘structural engineers’ have passed the Institution of Structural Engineers’ very high standard exams.
Those who have done so can use the letters MIStructE after their name.
If they are also registered with the Engineering Council they can use the letters CEng after their name.

Steve Johnson has been a Chartered Structural Engineer and Member of the Engineering Council since 2000. His Associates are also Chartered Structural Engineers and Members of the Engineering Council

· Are they adequately insured/do they carry both Professional Indemnity and Public Liability Insurance?
S J Johnson Associates carry both Professional Indemnity and Public Liability Insurance.

· What experience do they have as a Structural Engineer?
A career history has been included on our website.

· You may wish to obtain more than one quotation for structural engineering services
S J Johnson Associates provide competitive rates. With our extensive experience we are able to provide practical and economical solutions.

· Important:
Ask the Structural Engineer when his/her information will be available, initially as well as subsequently. Also how quickly they will respond if there are any queries after the work commences, and will there be additional costs?

S J Johnson Associates is striving to provide a speedy service where we aim to respond and answer queries within 24 hours.
o We pride ourselves on being able to provide single beam calculations within 3 working days.
Structural reports are also usually provided within 3 working days after carrying out an inspection.
o We do not charge additional fees for queries regarding issued calculations and details – as stated in our offers / agreements.
· For any further work including alterations to the scheme or an extended brief, we would agree an additional fee with the client based on reduced hourly rates

HOW DO I FIND A GOOD BUILDER?

Quality standards are in place to protect you, as a member of the public, as well as the reputation of the industry.

Therefore, it pays to carry out checks before you employ anyone who calls him or herself a Builder.
You get what you pay for!

Things to check before engaging the services of a Builder:
· Are they Qualified or  registered with a trade/professional body such as the Federation of Master Builders (FMB)? – The register can be searched at the following link.

Federation of Master Builders | Find a Builder | Federation of Master Builders (fmb.org.uk)

This we appreciate can be a like finding a unicorn when looking locally, so in the absence of this the following steps should be taken.

· Are they adequately insured?  A useful article on this can found at comparethemarket.com link follows. We recommend that any builder should have both public and employers liability insurance in place to cover risk to life and limb. Additionally to protect you and the building works. Contractors works Insurance to protect you during the build before the work is amalgamated into your Buildings policy. Finally a Building Guarantee / Warrantee to protect you should the builder wind up or go bust, and also against any faults in the building works.

What insurance should your builder have? | Compare the Market

· Do they have good references from past / recent  projects and are you able to take up those references?

· If they are currently a Limited company or have been in the past, check their credentials at companies house. Using the directors name or current company name. Check to see how many companies they have had in recent years, any more than one and without good reason, and if disqualified as a Director we suggest you walk away and engage someone who meets these requirements. Checks can be made at the following link

Get information about a company – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

· With the above satisfied, you should obtain at least three quotations for the building work. This as prices will vary depending on many factors including how busy the builder is. Budget quotes can be obtained initially, but final agreed sums should only be discussed upon receipt of the Structural Engineers actual  and detailed designed requirements.

· Also Important:
Ask the Builder when they will be available to commence the building works, how long it will take, and how much assistance from the Structural Engineer they are likely to require.

I AM BUYING A PROPERTY WHAT SORT OF REPORT DO I NEED?

If you are buying a property, it is always advisable to arrange for a survey to be carried out by a Chartered Surveyor, particularly if the property is more than 10 years old.

If you are buying the property with a mortgage, you should not rely solely on the mortgage valuation report as this is prepared for the mortgage lender to confirm the security of the loan.  This may not highlight all specific defects or inadequacies.

There are two principal types of Building Survey that are recognised by The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

  1.       Homebuyer Survey and Valuation

This survey has a standard format and aims to report on all parts of the building that can easily be seen by the Surveyor.

The survey endeavours to comment on the overall condition of the property and to identify which areas are of concern and may require further investigation.

The survey is considered appropriate for conventional type properties, including houses, flats and bungalows, which are in reasonable condition and built in about the last 150 years.

Items such as services including drainage, wiring and gas, etc, are not included in these surveys.

The Homebuyer Survey should identify any major defects and associated cost implications. It should include items such as damp and woodworm and an assessment of the quality of any insulation or damp proofing. This survey will also provide a valuation of the property.

It is common for the survey to provide recommendations for further investigation by other specialists in respect of certain defects.

S J Johnson Associates are regularly referred by local Surveyors to provide advice and recommendations relating to specific structural defects identified in the Surveyors Report.

  1.       Building Survey

This survey is more comprehensive and therefore more expensive than the Homebuyer Survey and is appropriate for all residential properties. It will provide a much fuller indication of the construction and condition of the property.

A Building Survey is generally required for older buildings or buildings that are in a poor state of repair or have been extensively altered or converted. The survey should include all visible defects and likely  cost of the repairs and testing together with recommendations relating to insulation, damp, damp-proofing and woodworm.

The Survey Report will also provide comprehensive information regarding the constructionof the property and information about its location.

The Survey Report does not normally include a valuation of the property but can be arranged as an extra item.

It is common that the survey may recommend further investigation to be carried out by a specialist in respect of certain defects.

S J Johnson Associates are regularly referred by local surveyors to provide advice and            recommendations relating to specific structural defects identified in the Survey Report.

  1.       Valuation

If you are not seeking a mortgage to buy a property that appears to be in good condition or is of recent construction, a further cheaper option may be a Valuation Report.

This should provide a simple valuation of the property with comments on any major defects. This is similar to a mortgage valuation for a bank or building society.

Any major defects identified may need to be referred to a specialist in the area of work. S J Johnson Associates are often contacted to provide advice relating to structural defects.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AND ARCHITECT AND SOMEONE OFFERING ME architectural services?

The word Architect is a protected title, requiring anyone claiming to be so to have obtained relevant professional qualifications. Having obtained the required level of relevant knowledge & experience to obtain these industry / sectoral qualifications,  allows such individuals to use the title Architect and should ensure a defined standard of service backed up by a professional code of conduct.

It should be understood by clients that the building industry has unfortunately devolved in recent years, particularly with regard to planning in the domestic sector. Where those without professional qualifications are offering ” architectural services” – note the small “a”! avoiding infringement of  the protected title.

Their offering of this architectural planning only service, comes without any pre-requisite for knowledge of building construction and as a consequence with no defined standards. Often the client being abandoned post planning stage, by those providing such services, because as above they lack the required knowledge to take the project forward. The client then being left post planning to find building professionals to develop the construction details from the planning drawings, obtain Building Regulation approval and progress the build generally.

You may well hear from such architectural service providers “we expect the builder to work all that out!” Do not accept this! this is an unjustifiable argument. Which attempts to take the drawing fee, whilst passing what should be being worked out on the drawing board onto someone else. The development of the details (foundations / insulation / damp proof courses & membranes etc etc) is the real bulk of the work, not the drawing of a house outline and as such comes with a cost.  We recommend before procuring your planning drawings and the associated level of service, that you speak to actual builders about the level of instruction they will require on your project and from whom?  failing that or even additionally speak to us.

Returning to the earlier paragraph, it is critical for clients to appreciate that professionals can only take planning drawings forward to construction when what has been drawn for planning works structurally and as is sometimes the case, having to decline work where what is drawn on the planning drawings does not meet acceptable building standards!

We do not, and can not purport to be Architects, however as Chartered Structural Engineers, what we draw for you for planning will be assessed during that stage for buildability, structural robustness and compliance with the Building Regulations, specifically  Part A – Structure. This knowledge based assessment leading to  avoidance of any of the pit falls that can derail your project at the commencement of the Structural Design & application for Building Regulation Approval.

I WANT TO CARRY OUT AN ALTERATION TO MY PROPERTY, EXTENSION, LOFT CONVERSION, REMOVAL OF WALL – WHO SHOULD I CONTACT?
  • We recommend that you contact us in the first instance.
  • If the work simply involves, for instance, the removal of a load-bearing wall we would be able to give you an indication of our fee for our services. We would visit your property, take the necessary details and then provide calculations and details suitable for Building Regulations and to enable a builder to carry out the works.
  • If the work were more extensive, such as building an extension, we would most likely refer you to a local Architect. He/she would give you a quotation for their fees. They would then draw up plans and, if necessary, make a Planning Application. After Planning Permission had been granted, the Architect or yourself would contact us to provide a quote for Structural Engineering design. We would then provide the calculations and details suitable for Building Regulations, to enable a builder to carry out the works.
  • After you have received both the Architect’s drawings and specifications, and our calculations and details, you should obtain competitive quotations for the work from three local builders.

DO I NEED TO MAKE A FULL PLANS APPLICATION OR CAN I USE A BUILDING NOTICE?

The Full Plans Building Regulations application is generally required for larger projects such as extensions or new buildings.

It is necessary to send two copies of the plans and application forms to your local Building Control.
Your payment is made in two stages: one when you send the plans and one after the Building Inspector has carried out the first inspection.

The approval decision can take up to five weeks. When the approval has been granted works can then commence.

 

The Building Notice application usually applies to smaller works such as the removal of a load-bearing wall.

The Building Notice form should be sent to Building Control with a block plan showing the proposals in relation to existing buildings. A single fee (equivalent to the total Building Regulations fee) is sent with this application.

You may commence the works two days after submitting the application. 

With the Building Notice there is more emphasis on the builder and if the completed work does not meet Building Control requirements significant costly and disruptive remedial works may be required to achieve the necessary standards and requirements.

Building Control would also request any relevant structural calculations and details relevant to the work.
These should therefore be obtained from Chartered Structural Engineers such as S J Johnson Associates prior to commencement of the works.

I AM HAVING WORK DONE ON MY PROPERTY WHAT ARE MY OBLIGATIONS WRT THE PARTY WALL ACT 1996?

If you are carrying out work close to your neighbour’s property you may have a legal obligation to notify them in respect of the Party Wall etc Act 1996.

The Act gives you rights and responsibilities whichever side of the ‘wall’ you are on, whether you or your neighbour is doing the work.

The Act does not affect any requirement for Planning Permission or Building Regulations approval.

The Act does not only relate to the party wall, it also covers:

  • A wall of any building on the boundary line between two properties.
  • A wall, which is common to two or more properties.
  • A garden wall close to the boundary.
  • Floors and ceilings of flats etc.
  • Excavation close to a neighbour’s property.

It is always better to reach a friendly agreement with your neighbour prior to the start of any work rather than resorting to the law.

If you notify your neighbour in writing of intended works and do not receive their written agreement within 14 days, a dispute is deemed to have arisen.

A Party Wall Surveyor or Surveyors will then need to be appointed to resolve the dispute. You would be responsible for settlement of the fees of the Surveyor or Surveyors. This process could delay the work significantly.

For further useful and more detailed information relating to the Party Wall etc Act 1996, we would recommend that you download The Party Wall etc Act 1996 explanatory booklet.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I NOTICE OTHER CRACKS OR DEFECTS?

We recommend that you contact S J Johnson Associates.

We will be happy to discuss your concerns and advise you what you should do next.

In most cases we will need to visit the property and carry out an initial partial inspection of the area of concern.

Sometimes we will be able to identify what the problem is at this visit and we would provide you with a brief report confirming our findings and recommendations.

In some circumstances we may need to return to the property to carry out some further investigative work, for example, excavating trial holes to confirm the size and nature of existing foundations and ground material, or lifting floor boards to confirm the floor structure and support details.

A local builder is sometimes employed to carry out these investigative works.

It may also be necessary to engage a specialist to carry out a CCTV inspection of the drains.  This additional information would hopefully confirm the cause of the defect and enable us to provide recommendations and details in respect of any repairs.
When you see a crack, do not immediately assume that your property is suffering from foundation subsidence and that major underpinning (foundation strengthening)

HOW DO I CHOOSE A GOOD BUILDER – WHO CAN I TRUST AND WHAT SHOULD I BEAR IN MIND RE THE PROPOSED BUILDING WORKS?

Carrying out any works to your property can prove to be a disruptive and sometimes stressful experience.  It is therefore very important to choose a reputable, good quality builder.

S J Johnson Associates do not recommend builders due to the use of occasional and sub-contract labour. However the following steps would be useful in finding a good builder.

If you are choosing a builder yourself we recommend that you take the following steps.

  • Ask for referrals.

A competent builder will be proud of his/her previous work and will be pleased to provide references and examples of similar work.

We recommend that you contact the builder’s previous customers to obtain their verbal comments.

  • Contact the Federation of Master Builders and ask for confirmation that the builder is a member.
  • Obtain at least three written quotes from different builders, particularly for large projects.

If you have employed an Architect or Structural Engineer such as ourselves you may wish to ask them to check the builders’ quotations.  You should not necessarily choose the cheapest quote.  Ensure all the quotes cover the same work specification.

In some situations a builder has been known to provide a very low initial quotation and then claim numerous extra costs during the work.

  • Draw up a contract or agreement with the builder. This should describe the work to be carried out, the date of completion for the work, what hours the builder intends to work each day, site tidiness and disposal of waste materials, catering and lavatory arrangements, security and safety etc.

In many situations the work to be carried out will be identified on the Architect’s or Structural Engineer’s drawings. The contract should include the fixed fee cost and date when the work is due to commence.

  • Ask to see the builder’s public liability insurance certificate. Contact your insurance company if you think the building work may affect your building and contents insurance.
  • Avoid paying deposits to the builder. These are usually only payable when the project will take a long time to complete.

Any payment schedule should be agreed in writing.

  • Before the builder commences work make sure that you have planning permission or building regulations approval if appropriate.

If structural alterations are required, ensure that you have the relevant structural calculations and details completed before the work commences and that you have copies of these. Ensure that these are sent to Building Control for approval.

Steve Johnson knows of many projects such as internal alterations, extensions, garage conversions, loft conversions etc where a builder has completed the work with no structural calculations or details having been issued to Building Control.  The Building Inspector will nearly always ask for these calculations to be provided.  In many situations this has meant that an investigation is required to confirm what structural members have been installed.  If this cannot be justified by calculation significant costly and disruptive remedial works may be required to achieve the necessary standards and requirements.

  • For larger projects you may wish to engage the Architect or Structural Engineer to supervise the works from commencement to completion.

S J Johnson Associates can advise you.

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE BUILDING INSPECTOR?

Building Inspectors check building regulations and building notice applications, carry out site visits at various stages of the work to ensure compatibility with the submitted design and details; also to ensure that they satisfy building regulations requirements.

Traditionally, building regulations and building notice applications had to be submitted directly to the Local Authority Building Control Department. In recent times it has also become possible to submit applications for checking and approval by independent Building Inspection companies.

WHEN WOULD I NEED AN SITE INVESTIGATION - SI?

The objective of a site investigation is to identify any potential problems, particularly in the ground, associated with the site prior to the commencement of the project; also to ensure that any building is designed and constructed as safely and economically as possible.

A comprehensive knowledge of the site’s ground conditions is essential to avoid potential additional costs that may be required to rectify any problems or inadequacies further on during the project.

The extent of the site investigation will depend on the size and complexity of the project.

For very small extensions to properties of more recent construction, there may be sufficient knowledge relating to the existing foundations and ground conditions such that no ground investigation is deemed necessary prior to commencement of the project.

In most other cases, the minimum investigation to be carried out should include hand dug trial holes to confirm the size and depth of the existing adjacent foundations and the nature of the ground material.

In some cases, it may be necessary to take samples of soil from these trial holes and send them for testing at a laboratory to confirm the soil characteristics.  This is common, for example, with sites having clay soil and significant trees.  The testing will enable the most economic size and depth of foundation to be confirmed.

The hand dug trial holes may be excavated by a local general builder under the supervision of the appointed structural engineer for the project – such as S J Johnson Associates.

For larger projects, or for sites with suspect ground conditions, a more comprehensive site investigation may be appropriate.

This is best carried out by a specialist Geotechnical Engineer and may include the following:

 

First Stage

 

Desk study, including gathering all available records such as old and recent maps, previous site investigation records, from general knowledge and from utility companies.

This study may also include investigating previous and current usage affecting the site such as mine workings, the geology of the site, and ground water conditions including the possibility of flooding.

 

Second Stage

 

Carrying out the ground investigation using one or a combination of trial holes, boreholes, in-situ testing and laboratory testing.

 

Third Stage

 

Providing a factual report, which includes a description of the site, all the findings of the desk study and a description of the testing carried out plus associated results.

The report can also provide recommendations for the most appropriate foundations and associated requirements.  If piling is required, the report should include the necessary information to enable the piles to be designed and specified.

The report is normally passed on to the appointed structural engineer, such as S J Johnson Associates, to be used in conjunction with the design of the building foundations and floor.

Contact S J Johnson Assoc’s