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Chapter 1 - Construction professionals


Any physical construction work is likely to require the use of a builder, trade specialists or an installation team. Sometimes these companies will also be able to offer design services. It is, however, traditional and remains industry standard for a builder to be reliant on good, clear technical instructions prepared by independently engaged design professionals.

As the customer, you will be at the helm and your project will need you to be part of the team.

The customer

Ever present, this is the person paying for the services. In the case of domestic projects this is usually the owner/landlord, though you may be a leaseholder and/or a tenant with the freeholder’s/landlord’s consent.

The end users

End users are typically the customer and/or family members, property landlords or tenants. These are the people whose needs and dreams are driving and guiding the work and its outcomes.

" As the customer, you will be at the helm and your project will need you to be a part of the team"


These may include structural engineers, architects, building surveyors, interior designers, external landscape architects and other specialists.

Designers are professionals, often referred to as ‘consultants’. They plan and document the work to be done and will typically complete much of their work prior to the builder starting on site.

Designers may operate as sole practitioners or from within businesses of varying sizes. What is important is not so much the size of the business but that it is competent to fulfil the services you require in a timely manner and this includes advising you and ensuring all regulatory and legal requirements are met.

Structural engineers

The structure of a building includes all the material components that ensure the building stands up; from the ground and foundations it stands on, through to the top of the roof, chimney etc. A building’s structure is critical to its safety, form and function.

A structural engineer is a designer, competent to advise on alterations to the structure of existing buildings and to design the structure of new buildings or extensions in accordance with regulation and legislation. Very many structural engineers have specific expertise in assessing and advising on the reasons for, and solutions to, structural defects occurring to a property.

It is unusual for all the designers (e.g. the structural engineer, the architectural designer) to be available from a single business; more often, they are each individual businesses.

Architectural designers

Architectural designers are responsible for spatial planning and room layout, the detailing of non-structural components and the specification of finishes. There is no legal requirement to engage an architectural designer. However, like structural engineers, they can bring experience and value to a project.

Structural engineers can work independently or in collaboration with architectural designers. Whilst structural engineers can fulfil all the services on simple projects, collaborative working is recommended on more complicated building projects. Either professional can advise when involvement by the other is warranted.

Structural engineers can often recommend architects/architectural designers and if you wish may even appoint them as a sub-consultant keeping your contractual responsibility to a minimum.

Lead designer

Where structural engineers are working collaboratively with other designers it is advisable that one party is formally appointed in a leading role. The lead designer will manage applications to the relevant authorities and generally coordinate the design components. This role can be filled by the structural engineer, architectural designer or other designer but the role can often best be fulfilled by structural engineers on technically complicated projects.

Building surveyors

Building surveyors have a broad skillset, from project management to advising on energy efficiency. In many instances their services could have an overlap with those offered by architectural designers.


There are two principal regulators for domestic projects:

  • Planning Officers are employed by local authorities to manage the granting of consent for work that requires planning permission. Their role is to ensure works confirm to Planning Regulations, local planning rules and restrictions
  • Building Control Officers (also known as District Surveyors in Greater London) are employed to ensure that works comply with Building Regulations by reviewing design information and conducting inspections at appropriate stages of building work. Traditionally, they are employed by the local authority. In England and Wales the service can also be performed by independent private sector providers called Approved Inspectors. In Scotland, Building Standards requirements can be overseen by structural engineers registered as Approved Certifiers of Design

The builder

The builder is typically the person or organisation the customer will appoint to construct and complete the work in accordance with the design.

Individual builders will usually employ one or more trade skills but may also appoint sub-contractors and trade specialists to complete specific tasks (e.g. brick layers, plasterers, plumbers, electricians).

Larger building companies may have internal designers and provide an all-inclusive service to the customer. While these companies can make the process simple for the customer, they can charge a premium for the additional services.

Builders are constructors and whilst often highly experienced they do not usually offer design services. Before accepting advice from a builder the customer is strongly recommended to confirm that they are competent to give advice at the level being offered, or have appointed design professionals to assist the project.

Finance providers

Banks and building societies will each set specific requirements as conditions on the finance they provide. These conditions should be determined before the start of the project as they may impact on the services you require. The timing of when you receive finance may also influence how or when you can make payments to your designers and/or builder.


You should notify your building insurance provider prior to starting any significant works, particularly if the property will be unoccupied for any length of time. Refer to your insurance provider’s terms and conditions for details.

When might a structural engineer be needed?

Whether you need a structural engineer depends on the nature of work or guidance you require. Principally, you may need the services of a structural engineer in the following situations:

It should be remembered there have been many instances of partial or complete collapse of buildings as a result of alterations being carried out without proper or adequate structural advice. It is also worth being mindful that inappropriate alterations to a property may invalidate a building’s insurance.

By no means exhaustive, some typical situations which will warrant the involvement of a structural engineer are shown in figure 1.


Image of a house

Credit: Image produced by Michael Aubrey Partnership Ltd
Figure 1: Some typical situations that might warrant the services of a structural engineer

When checking:

  • Deteriorating structural materials and the safety of a building that is old or in poor condition
  • The safety of a building impacted by a severe event (e.g. a flood, fire, collision)

When planning:

  • Alterations to, or removal of, any existing structure including walls, chimneys, floors and roofs
  • The addition of new structure, either as a completely new building, an extension, or an internal remodelling
  • A change to a building’s use, contents, fixtures and decorative materials that will alter the loads or impact on the structure.

When you have concerns about your property:

  • Significant cracks or movements, doors or windows continually sticking, etc.

Services offered by a structural engineer include:

Conducting inspections and surveys:

Inspection or survey reports may be carried out on development land, existing structures and materials. They can conclude with verbal guidance or a written report. There can be confusion concerning what constitutes a survey and an inspection and it is very important that this is clearly defined at the outset so that both the customer and the structural engineer can agree if there are limitations as to what can be provided.

"A good structural engineer will devise an overall solution that will meet your particular circumstances"

Inspections and surveys in relation to new build or modification projects may simply be to provide information to be used by the engineer in the development of a design. Together with building surveyors, structural engineers can complete a variety of different inspections for various purposes.

Advising on design options:

There is rarely one solution to a problem, and even minor ‘tweaks’ to a proposal can have significant impact on the overall cost, simplicity and ultimately the success of a project. Together with the architectural designer, the structural engineer is well placed to suggest options and provide guidance.

Producing design documents (calculations, drawings and specifications):

These are produced when changing existing or adding new structure. They provide instructions to the builder, information for the Regulators and also a record of the work undertaken that can be useful when completing future alterations or maintenance. Structural engineers may produce their own drawings, or provide information to the architectural designer to be included on their drawings.

Your structural engineer will be able to:

  • Give advice to help you safeguard the future value of your property.
  • Help you adhere to your regulatory duties.
  • Help and advise other members of your team so that the overall work is carried out and completed efficiently.
  • Provide impartial advice.
  • Use their extensive experience to help you develop your ideas.
  • Confirm that the builder has carried out work in accordance with the design information.
  • Identify tailored, cost-effective and practical solutions specific to the unique characteristics of your property.

A good structural engineer will devise an overall solution that will meet your particular circumstances, balancing the physical capability of materials, legislative requirements, site constraints, personal objectives and financial constraints.

In monetary terms, the fee for a structural engineer is likely to be small compared to the whole-life cost of your project. Through clever design, a good structural engineer may help you achieve financial benefits that far exceed the cost of their service.

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