Chapter 3 - Typical cases

In this chapter we describe some common examples of domestic projects and highlight many of the things you should consider when appointing professional support. More information is available from the Advice for homeowners section.

Case 1A larger project - a significant extension to your existing home or a new-build home

In this example, there is significant potential for structural engineers and architectural designers to give broad conceptual advice that might help enhance your own ideas. They can assist you through the regulatory stages and also work with you to understand your budget, providing guidance on how much the work might cost and how alternative cost-effective solutions might help.
In this example perhaps more than any, the builder will be dependent on good quality, clear design information. A good set of drawings, schedules and specifications will provide more certainty to the builder allowing them to more accurately determine their fee (for materials and labour) in turn helping
you get a keen price.
The following headings provide a structured approach to undertaking your project.

  1. Define your aspirations.
  2. Develop specific objectives (a Brief) and agree the work to be done by designers.
  3. Obtain one or more conceptual design options.
  4. Develop the preferred design and seek regulatory consent.
  5. Produce design instructions for the builder.
  6. Appoint a builder to complete the construction works.
  7. Obtain final regulatory certification.
  8.  Enjoy and maintain your property.

Case 2Home alterations

Examples might include changes such as the relocation of a door, insertion of a folding sliding door, the removal of a chimney, or the removal of an internal wall.
It is likely that the full plan of works of Case 1 will not be needed. Indeed, an architectural designer may not be needed at all if you are clear on what you want to achieve. The input of a competent structural engineer is however very strongly advised to ensure work is completed safely and in accordance with the Building Regulations and Standards. It is therefore recommended that your first point of contact is with a structural engineer, engaging them to complete stages 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 (as listed in Case 1).

Case 3You have concerns about a specific structural defect

It is recommended you employ a structural engineer to complete an inspection and report on the severity of the specific concern. Once the inspection is complete, you may need to extend the appointment of your structural engineer  or appoint a different structural engineer to design any remedial work. A builder would then be needed to carry out the work. These activities would generally be conducted in line with stages 4, 5 and 6 (as listed in Case 1).  
Some structural damage may be covered by your house insurance although limitations to the cover may be applied by your insurer. This is commonly the case for subsidence and flooding. When considering a claim against an insurance policy, you should first check the terms and conditions and procedural guidance provided by the insurance provider. They may advise how to go about obtaining professional advice. An insurance company will appoint a loss adjuster to manage the claim who will often want to investigate and determine remedial works. Many loss adjusters are not qualified in structural engineering and there may be benefit in taking particular advice from a structural engineer in these circumstances.

Case 4You are concerned about the general effects of an event such as a flood that has impacted your property

Many structural engineers and building surveyors can advise on such matters and prepare a condition report. Should an inspection/survey conclude that structural problems are present, the report will likely advise that you arrange for a structural engineer to complete a more in-depth assessment to establish the corrective work. This should be conducted in line with Case 3.

Case 5You are planning to buy a property

If you require a mortgage, your finance provider in order to safeguard their own interests will request that a valuation is completed. This is usually carried out by a building surveyor or property valuer. While such a valuation should identify faults (including subsidence) that would have impact on the value of the property, the valuation does not typically describe aspects that might cause inconvenience or require routine maintenance at your expense. 
For a survey that gives increased peace-of-mind, you would need a suitably experienced building 
surveyor to complete a building (or condition) survey. Suitably competent and experienced structural engineers can also carry these out. This can only be completed with the permission of the vendor, and will normally be limited to what can be seen without damage to decorations and furnishings.
Should this survey conclude that structural problems are present, the report will likely advise you arrange for a structural engineer to carry out an inspection of the structure to determine the cause and extent of the specific problems. In terms of cost of the corrective work, the structural engineer may be able to give advice, but a builder is often better qualified to provide construction/modification cost estimates. 

Surveys and inspections 

In commissioning a structural engineer to undertake a survey or inspection it is important that you discuss and agree any limitations which may need to be applied to the scope of the survey or inspection.
Additionally it is recommended that you:

  • Pass on information from one professional to the next; e.g. the findings of a previous survey
  • Communicate your expectations and any points of focus in a clear brief.

Your professional advisor will be well versed in the intricacies of buildings in general however you may have specific knowledge of your property which they don’t have and it will be in your interest to bring this to their attention.
The cost of a survey is linked closely to the professional’s time. Before agreeing a price, be sure to understand what you’re getting, and check that it’s what you need. In general:

  • If you agree a fixed price upfront for a professional to carry out only a survey, the service will not include the design of remedial work, nor include for solving any problems identified to be put right
  • If you appoint a structural engineer to design a property, an extension or a change to an existing structure, it is recommended that you confirm that this appointment includes any survey costs necessary to allow the design to be completed (including how many re-visits to inspect/survey will be allowed for). However any unexpected faults identified in the work may not be covered in the agreed design fee (for example, if rotten timber is identified in an existing structure).

< Chapter 2 - RegulationsChapter 4 - Engaging a structural engineer >