This article is aimed at helping home buyers determine who should be called when buying a home. It ranks right up there with the post I made about EMT Inspections in Tulsa. There’s a lot of misinformation out there aimed at consumers buying homes in Tulsa and the surrounding area as to whether they should be calling a structural engineer or a home inspector.
First, let’s see what a home inspector does and then we’ll look at what a structural engineer does.
What is a Home Inspector?
A Home Inspector is someone who has either been trained in the building sciences and how each system of a home operates OR in some cases, have many years building and repairing systems in homes. And in some cases, both!
By definition, a home inspector is an individual who is a Generalist. He or she knows the systems of a home and how they should work together and signs when these systems are not performing as they should. Some of these systems include the plumbing, electrical, wall systems, structural system as well as individual components of these systems such as furnaces, service panels, insulation, ventilation, and air conditioning just to name a few.
In short, a home inspector is a jack of all trades. Knowing about each system in a home and able to throw up a red flag on any system or component if they see something that doesn’t appear normal.
It’s then that a home inspector will alert his or her Client that the system or component needs a more in-depth evaluation by a specialist. This could mean that the toilet tank that has hot water in it needs to be looked at by a Plumber. Or the outlet that has scorch marks at the faceplate and doesn’t currently have power to it needs to be reviewed by an Electrician.
What Does a Structural Engineer Do?
A Structural Engineer is a specialist. A specialist is someone who specializes in one field. Be it plumbing, electrical, heating & air or structural.
Here’s a definition of a Structural Engineer from the Structural Engineers Association of Ohio
Structural engineering is a branch of civil engineering, and its applications are diverse. A great deal of what structural engineers do involves designing structures such as buildings, bridges, tunnels, etc. The majority of structural engineers work primarily as consultants to architects or design-build contractors.
Still Think Hiring a Structural Engineer Will Give You An Advantage of a Home Inspector?
So this is my question. And one I get those deer in the headlight looks from when I ask someone.
“Why would you call a person who specializes in designing bridges, tunnels, buildings, etc to perform a whole home inspection? A home that contains electrical, plumbing, HVAC as well as numerous other components that do not fall under the category of “structural?”
It would akin to calling a Pediatrician to perform brain surgery!
Sure, there are times I’ve run across homes that had issues where I called out a Structural Engineer. These homes and/or commercial properties had issues with the STRUCTURE. I most certainly would not call out a Structural Engineer because I found a leak under a sink!
Yet, some people in the Tulsa and surrounding area would have you believe this is perfectly acceptable!
When Is A Structural Engineer Required?
Why hire a structural engineer? I recommend calling a Structural Engineer whenever there may be the need for such an Engineer to figure out the proper repair for a structural problem.
For example, when I’m looking at a foundation and I see real issues with it (not just simple cracks), I know an Engineer is going to have to sit down and design the repair.
Also, whenever a home has a truss system instead of rafters, and I find damaged trusses, a Structural Engineer designed those trusses for a specific roof. So if they’re damaged or modified, those repairs need to be designed to carry the roof load imposed on them.
I know a lot of home inspectors in this business routinely call for Structural Engineers. I see them posting pictures and asking for advice in the home inspector forums all the time.
I just have to shake my head at this. It totally spells out AMATEUR! Sadly, the Client doesn’t have a clue that they paid top dollar for a brand new home inspector with very limited knowledge and skills!
But Aren’t Some Structural Engineers Also Home Inspectors?
Sure there are. But from what I’ve experienced in the past in this business is that a Consumer has to be very careful when hiring a Structural Engineer to do a whole home inspection. (just like you would with anyone)
Here are just a few things I’ve seen pulled on consumers over the last decade and a half by people holding Structural Engineering degrees (or claiming to)
- state they never go into attics because attics are unsafe to access
- never enter a crawlspace because the say crawlspaces are unsafe
- never remove the dead front covers from breaker boxes because they say it’s dangerous
- never walk on roofs when doing roof inspections because they state walking on roofs are unsafe (which it is, but you still need to walk them if you can)
- never take the covers off of furnaces because they claim it’s unsafe
- would advertise as structural engineers to get a home inspection, but not put their engineer’s stamp on the home inspection reports….saying that they’re just performing a general home inspection!
You get the point.
Structural Engineers Can Scam Home Buyers Too
Some of you may know that I also run a Handyman service. A lot of my work is referred to me by past Clients. And a lot of my work is fixing repairs found on home inspection reports from home inspectors and structural engineers.
On more than one occasion, I’ve run across so-called “home inspections” on home performed by a Tulsa Structural Engineer from a local engineering firm that is very popular with local real estate agents.
What I’m seeing is that these “structural engineers” are no better, and in fact worse, than new inspectors in the community!
On a recent home, the Engineer found just 13 discrepancies with a home built in the 60’s. Most of those were minor things like “change the lighbulb” or “add weatherstripping.”
But what he didn’t include in his Inspection Report was the FPE panel box in the garage or the Aluminum wiring inside the box!
He had also stated the Jenn Air range did not work and recommended replacement.
I looked at it and tried to operate it. It came on and functioned just fine. The culprit? The Engineer didn’t know how to turn this old stove on!
Now I don’t know if this particular Structural Engineer really didn’t know what to look for or if he intentionally left that info out because he knew it might cause the Buyers to walk, thus upsetting the Agent and likely causing his company to receive no further referrals from that brokerage.
Don’t misunderstand me. Structural Engineers have their place in real estate. When structural issues arise from a home inspection that needs causes determined or repairs designed, then the home inspector should suggest further review from a Structural Engineer.
But when unsuspecting consumers are hiring someone with an engineering degree and believing they will get the best home inspection possible and end up only getting a partial inspection at best in some instances, well, that’s just not right!
This is why you need to seek out someone who has the experience and training on all systems of a home! A certified home inspector is going to be your best bet at getting a thorough and accurate home inspection in Tulsa or any other city for that matter.