Structural Engineer or Home Inspector – Which One Do You Need?

home inspectionsThis 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 a 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 looked at by a Plumber. Or the outlet that has scorch marks at the faceplate and doesn’t currently have power to it needs reviewed by an Electrician.

What Does a Structural Engineer Do?

A Structural Engineer is a specialists. A specialists 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!

But Aren’t Some Structural Engineers Also Home Inspectors?

Sure there are. But from what I’ve experienced in the last 17  years 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’s 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 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 home inspection but not put their engineers stamp on the home inspection reports….saying that they’re just performing a general home inspection!

You get the point.

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!