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CONDO ASSOCIATIONS - When is a Structural Engineer Needed?

Condominium association boards have a tricky responsibility to act in the best interests of the association. This is also very serious because as a board member, you are acting in a fiduciary capacity on behalf of all the owners. So, when it comes to deciding how to best care for the building, there can be a question of when it is best to involve a structural engineer, and when it is unnecessary. After all, your contractors may even tell you that an engineer is not needed. This article will clarify what associations should keep in mind.

Some on the board may think, "We can save money if we don't have an engineer involved." Is it always that simple?

A structural engineer's role is to ensure anything related to the facade or structure is safe and protected for the long haul. This includes the roof, framing, masonry, balconies, decks, foundations, and waterproofing. These all can have issues with corrosion and damage to concrete, steel, wood, and brick.

Are all structural engineers the same? No. The majority of engineers focus on new buildings. OZER is different, we specialize in existing buildings, and we are trained and experienced in understanding how to assess, design, integrate, repair, and protect existing materials. We work with the best contractors in Memphis to make sure that the work is completed to the highest industry standards. Common projects you would want to involve a structural engineer with include:

  • roof replacement

  • balcony, deck, stair, landing repairs or replacement

  • facade repairs

  • locating water intrusion sources and repairing

  • planning for alterations or additions

If you notice any signs of building failure, such as water intrusion, cracks in masonry or finishes, foundation cracks, wood rot or swelling, or rust. You are wondering, is this a serious problem? The first step should be to call a structural engineer for an assessment.

After all the problem may not be serious if caught early and all you may need is relatively minor, but well-designed repairs to keep it from becoming serious.

So, when do you bring the engineer on the project? Do you wait until you have chosen a contractor? That is a common approach, but it is not the best choice. Why? Because you need the unbiased opinion of an engineer before calling a contractor or having contractors provide estimates. That way the contractor is basing their estimate on what the engineer specified, not their own opinions. A contractor has many reasons to be biased, and even though they likely have good intentions, they simply do not have the qualifications necessary to understand the larger structural context and complexities of a building system as a whole. With an engineer in your corner, you are empowered to advocate for the best interests of the association.

The overall cost of hiring an engineer pales in comparison to the benefit of having them from the start. Hire an engineer for any of the above-mentioned projects and do so at the beginning of the project process.

"What is the worst that can happen if we don't hire an engineer?" Not having an engineer involved from beginning to end typically ends up costing the building more money in the long term in many cases. We have been brought in numerous times AFTER a project was in process or completed by a qualified and well-intentioned contractor who was missing the qualifications on a key piece needed to fix the problem correctly. At that point, the engineer has to come in and assess anyway, and the contracting work has to be redone properly.

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