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Floors sag? Yard slides? Try an engineer.

When you should consider hiring this least conspicuous professional

LAST YEAR'S FIRE storms in Spokane and the Oakland Hills thrust consulting engineers back into the spotlight as homeowners sought expert advice on fire damage to foundations and soils. But you don't need to suffer a fire, earthquake, or other catastrophe to require an engineer's help. In fact, it's usually the reverse: you hire an engineer to prevent disaster.


Sometimes you might not even know you've employed an engineer: architects routinely hire them as consultants to analyze whether a job makes engineering sense or meets code. But there are three major instances when you might hire an engineer directly.

To correct an obvious problem with your site or structure.

If you notice signs of structural stress--such as soil slippage near (or cracks in) the foundation, sagging or tilting floors, squeaky post-and-beam connections, or cracks running across walls from doors or windows--hiring an engineer can be a relatively inexpensive way to find out what's wrong and whether it's serious. (Cracks along gypsum board taping lines usually aren't worrisome.)

To establish the structural condition of the house before buying, selling, or remodeling.

Even if no problems are apparent, buyers increasingly hire engineers to inspect desired properties and discover any hidden problems. For sellers, an engineer can verify that their property is structurally sound. Also, engineers commonly review remodeling plans when major structural changes are contemplated, such as moving bearing walls or adding a second story.

To get reassurance.

Especially if you live in earthquake country, you may simply want to know how your house measures up structurally. For instance, if you have a wide, open-view wall and your house stands on stilts, an engineer could help determine how you could improve the building's seismic strength.


Basically, an engineer conducts him- or herself like a house doctor, beginning with a "physical" that takes an hour or so. The engineer might crawl under your house, open up a wall or floor to see the structure, or order tests of foundation strength by an engineering lab.

After the Oakland fire, where temperatures reached 2000[degrees] in places, engineers took samples from foundations and ordered compression tests to see how badly the fire had weakened them and what amount of pressure might cause them to fail.

Then comes the diagnosis, either oral or in writing: what to repair and how. After the Loma Prieta earthquake, soils and structural engineers advised thousands of Bay Area residents on how to remedy moderate structural damage, say, by rebuilding cracked cross walls or by installing anchor bolts in the perimeter of the foundation. On the spot or back in the office, engineers drew up plans to combat what they call seismic loads and make the building better able to withstand the trauma of the next quake.

After the necessary building permits were issued, these sketches guided the work of contractors around the region for months. Engineers' consultation fees ran anywhere from $400 to $1,000 or more.

One important note: if you are trying to sell your home, remember that any written report from an engineer can become a legal document--and a double-edged sword if you do not act upon the recommendations.


Most often, you'll need a structural engineer, which means someone qualified to analyze how a building supports itself and its contents (so-called static loads) and how it withstands earthquakes or the wind (so-called dynamic loads). But know that the Consulting Engineers Association of California lists more than 200 distinct types of engineers, from a general problem analyzer like a civil engineer to a specialist like a soils engineer. Often an engineer's diagnosis of your problem will include a referral to a specialist who can actually solve it.

Besides asking an architect for recommendations, you can contact your state's consulting engineers organization listed below or try the yellow pages under Engineers--Structural.


Consulting Engineers Council of Alaska, Box 200345, Anchorage 99520; (907) 563-3559.


Arizona Consulting Engineers Association, 24 W. Camelback Rd., Suite M, Phoenix 85013; (602) 264-4871.


Consulting Engineers Association of California, 925 L St., Suite 870, Sacramento 95814; (800) 442-2322.


Consulting Engineers Council of Colorado, 899 Logan St., Suite 109, Denver 80203; (303) 832-2200.


Consulting Engineers Council of Hawaii, 201 Merchant St., Suite 2315, Honolulu 96813; (808) 533-2263.


Consulting Engineers of Idaho, 600 S. Orchard St., Suite B, Boise 83705; (208) 345-1730.


Consulting Engineers Council of Montana, 1000 First Ave. S., Box 2845, Great Falls 59403; (406) 761-4645.


Consulting Engineers Council of Nevada, 6850 S. Paradise Rd., Las Vegas 89119; (702) 361-5748.


Consulting Engineers Council of New Mexico, Box 3642, 2701 Miles Rd. S.E., Albuquerque 87190; (505) 843-6221.


Consulting Engineers Council of Oregon, 5319 S.W. Westgate Dr., Suite 221, Portland 97221; (503) 292-2348.


Consulting Engineers Council of Utah, Box 1151, Centerville 84014; (801) 295-2081.


Consulting Engineers Council of Washington, 1809 Seventh Ave., Suite 508, Seattle 98101; (206) 623-5936.


Wyoming Association of Consulting Engineers and Surveyors, 523 W. 27th St., Suite C, Cheyenne 82001; (307) 632-7720.
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Title Annotation:includes directory of Consulting Engineers associations
Author:Gregory, Daniel P.
Date:May 1, 1992
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