Written by: Dana Pezzuti, Director, BE Structural

I have worked for a structural engineering firm for the last twelve years and one question I often hear from our residential clients is-

Do I need a home inspector AND a structural engineer to look at a house before purchase?

The answer I give them is- Yes and a resounding yes- if the home inspector discovers glaring structural issues..

  1. We recommend, first, having a home inspector make a general inspection of the property.  A home inspector should be the first professional you hire when considering a house for purchase. Home inspectors will evaluate the overall serviceability of the home including the electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems. Their assessment is general in nature and if they find a potential problem with home’s foundation, roof or framing  systems-they will recommend that a structural engineer be hired to perform a more detailed assessment.
  2. In the event a home inspector suspects a structural issue or major serviceability problem- a structural engineer should always be consulted. It should be noted, even minor structural problems can fly under the radar. That is why it is our recommendation to hire a  licensed, structural engineer when considering the purchase of a home no matter the home inspection results. The amount of money on the line and the investment one commits to when buying a house, make hiring an engineer critical to avoid major problems down the road. 

The Benefits of Hiring a Structural Engineer after the Home Inspection-

Although a home inspector is the first line of defense and first inspection, its important to remember that a home inspector looks over the entire property- everything from the light switches to the toilet flushing properly. They are critical to the home buying process but their education and experience is limited. To become a certified home inspector , 5-8 months of study and a certification test is required. 

Conversely, a structural engineer must graduate with a four year degree and  then they can they take the test to become an engineer in training (EIT) . After passing the EIT exam one must study under a licensed professional engineer for four (4) years before they are eligible to sit for the test to become licensed, professional engineer. Engineering licensing is regulated by the department of state in each of 50 US states. 

Buildings and houses are made up of complex systems. The building envelope or “skin” of a s house  is composed of the walls, exterior, windows and roof. If any part of the building envelope is compromised, a home buyer may  be forced to spend thousands of dollars to make it right. Water infiltration can be devastating a bad building envelope is often the culprit.

The same is true for a house’s foundation and walls. These are “the feet and legs” Often times, foundation issues are covered up and concealed by finish work or furniture/equipment common to storage areas such as the basement. 

Those individuals who choose to skip an engineering evaluation,  are taking a chance that high dollar repair items may be missed- such as a compromised foundation, building envelope or roof system.

How Much Does A Home Inspection and Structural Engineering Inspection Cost?

The cost to hire a home inspector is usually between $300-600. A structural engineering inspection is usually between $600-900 for a standard 1k-3k square foot home.  When comparing the amount of money the average house will cost, these fees are minimal and dollars well spent to prevent future problems after the purchase.

Perspective-

A foundation problem can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000 to fix. When assessing a potential property for purchase, it is critical to discover these issues prior to signing a contract. Keep in mind, houses have a past and skeletons in their closets too! If a potential buyer doesn’t uncover these “ghosts” before the purchase, they are inheriting all of these past issues and the headaches that come with a “problem property”.  Don’t take the chance- hire an engineer after your home inspection. No one wants a money pit!