The Structure of the Building
One of the biggest concerns of home and building buyers is the structure of the building. Fortunately, structural defects in the greater New York area are less common than in some other parts of the country. Enforcement of Building codes have helped limit the number of structural defects.
If you buy a building that has a structural defect, the fact that most buildings do not have structural defects is of little comfort. You want to know if the house or building you are considering purchasing is structurally sound.
Some homebuyers and building buyers believe structural defects are only a concern in older buildings. Other real estate purchasers feel they can find structural defects just by "looking carefully". Still other building buyers feel that an old building that is still standing must have no structural defects. Click here for photographs of home and building structures
The fact is that most structural defects have only subtle symptoms. For example, a building buyer may not recognize floor joists or a sill plate with termite damage that needs $24,500 worth of repairs. Rot in ceiling joists or roof rafters can also be costly to repair, and may not be apparent when casually examining the building.
How can the structure be checked
without plans, calculations, etc.?
When a house or building is first designed, a Registered Architect or Licensed Professional Engineer may perform calculations to determine the required size and spacing of beams, joists, etc. Alternatively, the Registered Architect or Licensed Professional Engineer can rely upon known design guidelines. Either method produces a structure that can support the required loads.
Most homes and buildings have many of the structural elements obscured. Even if there was sufficient time to take all the needed measurements, the Licensed Professional Engineer performing the inspection cannot calculate the load bearing capacity of every section of a home or building. Other methods must be employed to determine the structural soundness of the home or building.
If you search the internet, you will find suggestions that the way to check the structure is a bounce test. These sites suggest that and inspector should jump up and down on the floor, and see if there the floor bounces. If the floor does not bounce, these web sites suggest that the house is structurally sound. These web sites go on to suggest that the person performing the bounce test does not have to be a Licensed Professional Engineer, so there is no need to retain a Licensed Professional Engineer to perform a pre-purchase home inspection.
Assessing the structural integrity of home or building involves a lot more than a bounce test. Most people would agree that the house in the photograph to the right is not structurally sound. Most houses have much more subtle indications of structural deficiencies. Evaluating structural soundness requires considering:
- How the house or building was constructed.
- How the house or building was altered over the years.
- Deterioration (or potential for deterioration) of both accessible and inaccessible structural elements.
- The Licensed Professional Engineer's knowledge of the causes of structural deterioration in similar buildings.
- How the loads are supported within the house or building.
- Are any structural members leaning, and does that leaning impact load bearing capacity.
- Have the floors settled in excess of normal limits considering the size, age, and construction type of the building.
- The Licensed Professional Engineer's knowledge of construction practices.
An Engineer's Report is not a list of detailed calculations that nobody understands as some web sites suggest. An Engineer's Report is the Licensed Professional Engineer's conclusions regarding the home inspection. Only a Licensed Professional Engineer can provide you with an Engineer's Report on the home or building you are considering purchasing.
The following statement regarding home inspection and building inspection was issued by the New York State Board for Engineering and Land Surveying:
It is the opinion of The Board that the inspection and examination of single or multiple family residential, commercial, industrial, or institutional buildings regarding their structural, electrical, and mechanical subsystems for proper integrity or capacity constitutes the practice of engineering as defined by the "law." Any attempt to determine the structural integrity, capacity of a building, or any subsystem thereof, other than the detection of problems by visual inspection or normal operation of the user’s controls, constitutes the practice of engineering. This would include the diagnosis and analysis of problems with buildings and/or the design of remedial actions.
Therefore, an individual who advertises or practices in this area shall be a registered professional engineer in the State of New York.
Only a Licensed Professional Engineers or a Registered Architect can assess structural sufficiency and capacity. While an inspector who is not an Engineer can describe what is visible, the non-Engineer cannot assess the structural sufficiency or capacity. Heimer Engineering uses Licensed Home Inspectors who are also Licensed Professional Engineers.
If you are concerned about the structural integrity of the home or building, you need to have a pre-purchase inspection performed by a Licensed Professional Engineer.
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Heimer Engineering PC performs pre-purchase home, building, condominium, and co-op inspections, and provides other Engineering services. Heimer Engineering does not provide contracting, construction, building, or repair services. We are not associated with any contracting, construction, or repair company. This helps assure you of unbiased professional advice.