The Structure of the Building

Colonial houseOne 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 have no structural defects is of little comfort.  You want to know if the house or building you are considering purchasing is structurally sound.

Some home 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 home and building buyers feel that an old building that is still standing must have no structural defects.  Structural defects can be very costly to correct.  Your best chance of finding the structural defect before you purchase the home or building is have a home inspection performed by a Licensed Professional Engineer.

Click here for photographs of home and building structures.

Many structural defects have only subtle symptoms.  For example, a home or building buyer may not recognize floor joists or a sill plate with termite damage that needs $20,000 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.?

Colonial houseToday, when a house or building is 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 expected loads.

Prior to the existence and enforcement of Building codes, a Registered Architect or Licensed Professional Engineer might not have been involved in he construction of a home or building.  This is especially true of one and two-family homes constructed before World War II.  (Many communities had rules regarding multi-family dwellings even before World War II.)

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.  Further, it is not possible to know the design parameters of, for example, old wood floor joists.  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 Web sites suggest that an inspector should jump up and down on the floor to 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.

Damaged HouseAssessing 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 and buildings 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 homes and buildings.
  • How the loads are supported within the home 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 general 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 findings during 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.

Heimer Engineering PCOnly 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.

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.

If you are not concerned about the structural integrity of the home or building, what are you looking for in the inspection?

Click here to view a sample inspection report.

Heimer Engineering PC performs pre-purchase home, building, condominium unit, and co-op unit inspections, and provides other Engineering services.  Heimer Engineering PC only provides Engineering services in the State of New York.  Heimer Engineering PC does not provide contracting, construction, building, or repair services.  Heimer Engineering PC is not associated with any contracting, construction, or repair company.  This helps assure you of unbiased professional advice.