Structural Systems and
Pre-Purchase Home Inspections
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One of the biggest concerns of home, building, condo, and co-op buyers is the structure of the building. Fortunately, structural defects in the Metro 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 real estate buyers mistakenly 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 buyers feel that an old building that is still standing must have no structural defects. Structural defects can be 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 Engineer.
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.
The Building's Foundation
The foundation refers to the brick, stone (often called rubble), concrete block, or poured concrete that is supported by the earth and supports the home or building. The foundation provides structural support, and keeps water, soil, animals, and insects from entering a basement or crawl space.
In the Metro New York area, building codes have been in place for over 70 years. In addition, there is a lot of information available about the soil conditions in most of this area, and the soil tends to relatively stable (unless the building was constructed on fill). Footings (or piles if needed) and foundations are often inspected by the Department of Buildings during construction.
Our Professional Engineers
inform you whether the cracks
in the foundation are
For these reasons, the foundations in most buildings in the Metro New York area were sound when constructed. However, there are foundations that have structurally significant defects. Heimer Engineering's Licensed Engineers evaluate the building’s foundation for you. You are also informed about the risk of water penetration into the basement. When repairs are needed, an expense analysis is provided in the engineering report.
Even if a concrete foundation is sound, it usually has at least a few cracks. Our Engineers inform you whether the cracks in the foundation are structurally significant. You should be aware that, according to the laws of the State of New York, non-Engineers cannot render opinions as to structural soundness or stability. If you want to know whether a crack is structurally significant, have a Professional Engineer perform your pre-purchase home inspection, building inspection, condo inspection, and co-op inspection.
How Can the Structure
Today, when a house or building is designed, an Architect or Engineer may perform calculations to determine the required size and spacing of beams, joists, etc.
Alternatively, the Architect or Engineer can rely upon accepted design guidelines. Either method produces a structure that can support the expected loads. In either case, the Architect or Engineer needs to use their professional judgment and experience to make sure the building is safe. Blindly applying accepted design guidelines can result in a building that is not structurally capable of supporting the expected loads.
Prior to the enforcement of building codes, an Architect or 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, but the enforcement was more limited on one and two-family homes.
Most homes and buildings have many of the structural elements obscured. Even if there was sufficient time to take all the needed measurements, the 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 best way to check the structure is a bounce test. These websites 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 websites suggest that the house is structurally sound. These websites go on to suggest that the person performing the bounce test does not have to be a Licensed Engineer, so there is no need to retain an Engineer to perform a pre-purchase home inspection.
An inspector who is not
an Engineer can only
describe what is visible.
The non-Engineer cannot
assess the structural
sufficiency or capacity.
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 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 Engineer's knowledge of the causes of structural deterioration in similar homes and buildings.
- How the loads are supported within the home or building./li>
- 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 Engineer's general knowledge of construction practices.
An Engineer's report is not a list of detailed calculations that nobody understands as some websites suggest. An Engineer's report contains the conclusions regarding the findings during the home inspection. A Licensed Engineer provides you with a report on the structure of 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 Engineer or a Registered Architect can assess structural sufficiency and capacity.
An inspector who is not an Engineer can only 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?
During the inspection, the Heimer Engineering℠ examines, analyzes, and/or reports on (as appropriate based on the building):
Inspections New Condo
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Heimer Engineering℠ is happy to help you. Senior Staff members are available to answer your questions from Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM. After 5 PM, please leave a message. Messages are checked during the day on Sunday, and Sunday evening through Thursday evening. Inspections are performed seven days a week. Choose Heimer Engineering℠.
Inspection orders are taken by senior staff members. A real estate purchase is complex, and you should be able to speak with someone who can give you real answers to your inspection questions.
To set up an appointment for a pre-purchase inspection, or to find out about Engineering services or expert court testimony send Heimer Engineering℠ an email at WebInfoRequest@heimer.com, send Heimer Engineering℠ a text at 888.769.6910, call Heimer Engineering℠ at 800.605.1500, or call Heimer Engineering℠ at 646.757.4500. If no staff member is in the office, leave a message.
Heimer Engineering℠ serves the Metro New York area, including New York City (Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island), Long Island (Nassau County, Suffolk County, and Upstate New York (Rockland County, Putnam County, and Westchester County).
Heimer Engineering℠ respects your privacy. Some inspection firms share information with insurance, landscaping, home maintenance, moving, cable, mortgage, and other companies. You will not receive phone calls or solicitation emails from third parties as a result of providing personal information.
In the event of a life-threatening emergency call 911. Emergency situations need to be handled by first-responders who can evacuate buildings, shut utilities off, and take other steps necessary to preserve life.
Heimer Engineering℠ Standards of PracticeThe Licensed Engineers of Heimer Engineering℠ substantially adhere to the InterNACHI® Code of Ethics, to Subpart 197-4 of the State of New York Code of Ethics and Regulations for Home Inspectors, and to the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE®) Code of Ethics. All State of New York Licensed Engineers are also bound by New York State Education Law Article 145.
Heimer Engineering℠ Code of Ethics
The Licensed Engineers of Heimer Engineering℠ substantially adhere to the InterNACHI® Standards of Practice and the ASHI® Standards of Practice. In the event of a conflict, the Licensed Engineers of Heimer Engineering℠ use Engineering judgment to decide what standard or Engineering principle takes precedence.
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Heimer Engineering℠ performs home inspections, building inspections, condominium inspections, and co-op inspections in the State of New York. We do not perform inspections or recommend Inspectors or Engineers outside of the State of New York. We provide Licensed Professional Engineer consultation services including hurricane and storm damage and damage from adjoining construction. Expert witness services are provided regarding playground injuries, parking lot, walkway, and stairway slip, trip, and fall.
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