Home and Building Structural System Inspections

Heimer Engineering uses Professional Engineers to perform home inspections,
building inspections, condo inspections, and co-op inspections in Manhattan, Queens,
Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island, Nassau, Suffolk, Rockland, Putnam, and Westchester

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Leaning concrete block pier in a crawlspace One of the biggest concerns of home and building 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 home, building, condo, and co-op buyers mistakenly believe structural defects are only a concern in older buildings.  Other home, building, condo unit, and co-op unit purchasers feel they can find structural defects just by "looking carefully".  Still other home, building, condo unit, and co-op unit 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 Professional 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.

How can the structure be checked without plans?

Cracked main wood beam supported by a wood columnToday, when a house or building is designed, a Registered Architect or Professional Engineer may perform calculations to determine the required size and spacing of beams, joists, etc.  Alternatively, the Architect or Engineer can rely upon known design guidelines.  Either method produces a structure that can support the expected loads.

Wood trusses supporting a roofPrior to the existence and enforcement of Building codes, a 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.)

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.

Steel I-beams supported by a steel Lally columnIf you search the internet, you will find suggestions that the 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 Engineer, so there is no need to retain a 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.

Wood floor joistsAssessing 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:

  1. How the house or building was constructed.
  2. How the house or building was altered over the years.
  3. Deterioration (or potential for deterioration) of both accessible and inaccessible structural elements.
  4. The Engineer's knowledge of the causes of structural deterioration in similar homes and buildings.
  5. How the loads are supported within the home or building.
  6. Are any structural members leaning, and does that leaning impact load bearing capacity.
  7. Have the floors settled in excess of normal limits considering the size, age, and construction type of the building.
  8. The Engineer's general knowledge of construction practices.

Sagging Wood Sill PlateAn Engineer Inspector's report is not a list of detailed calculations that nobody understands as some Web sites suggest.  An Engineer Inspector's report is the Engineer Inspector'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.

WOod trusses supporting a roofOnly a Licensed Professional Engineers  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?

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