Should You Hire an Independent Structural Engineer?
A structural engineer is an integral part of the foundation repair process. Structural engineers are trained to understand and safely design the framework of a building, above and below ground.
But are you, the homeowner, the one who should be hiring one if your house needs foundation work? Or should the foundation repair company hire the engineer?
I have a very strong opinion about this and it’s not the most common one.
Should I Hire an Independent Structural Engineer?
I hear and see this question all the time. Often one of the first pieces of advice someone gets is “hire an independent structural engineer.” And I could not disagree with this more.
Let me start by saying engineers are great. But I do not recommend hiring an independent engineer. In my opinion, that is a bad plan. While I do believe a structural engineer should be involved in the foundation repair process, YOU hiring one is a bad idea.
You need to first be aware that anything an engineer, or a foundation company for that matter, tells you is an opinion. It’s an opinion based on experience and professional knowledge but is an opinion nevertheless.
So let’s say you pay an SE to come out and create a plan for a foundation company.
Most SEs will charge anywhere from $300 to $600 to come out and give you their opinion. However, at this time none of the foundation repair companies in the Dallas area charge to come out to evaluate your foundation and come up with a plan.
So you can get a good foundation repair contractor to come out and give you an equally good opinion for free.
Who Should Hire the Structural Engineer?
Now, once the foundation company comes up with a plan and you agree to get the work done, an engineer can be hired by the repair company to validate the plan.
I realize there are people who worry that if the SE is hired by the company, they are no longer independent and will just "rubber stamp" anything the foundation company comes up with.
But this isn't necessarily the case. The foundation repair company has a vested interest in making sure their plan works. It's called reputation and warranty.
No good company wants to have to go back and redo something they've already done multiple times because they did bad work. That is going to cost them a lot of money.
And if they don't go back and fix things that they are at fault for, what do you think happens to their reputation? They get bad reviews. Their Better Business Bureau ratings plummet. And word gets out all over social media. Their reputation is ruined.
You do a great job for somebody and maybe they tell 3 people about it. You do a bad job, they most definitely will tell 10+ people. And it’s even worse in the social media era we live in today.
Bottom line, their reputation is on the line.
The Independent Structural Engineer’s Liability
Another reason I don’t recommend you hiring an independent engineer is because they often aren’t liable for their own plan.
Here is an engineer's report from a house that I owned. An SE was hired at the time of my selling the house in February 2020.
I first want to point out a couple of things.
You’ll see on page 4 of the report:
“In the event that other information becomes available that could affect the conclusion reached in this investigation, this office reserves the right to review and change some or all of the opinions represented herein, if it is required.”
So #1. If they don't have all the information, which they admit it, If you give them more information, the opinion could change.
#2. Everything they did was based on visual observations and the engineer’s judgement. What's another word for that? His opinion. Again, based on his training and experience. And again, still an opinion.
Another thing it says a few paragraphs down on the same page, it is assumed that the foundation was constructed based on requirements of building codes and was inspected by local building officials during construction.
This particular house was built in 1984. The report was created in 2020. You can assume the house was built according to code and inspected all you want but was it? We can hope but really, nobody knows.
Now, this is what I like the most:
“No warranty is either expressed or implied as to the future performance of this structure. Liability is strictly limited to the fee charged in this report.”
So let's say this engineer charged $300 for this report. What’s his liability if you go back to him after you implement his plan and it doesn't work. And the chances of that happening are pretty good.
You go back to him and say, you're responsible for this. He's gonna give you your $300 back, at best.
That doesn't help when you just paid the foundation repair company a lot of money to implement that engineer’s plan and now you have to get it refixed.
$300 is nothing in this situation.
What really matters is what is a reputable foundation contractor going to do and go with that foundation repair contractor. If he has an engineer in his "pocket," so to speak, fine.
But if you choose that contractor from reputation, and you trust that contractor, then he is the one that has his neck on the line. He's the one who is going to have to make sure that the work gets done the way it should. And if it doesn't, he's the one you're gonna call back out.
And his liability from a legal standpoint, theoretically, in court would be much more than the engineers, #1. And #2, his liability from a reputation and warranty standpoint for his company is going to cost him A LOT more than what you paid the engineer.
Choose the Best Foundation Repair Company Instead
So while I do think a structural engineer is an important part of the foundation repair process, it is my opinion that you shouldn’t be the one hiring one.
If you choose a good and trustworthy foundation repair company, you can feel confident the engineer they hire will also have yours and your home’s best interest in mind.
All advice and opinions on DFW Foundation Repair are my own, Shawn Bucklew owner of In-House Plumbing Company, based on 20+ years of working with foundation repair companies.