Although many of us have a desire to “do it ourselves” whenever possible, there are times when you should call in an engineer and seek professional advice.
Recommended occasions to call an engineer, architect or interior designer:
You are buying a house
The engineer will come to the property and give you a rundown on the state of the existing structure. This is referred to as a visual structural inspection. The engineer should be able to identify any defects such as settlement of the foundations and patterns of cracking in the structure, if they exist. He should also be able to give you an opinion on the long-term durability of the house in question. The reasons for any defects and suggestions for possible remedies to the problems will be highlighted at that time. With this information you will then be able to make an assessment as to whether you wish to proceed with the purchase and how much you should pay for the remedial works.
You are building a new house
It is always easier to get the professional team involved as soon as possible, especially when selecting a piece of land. They can give you advice on how to design and build the house to keep the costs to a minimum yet taking advantage of the site’s character. One rule of thumb for cost saving is “the easier it is for an engineer to design a house, the easier and more cost effective it is for the contractor to build.” At this time, you should also get advice on the access to the property, as the location and steepness of a drive can have a big impact on the property. In the BVI it is also likely that you will require retaining walls when the natural slope of the land is disturbed, and these can become very expensive.
A crack develops in your property
There are many reasons why cracks can develop in your house. These include foundation settlement, lateral movement, overloading, and underdesign of the structure. An engineer will be able to give you advice regarding the defects noted and the possible problems if the defect is not attended to.
You are extending or altering your property
The architect and engineer can give you advice about your extension, including the structural design works required to ensure that the existing structure remains in good condition and that the extension is adequate for the loadings expected during its lifetime.
It’s hurricane season
It is important when faced with the hurricane season to make sure your house is ready, whether you are on island or not. Hurricanes impose heavy loading on a structure, and the loads must be safely transferred to the ground to avoid any damage to the building. Hurricanes cause not only a lateral force on the building as a whole, but also uplift on the roof structure. An engineer will ensure that the roof system is strapped to the foundations and that there is a continuous load path to allow the loading to be resisted. Typically the items that require attention will include:
- Insufficient or inadequate strapping to the rafters at the eaves
- Insufficient or inadequate strapping of the rafters at the apex of the roof.
- Corroded hurricane strapping
- Lack of a load path to transfer the wind uplift.
These items are typically critical in timber framed houses, and will need regular inspection and upgrading. (Concrete is naturally more resistant to hurricanes due to the size and mass of the concrete).
If you are considering doing a facelift to your home yourself, follow these rules for longevity and sanity:
- Plan ahead and order at least 10% more than you think you need.
- Clean, clean, clean the surfaces you are going to cover. It doesn’t matter if it is paint or tiles.
- Never apply finishes to damp surfaces; let the areas dry completely.
- Don’t take shortcuts; it will cost you in the end. Always check that existing treatments are compatible with the paints or adhesives you are about to use.
By Chris Conway of CSE engineering Ltd. and Thor Downing of Roger Downing & Partner Co. Ltd.