Repairing Sagging Floors – Part 3: The Structural Engineer
The three foundation repair specialists each gave me different root cause analysis for the sagging floor issue in House 1. As an engineer by trade, I know that proper problem resolution must first start with proper problem identification. Many of the foundation specialists offered assumption-based guesses for their root cause analysis. I wanted a fact-based approach to ensure the issue at hand was correctly identified. So, I decided to hire a structural engineer to get a fact-based root cause analysis.
There were only two structural engineers in the area who seemed to have a solid reputation. One was booked out for the next three weeks so I went with the other who was immediately available. For a $400 fee, he spent about 10 minutes inside the house and about 20 minutes in the crawl space and then worked up a report of his assessment and recommendations.
I was very underwhelmed by the structural engineer’s effort. Ms. DIY Landlord was also present at the appointment and she too felt the $400 was a throwaway. The engineer hardly utilized a fact-based approach. He simply took pictures of the symptoms of the problem. He never took a single measurement inside the house. I expected him to at the very least determine the dimension of the room to determine whether the support joists and beams were adequate for the size of the room and the weight from the second floor up above. I also expected him to measure the levelness of the floor to determine what portion of the floor was sagging and how much. None of that was donel
Once I saw how little effort the engineer was going to put forth, when we got to the crawl space I decided I might as well try to get my $400 worth and point out the structural issues I had already identified and get his opinion on their cause and remediation. Had I not done this, I do not believe he would have ever noticed these structural issues. His responses to my questions were all assumption-based and certainly did not qualify as engineering. Never once did he take measurements to validate his assumptions. The scientific analysis I performed myself later actually proved that many of his assumptions were wrong.
A week later, after some prodding he produced a very brief one and a half page analysis of the problem. Actually, with the pictures omitted, his analysis consisted of a mere three sentences and his remediation plan was a mere four sentences.
The other diagram showed how the existing support beam can be further supported.So, does this mean that structural engineers are a total waste of money? Not necessarily. I tend to think that this structural engineer fell far short of having an engineering mindset. The other structural engineer that I was considering but did not use due to his lack of immediate availability provides a sample report on his website. This report is for a similar problem as ours and is much more detailed. More importantly, it clearly illustrates that his analysis are based on facts since he actually took measurements of various depression points in the floor.
This kind of work is what I consider engineering and what I was expecting to get from the first structural engineer. Needless to say, the next time the need for a structural engineer arises, we will not be a repeat customer and will definitely go with the other structural engineer even if it is a long wait.
So if you are trying to decide between several structural engineers, ask for past reports they have written. They should provide you with good clues as to their level of diligence and how scientific their approach is.
Mr. DIY Landlord