SA Building & Remodeling
The Consulting Engineer and Your Remodeling Project
Rudy Niño (March 8)
Let's consider a scenario that was posed to me by an associate:

You and your spouse have purchased several homes in the past and have finally come to rest on what is to be your last dwelling. Your children are grown and moved out, but now you have received word that your mother, a widow for the past decade, has become very ill and should be relocated so she can receive assisted living care.

After considerable discussion and cost-shopping of assisted living facilities, you and your spouse make the decision to move mother into your home. However, your mother, while willing to make the move, will need her privacy in an area she can consider her own. You tell her remodeling is possible, with maybe an extension of the master bedroom to include her own reading room and bathroom. She agrees, and you are on your way into a major project.

You hire a local home designer to provide plans for the bedroom extension and new bath. You give the designer specific room sizes and a copy of the original plans marked with the location for remodeling. You also instruct the designer to do a walk-through to take measurements of the existing roof and foundation.

The designer produces the plans, a remodeling contractor is selected, and a final meeting is held. At this meeting, you are assured by the contractor that there should be no problems with the bedroom extensions. It is then suggested that an engineer be hired to prepare foundation plans, assist with roof frame extensions and additions, and inspect the work during the construction.

You ask if all this is really necessary, as you are concerned about cost. The contractor then says his company could work with the designer to provide these items and that the city building department could do the inspection. You decide to skip the engineering expense and tell the remodeler to go ahead on the construction.

The construction is complete in June, and mother moves in, setting up housekeeping in the privacy of her own area. Winter passes, and all seems to be going well. Until the next July.

Mother remarks that there are cracks in the walls of the reading room, the roman shower tub fills from the drain every time she flushes the toilet, and she thinks something is wrong with the ceiling. It seems to have dropped slightly near the wall dividing the bedrooms from the sitting room.

You investigate, and, sure enough, mother is right. Now what?
Faced with what appears to be a time bomb that could affect the rest of the house, you think it is possible either the designer or the remodeler did not do the job properly and should be held responsible. You talk to them, but they say you had the opportunity to engage an engineer's services to begin with and chose not to, and now you have a problem. The designer and remodeler both say they have insurance that would pick up a portion of the costs for repairs provided they do the work. You agree, but now you decide to browse the yellow pages and contact a consulting engineer for advice.

After viewing the damages and inspecting the roof framing over the new rooms, the engineer reports the remodeling construction was correct, but without further work the damages will probably worsen. The engineer also says the soils should have been better prepared prior to the foundation's construction.

The foundation now has dropped at the rear wall of mother's bathroom, and the engineer is pretty sure the toilet plumbing has been damaged, forcing water to back up into the shower tub. There is also some question as to the amount of lumber reinforcing the older roof above the addition. With your permission and a signed agreement, the engineer puts together the documents necessary for the repairs to the foundation, plumbing, walls, ceiling and roof so your mother's new home may last several more years.

So, what might you have learned from this hypothetical situation? Consulting engineers of today are capable of providing services not only for bridges and commercial buildings, but may also be equipped to handle homes and home remodeling tasks. Engineers could do this for a fee much less than the cost of repairing something that was not properly constructed or designed to begin with. Be advised, look before you remodel, and consider giving the engineer the opportunity to help you get your job done to your satisfaction.

Call Rudy Niño for a quote at (210) 723-2616 or Request an Estimate online.
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