If you’re in the market for a home, planning to renovate your current one, or building a new one, you’ve probably got plans to recruit some professional help along the way. It’s a good idea to check your plans against an expert’s appraisal to make sure you are heading in the right direction. Someone who can inform you of any potential problems as well as advice on how to proceed.
The question is, ‘What kind of professional help do I need? Who do I call?’ OK, that’s actually two questions, but you get the idea. Before you make any appointments, you want to know what services those experts provide and which of those services are called for to meet your objective. Structural engineers and building inspectors have a lot in common, but their roles are somewhat different. Knowing the differences will help you decide who you’re going to call.
A structural engineer is focused on structural integrity and is therefore going to inspect those aspects of a building that directly affect its structural integrity. Those aspects include the foundation or load-bearing walls. Other building features are not a structural engineer’s concern. He will not inspect things like plumbing, electrical or drainage issues. In fact, it would be useful to think of a structural engineer as the specialist that your general practitioner (the building inspector) refers you to when you need his specialised service. Since that is frequently how a buyer or homeowner is actually led to a structural engineer – by referral from a building inspector – that analogy is quite relevant.
As you may have guessed at this point, a building inspector provides more general inspection services that include all areas of the home. Professional building inspectors will have experience within the building trades needed to properly assess each aspect of a project. In most cases, you will want to consult a building inspector before buying or building a home. A trained inspector will evaluate each phase of construction for a stage construction inspection, or a vendor inspection for a seller prior to listing a home.
A building inspector will perform a general inspection of the structure to identify any defects or conditions that need to be corrected. This inspection will evaluate workmanship in all areas of construction including drainage, plumbing, electrical and foundation. If the inspection determines that structural damage or defect exists that are below Australian Standards, the inspector may very well refer you to a structural engineer for further inspection.
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