Log in

Log in

When Should You Contact an Engineer?

04/01/2024 3:01 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By Justin Bayer, Knott Laboratory, LLC

When it comes to the reconstruction and restoration of HOA communities, the civil and structural engineers who make up a part of this niche market are accustomed to working behind the scenes. After all, there’s nothing high-profile and flashy about designing repair plans, pulling permits, or writing up engineering reports about potential issues within a community.  Some recent events and current legislative attention have flipped that script around and shone the spotlight directly on the engineering side of this industry.  There is one lesson that is inevitable, however; deferred maintenance within our communities is increasing at an alarming rate. 

Clearly, there are plenty of examples of extreme circumstances, and not every situation is dire straits when it comes to deferring maintenance and its impact on structures.  That being said, the awareness gathered from situations like the one in Surfside can go a long way toward preventing catastrophes due to deferred maintenance in the future. 

There are many ways that a civil or structural engineer can assist a community, and this article will aim to point community managers, Board members, and contractors toward some situations in which you can or should contact an engineer. (It should be noted that most engineers within our CAI community are more than happy to be a resource and answer questions for the communities we serve, so never hesitate to ask!) 

The most common way to engage an engineer is when your community is in need of a repair/reconstruction project. This would be for things like deteriorating framing of stairs, decks, and balconies, as well as foundation issues, severe cracking, negative drainage, moisture intrusion, and a myriad of other similar issues. It’s always a great idea to start with engineering because this gives the community a chance to have their potential problems assessed by a third-party, independent expert.  This allows for the community to get a report and/or repair plans which can then be sent to general contractors to bid. 

Another way to engage a civil or structural engineer would be for construction defect concerns.  An engineer will often work with an attorney to diagnose issues with new build construction, which is then used in mediation or in court to fight for a settlement that the community will use for repairs.  Once a construction defect case is settled, a community will bring on a civil/structural engineer to work with the Board to prioritize repairs (life safety, building safety, community concerns, and aesthetics). Once repairs have been prioritized, the engineering team will design the repair plans for general contractors to be able to provide pricing to conduct the repairs. 

One way to combat deferred maintenance and regain control of the maintenance in your community is with a facility condition assessment (FCA).  This is essentially having a licensed engineer provide a report about the current state of the building(s) within the community.  Many communities are starting to look around and really grasp the concern for the level of deferred maintenance that their aging infrastructure may have. An engineer will be able to provide a report that details the visible building systems and informs the community on when those systems should be investigated further. For example, let’s say the engineer noted in the report that the stairs are in a deteriorated state, and that this should be addressed as soon as possible.  Now the community can work with the engineer and a contractor of their choice to further investigate the root-cause of the stair issue. 

The investigation into what is causing a particular issue is considered “forensic engineering.”  It’s sort of like CSI: Miami, but even cooler.  Keep in mind, destructive testing is often the only way that engineers can truly see what is happening inside of something like a ceiling, foundation, staircase, or balcony. A facility condition assessment can give a community a reason to investigate further, which can assist with knowing which items suffering from deferred maintenance should be addressed, and in what order. This really helps in the process of securing funding and creating a plan of action to address the issues in a proactive manner.  

So, now you know a bit more about when to call an engineer, why it is a great resource for the community to have an engineering firm representing their best interests, and where the engineering role falls into place as it concerns reconstruction projects. 

Let’s wrap up with some terms which you may see when dealing with engineers on your projects:

  • Civil Engineering - Civil engineers design, build, and supervise infrastructure projects and systems. In this instance, civil engineering often refers to engineering involving the land surrounding a building, which includes drainage, grading, pipe networks, etc. This would also include streets/sidewalks, asphalt paring areas, and anything else having to do with “land.” 
  • Structural Engineering - Structural Engineering is a specialty within Civil Engineering. Structural Engineers create drawings and specifications, perform calculations, review the work of other engineers, write reports and evaluations, and observe construction sites (civil engineers do all of this as well). A Professional Engineer’s license is required in order to practice both Civil and Structural Engineering. A license can be obtained only after completing a prescribed amount of education and work experience and taking a 2-day exam.

  • Building Envelope – This term refers to the “shell” of the building, which aims to provide climate control, water and water vapor resistance, and protection from the elements.  This term encapsulates the roof, foundation, exterior walls (including windows and doors), and insulation. 

  • Value Engineering – Value engineering is the consideration of wide-scale, holistic, project-wide conditions to achieve the most cost-effective and functional design. Essentially, this term refers to ways in which creative solutions between the engineer, owner, and the contractor can save the community money and stretch those resources to be able to accomplish more. 

  • Destructive Testing – Destructive testing is utilized to understand the cause of the failure of a building’s systems and components. This process involves taking apart a portion of a building to gain an understanding for how/why the material or system is failing, or to understand how it was constructed.  

Knott Laboratory has been in operation for over 40 years and is the premier resource for forensic engineering in the HOA, Apartment, and Commercial industries in Colorado, Arizona, and Texas. Justin Bayer, Director of Business Development, currently serves as President on the Board of Directors for the CAI-Rocky Mountain Chapter. 

(303) 585-0367

Click here for email


Did you see us on HOA Line 9? Or hear about us on CPR?
Need more resources?

Click Here

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software