When building a new home, renovating an existing home, or undertaking any other construction project, you will require the services of either a Civil Engineer or a Structural Engineer, or both.
“Can civil engineers do structural engineering?” is a common question that many of us have.
The answer is Yes!
Civil engineering is one of the oldest engineering disciplines, and it is a broad field with many subspecialties.
Although classified as a sub-group or speciality of Civil Engineering, Structural Engineering has grown in popularity and demand to the point where it is now considered a separate Engineering discipline.
Choosing between a Civil Engineer and a Structural Engineer is primarily determined by the type of structure, geographical location of the project, and other engineering project design and evaluation requirements.
The type of project will determine your requirements for hiring an engineer. A Civil Engineer would be hired to design and plan site grading, retaining walls, drainage and sewer, stormwater, and septic tanks.
Structural Engineers are usually required for new custom homes, multi-family and condominium structures, remodels or additions to existing systems, decks and patios, accessory dwelling units, and ground-up commercial and mixed-use buildings. Large infrastructure projects, such as dams and bridges, will necessitate the services of a Structural Engineer.
The geographical location of your project will determine the responsibility for your engineering design and implementation needs. State and local ordinances specify your requirements depending on your structure’s type, size, use, and location. A Structural Engineer may be required for a specific project, but a Civil Engineer may suffice in any other project.
Different climate patterns and topography of an area also play a role in legislation or ordinances that require or prohibit the use of a Structural Engineer. Regulations also specify which engineers are needed for structures in regions near the ocean, rivers, and other waterways.
Other engineering projects and evaluation requirements
For designs and plans for projects such as traffic control, hydrology studies, erosion control, and subdivision, a Civil Engineer will suffice; for peer review, this will depend on what is required and may necessitate the services of either a Civil or Structural Engineer.
Hiring a Civil Engineer is a better option for construction estimates, calculations, documentation requirements, building code research, and construction administration.
Existing structures requiring load-bearing wall removal and on-site structural evaluations will necessitate the services of a Structural Engineer. A structural engineer is also needed for fire reconstruction, pool engineering, and shoring design.
Civil and Structural Engineers are also needed in the event of failure or collapse of a structure.
When a structure collapses, a Civil Engineer will investigate whether it was built according to the plans and designs and whether proper and timely maintenance was performed to ensure that relevant codes were followed.
Although a Structural Engineer can perform the previous task, they must also determine whether or not the concrete, steel, lumber, and other materials used for the project have sufficient strength and resistance to keep the structure safe. All factors that could contribute to the structure’s deterioration and eventual failure are taken into account. A final determination of the cause of the collapse is issued after all investigations have been completed.
A civil engineer is expected to perform the duties of a structural engineer. However, vice versa is not valid. There are numerous factors to consider before deciding whether to hire a Civil Engineer or a Structural Engineer. Consider the entire scope of your project, from start to finish.
As a homeowner, contractor, or architect, you may require the services of a Civil Engineer or a Structural Engineer at some point.