Paula Burgess, Office Manager at RHA since March 2023, writes about what she has learnt about the role of Structural Engineers and gives her thoughts on how we can help our clients.

"As the newest member of the team at Richard Herrmann Associates, and never having worked with structural engineers in the past, it has been important for me to get to grips early on with what the business does (and doesn’t) do.   I have found that there is often confusion about the role of a structural engineer, so I hope this short article helps to clarify what we do and, crucially, when we can help".

Many of our enquiries are from people who are concerned about cracking in their property and understandably want to know what the risks are. Sometimes the cracks are new and self-identified, whereas sometimes clients are referred to us by chartered surveyors (often when selling their home) or architects (when making changes to their properties).  

We don’t just deal with cracks in walls though! A structural engineer specialises in ensuring and maintaining the structural integrity of a property, ensuring that all forces that nature places on a building are safely transferred to the foundations.  This means that we are involved right from the start, with initial design, through the construction process and then also at a later stage in the building life during any renovations or extensions that might change the original structure. 

There are many people involved when you are buying, selling, extending, or making alterations to your home or building, including quantity surveyors, party wall surveyors and architects. We work with all these professionals but have a very specific role to play in the process. For example, while a survey by a chartered surveyor gives useful insight into the general condition of a property ahead of a sale, it can also flag potential structural issues, and in these situations a more thorough inspection by a structural engineer is required.

We look at factors that could change or affect the property over time and when problems do arise, such as cracking walls or a sagging roof, identify the causes as well as assist with solutions.  Often this will include providing calculations and accurate drawings with detailed specifications of the correct materials needed to complete the project in the safest way possible and where required ensure compliance with building regulations.

Common examples of projects which might require a structural engineer include:

  • Extensions,
  • Relocating door and window openings,
  • Loft and garage conversions
  • Removal of load bearing walls or chimneys
  • Designing retaining walls to hold back earth,
  • Designing new foundations for equipment, buildings or heavy plant
  • Investigation of suspected movement (cracking or gaps appearing in the structure)

For existing building issues the process almost always begins with a visual inspection, where we will not only examine the building and any issues but also take a full brief and understand your concerns and needs going forward.  Often this isn’t an instant process and sometimes identifying the causes of problems requires investigation that measures changes over time so we will always be honest about the steps needed to provide the best service to you and your property. We advise you of our costs upfront and where it's occassionally impossible to fully determine the full cost (e.g. ongoing investigations are needed on a step by step basis), we will agree a limit that won't be exceeded without your permission. 

For projects that involves complex support of equipment, cranes, gantries or similar we would usually start by meeting you, either in person or online, and discuss your requirements. It’s crucial that we also understand what limitations or design requirements might be involved in supporting the equipment, such as how flexible the structure can be, how much it can be permitted to sway, etc. We then prepare outline feasibility stage sketches or drawings for discussion and development. We work with you and your team to ensure that we achieve the end goal together. Costs are always agreed upfront and we clearly explain what we are undertaking, for your peace of mind and to ensure that budgets are maintained.

Richard Herrmann Associates work with the full range of clients from large commercial build to small domestic projects, so if we can be of help please do contact us. I'd be delighted to take your call!

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Richard Herrmann Associates Ltd.
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