Frequently asked questions about Professional Structural Engineers and engineering foundation reports
What is a Professional Structural Engineer?
A Texas professional engineer is an engineer who is licensed by the Texas Board of Professional Engineers to practice engineering as it is defined by the Texas Engineering Practice Act. Just as a doctor must have an MD license to practice medicine practice and a lawyer must be licensed by the Texas Bar to practice law, so must an engineer must be licensed as a Professional Engineer to practice engineering.
Professional Engineers perform engineering services for virtually every product you use, the car you drive, the power plants that create the electricity you use and the distribution system that brings power to your home. It is a fact that the world we live is a creation of the engineering profession.
So what is a Professional Structural Engineer? Engineers like medical doctors specialize in narrow niches. Many specialize in a specific structural material like steel or reinforced concrete. They may specialize in an even narrower niche such as high rise steel buildings in earthquake-prone areas. Most structural engineers design some kind of structure, where a
Most structural engineers design some kind of structure, where a structure is a member or element that carries a load other than its own weight. One of the foundations of structural engineering is materials science. Most structural engineers have intensive training in materials science, especially in the common structural materials such as steel, concrete and wood.
Why does a Professional Structural Engineer have special insight into house foundations?
This is a very good question. There are several reasons. First the foundation is a structure in that it transfers loads from the house to the ground. When an engineer designs a foundation of any kind he or she is practicing structural engineering. In Texas, foundations for single family houses in expansive soil areas, such as Houston, must be designed by a Texas Professional Structural Engineer. It is fair to say that a Professional Structural Engineer who has experience in designing slab-on-ground foundations has a deeper understanding of how the foundation and the supporting soil interact and deform under loads than any other credentialed professional.
First the foundation is a structure in that it transfers loads from the house to the ground. When an engineer designs a foundation of any kind he or she is practicing structural engineering. In Texas, foundations for single family houses in expansive soil areas, such as Houston, must be designed by a Texas Professional Structural Engineer. It is fair to say that a Professional Structural Engineer who has experience in designing slab-on-ground foundations has a deeper understanding of how the foundation and the supporting soil interact and deform under loads than any other credentialed professional.
Second, a Professional Structural Engineer who has experience designing the load-carrying elements of a wood frame house has a well-grounded insight into how a wood frame structure responds to a foundation that is distorting as the soil shrinks and swells.
Third, a Professional Structural Engineer who specializes in evaluating slab foundation performance will almost by necessity be familiar with foundation repair techniques and why they may or may not be suitable for the house you are considering purchasing.
Fourth, professional engineers are licensed and are duty bound under the law to protect their client’s interest. Even an engineer who works for a repair company is duty bound under the law to put his employer’s interest ahead of anyone else unless doing so could lead to an unsafe situation.
What is a structural engineering foundation performance evaluation?
This is an engineering evaluation of the performance of the foundation. It is called an engineering evaluation because it requires engineering training and knowledge of the following: how expansive soils cause a slab foundation to distort, how foundation distortion causes the house structural frame to distort, when foundation repair is necessary and when it is optional, what maintenance is required for a slab foundation on expansive soils, and if repair is needed, what type of repair would be appropriate for a given situation.
How much do you charge?
My fees start at $595. That covers houses up to 2400 square feet. Larger houses cost more.
Can I rely on the home inspector’s report?
If there is no history of foundation repair or any structural repair to the house the home inspectors report may be adequate for most buyers.
You should always keep in mind that a home inspector’s report only addresses whether the foundation has deficiencies that may have an adverse effect of the performance of the foundation. An engineering report has much more detail; the focus is on whether the foundation is in need of repair, not just whether some deficiency exists.
If what you want to know is whether a foundation needs repair, a home inspector ‘s report is not required to address that issue and most home inspectors do not address the need for repair. Instead choosing to recommend that the buyer consult with a Profesional Structural Engineer.
Can I have a foundation repair contractor inspect the foundation?
That issue is addressed in the sales contract. The standard Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) sales contract for single family homes states that the buyer can retain the inspector of his choice so long as he or she is licensed by TREC or is otherwise permitted by law to make such inspections.
Foundation repair contractors are not licensed and, in my opinion, are not permitted by law to make inspections for home buyers. That does not mean they cannot make inspections. The can and no make inspections. They are, however, not licensed or otherwise permitted by law, to make inspections for a buyer in a real estate transaction.
Another point to consider is the credibility of a repair contractor to the seller. Since the repair contractor has a financial interest in recommending repair work, most sellers, including virtually every knowledgeable seller, will find such a recommendation as having no merit. That is normally not an issue with a report issued by an independent Professional Structural Engineer.
Can I attend the inspection?
I do not require you to attend the inspection, but I strongly encourage it.
How fast do I get a report?
For a real estate transaction, we can almost always get you the report on the same day that we look at the house. If not, it will be issued by 9 AM the next morning.
Who gets a copy of the report?
You are the only person we send the report to unless you tell us it is okay to send it to someone else. I do encourage you to let us email it to your agent, but that is your call.
Do you work for home sellers and homeowners?
Yes, I work for both home sellers and homeowners.
What are your qualifications?
Briefly, I worked for US Home as a construction superintendent (“builder in today’s terminology) in the very early part of my career. Beginning in 1986 I became a TREC licensed real estate inspector and then a Texas Professional Engineer specializing in evaluating the performance of residential foundations and frame structures. Since 2013, that is all I have done. I have made somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 such inspections.
I cannot imagine anyone in Southeast Texas who is more qualified than me to do this work.
Why should I retain you to assess the foundation of the house I am considering buying?
1. You get a truly independent report. I do not now and never have worked for a foundation repair contractor.
2. The report will be credible. Just pretend you are the seller, Google my name R Michael Gray PE. read what comes up and consider how my credibility compares to others.
3. There is no engineer practicing in the Houston Area today making foundation performance evaluations who has more experience.