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Ironlight 04-18-2011 08:40 AM

Opening up a load-bearing wall. Do I need a structural engineer?
Hello everyone. We are soon to begin renovation of a 1925 craftsman style house that we recently purchased. The first order of business is to demolish the existing kitchen which dates from 1968 and as part of that process we would like to remove entirely a wall between the kitchen and a "breakfast room" and to widen a doorway significantly between the kitchen and the dining room.

We have hired a modestly sized but well regarded building firm to handle this part of the renovation as well as some other parts that I'm not willing to undertake myself. The question I have for all of you is, if the firm I hired does not have a structural engineer, should I hire an independent structural engineer to come in and have a look even if the contractor says that I don't need to?

Some additional information regarding the house. The first floor has two load bearing walls: the one between the living room and the dining room, which is supported by a steel beam in the basement, and the wall between the kitchen and the dining room which is supported by a foundation wall. The kitchen is over a crawl space and the lower part, a former garage. Floor joists run east/west, obviously. The house has a second floor. A bathroom is being added on the second floor against the north wall that will straddle the point where the load bearing wall is. The ridge of the room runs north south. The roof itself is somewhat structurally weak, having a number of unsistered common rafters

A diagram of the proposed changes is included below with the walls being taken out marked in red. The wall that runs horizontally I would like to take out entirely. It DOES sit on a foundation wall but it runs parallel to the joists. The opened up spans of the north/south opening and east/west opening would be 11'4" 12'2", respectively.

Again, all I'm looking for is whether I should get a structural engineer in. Maybe this is something that a 40 person contracting firm handles all the time and is perfectly competent to engineer, or not, I have no idea. That's why I'm asking. And yes, I'm going to ask the firm I hired if they can handle it...I just want to be sure that I don't need a second opinion.

Thanks for your advice.

Mark Russell 04-18-2011 09:53 AM

The answer would be yes.

In the UK it would be essential as we have things called building regulations, these require such a change to be notified to the council who will inspect and check the calculations for the supporting lintel and walls (a key part!). You wont get sign off without a structural engineers calcs here.

On a broader note, there is the issue of buildings insurance, if the structual changes have been correctly worked out (and a structual engineer is suitably qualified) then you would have no issues (or would at least have a route for comeback) because the person who has done the calculations can prove compitence.

My advice, pay a structual engineer to calc and specify the changes, it will be money well spent.

Daniel Holzman 04-18-2011 10:43 AM

As a civil/structural engineer, I generally do not disagree with advice to hire a structural engineer. However, in this case it may not be necessary. If the contractor either has on staff a structural engineer, or more likely consults with a structural engineer they regularly use, they are fully capable of sizing and installing the required beams. Their liability will be covered both by their own insurance (of course you are going to verify that they have insurance), and by the practice liability insurance of their engineer (you are going to verify that the engineer has design insurance).

If the contractor does not have an engineer on staff (likely), and they are planning to design the beam themselves, that would be trouble, because in most jurisdictions you are not going to get a building permit without a stamped plan (you are going to get a building permit, correct?). Only the building inspector can tell you whether a licensed professional is required for the design of a structural beam, but in Washington DC I am guessing the answer is yes. If the contractor assures you that they are perfectly capable of designing the beam without an engineer, I would be extremely cautious, because the contractor's insurance is not going to cover the design, and you could run into trouble down the road on a wide range of issues.

This discussion has nothing to do with the capability of the construction company to design the beam. They may well be fully capable of doing so, however the way the game is played, they are probably going to need a stamped plan, and it is in your best interests to make sure the required process is followed.

Ironlight 04-18-2011 11:03 AM

Daniel thank you very much. That is exactly the information I was looking for. I am most appreciative.

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