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What is a Structural Inspection?

A structural - or engineering - inspection is above all, an opinion as to the structural condition and integrity of the building or home. That is, in the opinion of the engineer 1) were the structural elements (foundation, framing, etc.) designed and built to accept the anticipated loads to be placed upon them, and 2) are they continuing to perform their intended function?
 
The ability to render such an opinion is fundamental to this definition. By law in most states, only a registered Professional Engineer is permitted to render an opinion as to the structural integrity of a building. Certainly others may observe and report defects (rot, cracks, etc.) but an opinion as to their significance can only be rendered by an engineer (or in some cases, an architect).
 
It must be remembered that an opinion is not a guarantee. There are parallels in all professions. A physical performed by a doctor is not a guarantee of continued good health but an opinion as to your current condition and chances for the future. Similarly, an accountant does not guarantee that your tax return will pass an IRS audit but simply does, what in his opinion, will be best. A lawyer accepts a case based on his opinion of its merits - not the certainty of success.
 
As with the human body, there are variables in building structures that are not predictable. Soils move in a non-linear fashion. The exact time and amount of movement cannot be predicted. Wood is an imperfect material, subject to swelling, shrinkage, rot, etc. Certain loads are variable by their nature (e.g. snow, wind). And without disassembly, many structural components cannot be seen during an inspection.
 
The value of a structural inspection then, as in all professions, is largely dependent on the experience and qualifications of the individual who performs it. A registered Professional Engineer has, at a minimum, completed a four year accredited college program, worked for at least four years under the direction of other like professionals, and passed a 16 hour exam. He or she is required by their professional code of ethics to practice only in areas competent to do so and to be accountable for the work they do. Individuals who are in private practice who are not registered (even if they have taken engineering courses) may not call themselves engineers.
 
Criterium Engineers are registered Professional Engineers with usually at least 10 years of buildings related experience. They are trained by Criterium to provide inspections and must
participate in Criterium Engineers' peer review and continuing education programs. The following pages outline in greater detail, the actual scope of a structural inspection.
 
STRUCTURAL ENGINEERING INSPECTION CRITERIA
 
For the purposes of providing inspections for relocation or other clients, the term "engineering inspection" shall apply essentially to a structural inspection of the building. This type of inspection can only be performed by a registered Professional Engineer. PURPOSE: To determine the structural integrity and soundness of the building.
 
A. FOUNDATION
To be inspected: All accessible/visible portions of the foundation (i.e. slab, floor, walls) will be examined for evidence of distress and deterioration (e.g. cracks, movement, bowing, attachment).
Report on: The significance of any distress or deterioration. Where appropriate, suggested approaches to repair including an estimated range of costs for the repairs will be provided.
 
B. BASEMENT/CRAWL SPACE WATER
To be inspected: Surface drainage conditions around the building, evidence of water entry and/or accumulation in the crawl space/basement, excessive moisture, and the presence and condition of water control systems equipment.
To be reported: Description of water related conditions, adequacy of water control systems; limitations of inspection; potential risks of water entry; approximate scope of repairs recommended, approximate cost of repairs.
 
C. FRAMING
To be inspected: Investigate all accessible/visible portions of the building (e.g. floor, ceiling, roof framing); identify wood deterioration, insect activity and/or rot and other related deterioration; visually evaluate adequacy of framing other structural components.
Report on: Evidence of structural deficiencies, approximate scope of structural repairs required, approximate cost of structural repairs required.
 
D. ROOF
To be inspected: Roof surfacing, layers, flashing, sheathing (Fire Resistant Plywood), gutters for condition, type, current performance and evidence of leakage.
Report on: Conditions requiring attention; and approximate cost to repair/replace.
 
E. INTERIOR/EXTERIOR
To be inspected: Examine interior and exterior of building for evidence of distress, deterioration and weather tightness (siding and windows) that might indicate conditions affecting the overall structural integrity and stability of the building.
Report on: Evidence of distressed or deteriorated conditions and significance of same, as well as suggested approaches to the repair including an estimated range of costs for the repairs will be provided.
 
F. GENERAL
Other items related specifically to the structure will be examined and evaluated. These may include decks, porches and other attached structures (e.g. garages). In addition, as engineers, we have an ethical obligation to report any significant safety hazards noted during an inspection.
 
LIMITATIONS
An engineering inspection should not be construed to be any of the following:
1. A complete code compliance inspection. Such an inspection is a practical impossibility for any existing construction, since it is dependent on many things that cannot be seen, and on the status of codes that were applicable at the time the building was built.
2. An inspection for hazardous materials. Except in the case of obvious visual evidence of hazardous materials, an engineering inspection is not a comprehensive evaluation for hazardous materials.
3. An inspection of heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical systems.
4. A fire safety inspection (unless otherwise specifically requested).