Why Home Buyers May Need a Home Inspection From a Structural Engineer

Dawn M. Smith
Written by Dawn M. Smith
Updated September 3, 2021
Inspector checking off list on a clipboard
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Hiring a structural engineer could offer peace of mind and save you thousands in the future

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Buying a house is a delicate game of strategy, but your emotions are running on overdrive. You want to make a good investment but know no house is perfect (even though the original wood floors are definitely worth obsessing over). Is it time to call in a structural engineer for your home inspection? Maybe, depending on what your home inspector finds and your risk tolerance. 

Here’s more information to help you decide if you need to call in the expertise of a structural engineer.

The Differences Between a Home Inspector and a Structural Engineer

Part of home buying is working with a home inspector and/or a residential structural engineer. Each gives you a heads-up about the condition of your investment. You’ll definitely want to know if there’s expensive trouble ahead before closing day. 

When searching for a structural engineer, keep in mind some home inspectors can be structural engineers if they choose the specialty, but not all structural engineers are home inspectors.

Home Inspector

Think of your home inspector as your go-to, first line of defense. A vetted home inspector brings a wealth of knowledge to report on the state of the house’s electrical, HVAC, plumbing, and general structure

However, not all home inspectors are trained or comfortable diagnosing a serious foundational issue. If the inspector gets an inkling something’s up with the foundation—red flags include sloped floors and out-of-alignment doors and windows— they’ll refer you to a structural engineer to investigate further.

Structural Engineer

A structural engineer has specific training and education to identify potential problems with not only the foundation, but with the roof and drainage. Their final report details what they discover (possibly cracks in the floor joists, split beams), the reason for the problems, and their best recommendations for future repairs.  

Every state has its own guidelines for the education and certification a structural engineer needs for a license, so check with your state’s regulatory agency to confirm referrals.

Why Should I Hire a Structural Engineer for my Home Inspection?

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Hiring a residential structural engineer to inspect a house before the sale closes offers many buyers, especially first-timers, some peace of mind because the structural investigation goes beyond a basic home inspection.

Let’s not forget about saving money and heartache. The structural engineer’s final report could save you thousands of dollars in repairs and updates in the future. Or, it could expose much-needed knowledge about what’s in store if you’re in the market for a fixer-upper. 

Here’s what your inspector will look for during their visit:

  • Overall home design: flaws in weight-bearing capacity

  • Damaged foundation: settling, cracks, drainage problems affecting the foundation

  • Issues in the basement and crawl space: moisture

  • Aging masonry: chimney, porches, other brickwork

  • Settled roof: shifting, sagging

  • Pest destruction: termites and rodent damage

Is It Worth Hiring a Structural Engineer for a Home Inspection?

Working with a residential structural engineer costs $520 on average or between $100 and $200 per hour.

If your life’s motto is “better safe than sorry,” these prices are well worth the complete reassurance, especially if a major renovation is imminent. On the other hand, some buyers, like those who prefer new construction or whose initial home inspector didn’t find any telltale signs of structural problems, may feel fine without paying the structural engineer for the extra look. 

Use your gut instinct and the advice of your home inspector to help you decide if a structural engineer's expertise will help you make the right home buying decision.

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