Blog - Choosing an engineer: an important decision

Choosing an engineer can be confusing. There are many engineering firms, all claiming to deliver the most cost effective, quality solutions.

How to choose an engineer that suits your needs

First, understand that not all engineering firms service the same clients. Therefore, some engineering firms will meet your expectations better than others, depending on your set of circumstances.

Your set of circumstances is made up of:
- Your budget
- The size of your project
- The complexity of your project

In the residential sector, structural engineers may be categorized into three types:

1. The sole trader
These engineers can appear to offer the most cost effective service and often undercut larger engineering firms in terms of their pricing. While this may sound good, it comes at other costs:

>>>They often have either a lower extent or less diversity in experience, but even if the engineer has many decades of
multi-discipline experience, as a sole trader they still rely on themselves alone rather than a team to innovate solutions to your ideas.

>>>Availability to your engineer may be limited, because it is likely yours is not the only project the engineer is working on.     

>>>Design and documentation turnaround can be potentially slow. Similar to availability, the engineer may be unable to provide attention to more than one project at a time. They may also need to draw the plans themselves, which can have the subsequent effect of slow production of documents and documents of a lesser standard. On more complex jobs, substandard drafting leading to communication issues or ambiguity is a common source of building disputes.

2. The cheap engineering firm.
Similar to the sole trader engineer, cheaper firms offer a cheaper alternative than a more established firm.

These firms tend to have a shorter amount of experience and may possibly be a newly established business and they tend to target the lower end of the market. 

In order to keep fees low, some companies resort to employing less qualified staff, reduce staff training and have lower levels of insurance cover.

3. The reputable, established engineering firm.
Often, these firms are pricier than those described above. However, the benefits are well worth it.

These market leaders have loads of combined experience, enabling them to foresee obstacles along your building journey. Their proven track record gives confidence to their clients they are well looked after. The appropriate amount of time required to produce quality engineered designs is reflected in their fee proposals. 

What defines a quality engineered solution?  

An efficient design requires time to produce. It sizes building members such beams, joists, slabs and columns which will be specifically prepared for your set of site conditions. They will be sized appropriately, neither too small nor too big. It will also consider related structures which are impacted by your new project.

On the other hand a cheaper design is potentially a less considered or tailored design, with a one size fits all approach. As a consequence structural elements may be oversized to save the design engineer the trouble of investing extra time in refinement, while giving him the confidence that he will not get sued later for problems relating to the potential failure of a design.

Therefore, from the clients point of view, cost savings are made with the engineer, but material costs dramatically increase, often incurring a greater overall expense. Also don't forget the ‘chunky’ look of the new building elements installed instead of a more refined slender look which will add elegance and a minimalist feel to your home.

Other factors to look for

A reputable firm is transparent with clients and don't withhold information to minimise their work load or cover their own legal ‘backs’. They inform you of the outcomes they expect to deliver before they undertake the work. This minimises misunderstandings and makes for a happy overall experience.

Professional Indemnity insurance
This insurance is one that all engineering firms must acquire to cover them for if faults arise regarding their structural designs. Like a car, there are different insurance policies available ranging in different prices. As a general rule, the higher the premium, the higher the allowable insurance payout. Ensure your engineer is covered with sufficient professional indemnity insurance before employing them.

As with any other professional, check their history on Government websites for any outstanding fines or pending building disputes. Also ensure that the senior staff of a company are Chartered Members or Fellows of reputable organisations such as Engineers Australia.

Anything to say?
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