For Home Owners

Structural Observations: What They Are and Why You Need Them

Oct 18, 2019
Design Everest

Your home improvement project will frequently involve a structural design component.

This could range anywhere from a header for a new door or an entirely new structure or addition on your property. That's why you've hired Design Everest, after all! Because of the liability and complexity associated with any structural engineering work, it is critical that the structural engineers responsible for the design observe and document the construction process along the way. These documented observations are officially named, "Structural Observations."

The criteria for requiring structural observations is defined in the International Building Code. Even if Structural Observations are not specifically required by the IBS, your design professional may have internal protocol that requires Structural Observations because it is in the best interest of the design professionals and you as the homeowner. The documentation that goes along with the observations will be good to have for future reference to confirm everything was built according to plan and the new addition to your home is structurally sound. This will be especially helpful if you ever decide to sell your property.

Structural observations are observations made by the Engineer of Record (EOR) or another engineer familiar with the plans and design at various stages in the construction process.

Structural observations are defined in International Building Code (IBC) section 1702 as:

"The visual observation of the structural system by a registered design professional for general conformance to the approved construction documents. Structural observation does not include or waive the responsibility for the inspection required by Section 110, 1704 or other sections of this code."

Not all construction projects will require structural observations, but your engineering consultant and contractor will lead the way on this task and guide you along in the process. You should be informed of this component and be aware throughout the process of the importance of this work. These observations are not performed by the building official or a special inspector, but are a separate requirement entirely, although the EOR is capable of completing many types of special inspections as well. You will have a busy home full of many knowledgeable professionals throughout your home improvement project construction process!

In order to complete your home improvement projects, structural engineers will frequently work alongside mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) consultants to generate the design drawings that will be used by the contractors during construction. Throughout the design process, the MEP and the structural engineer will communicate while changes are being made by each discipline that will potentially have an effect on the others. In this way, your design project is understandably somewhat of a "moving target" for each of the design professionals working on it. During construction, if the drawings are interpreted incorrectly at any stage, or a change was made in the structural design that was not accounted for in another part of the design, work may have to be backtracked or re-done altogether to build a structurally sound, functioning, and safe project. Due to the complex nature of this "moving target," structural observations are performed in order to:

  • Make sure the contractor is understanding and interpreting the drawings correctly and as planned by the Engineer of Record (EOR)
  • Make sure subcontractors are understanding and interpreting the drawings correctly
  • Make sure the designs of other disciplines, such as architectural or plumbing,are not interfering with the structural design in any way

Structural Observations are distinctly different from Inspections performed by a building official and Special Inspections performed by a special inspections agency. Structural observations are performed in addition to the inspections and special inspections and are intended to verify the interpretation of the drawings by the contractors. Inspections by the building official are performed in order to ensure all construction materials and methods are in compliance with the jurisdiction's standards and International Building Code (IBC). Special Inspections performed by a special inspections agency are intended to confirm the finer details of construction such as the number and placement of fasteners or the thickness of individual concrete components. Inspections and Investigations could be performed by the EOR, but the important thing to note here is that they are distinctly different from Observations. Structural Observations are strictly related to structural design and load distribution, and they are diligently documented by the EOR. Because the EOR is intimately familiar with the structural design of the project, they are the best professional for the job of making the observations that are more detailed than the inspector's materials and code compliance standards, and higher level than the special inspectors counts and verification of the finer details of construction. It is also critical that the EOR note the distinction between Observations and Inspections from a legal perspective.

Believe it or not, sometimes contractors will take liberty with the design drawing interpretation. Good contractors have a significant portfolio of projects completed over a period of time, and they are not necessarily keeping up with all the code changes that structural engineers are required to track as part of their profession. At certain points in construction, contractors may interpret the intent of the design based on their prior professional knowledge from a different project, and they should not be expected to decipher if their work product accomplishes the desired load path from the EOR's design. For this reason, it is important that the structural engineer regularly check this work to confirm the contractor's interpretation aligns with their design intent. It is important that these observations are performed at regular intervals during the work process. If construction gets too far out ahead of the structural engineer's confirmation, and the interpretation is flawed early on, work may need to be redone. This would result in highly undesirable additional cost and time delays.

To conclude, Structural Observations are a distinct and critically important piece of your home improvement project. You are in excellent hands with Design Everest - we are a team of professionals with significant experience, and we will make sure you feel comfortable along the way, and your project is completed per our design and your vision! If you ever have any concerns along the way, we will work hard to address them and put your mind at ease. After all, the work of the Structural Observations should do just that - confirm that the project is being completed as designed and will be structurally sound in the end. While major problems are not planned, they can occur, and the goal of our observations is to catch them before they do, and document their solution!

How Design Everest Can Help

Design Everest has a team of highly experienced engineers, including structural, civil and MEP, with specialized knowledge specific to home renovation and construction, and we would be an excellent resource not only in this step of the process, but in coordinating with the other specialists involved in your project as well, and taking your project all the way to an approved building permit. Call us at (877) 704-6765 for a FREE consultation and quote.

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