Not sure if your home needs a structural inspection or a home inspection? Though similar in nature, these two types of inspections serve two distinct purposes, involve different professionals, and focus on different components of a home.
In this guide, we’ll outline the difference between a structural inspection and a home inspection, tell you what each of them involves, and explain when you may need one or the other.
Key Differences Between a Structural Inspection and a Home Inspection
The primary difference between a structural inspection and a home inspection is the intent. Whereas a structural inspection’s purpose is to verify the building’s ability to carry design loads, a home inspection is a broader assessment of the building’s overall condition.
Another vital difference is that structural inspections are performed by a licensed structural engineer, while a home inspection can be carried out by certified home inspectors. Both of these professionals are held to certain standards of practice and must possess appropriate qualifications.
Despite their fundamental differences, structural and home inspections are similar because both include an assessment of the home’s structural elements. Likewise, both can be initiated by prospective buyers before purchasing a home.
What Is a Structural Inspection?
A structural inspection aims to assess a building’s structural integrity. During this process, a structural engineer evaluates the home’s structural components to see if they are sound and capable of carrying the design loads.
The inspection typically focuses on the following elements:
Although foundation issues are seldom noticeable to the untrained eye, they’re capable of deteriorating over time, which can lead to extensive structural damage to the home. An engineer performing a structural inspection will always make sure that the foundation isn’t heaving, settling, developing dangerous cracks, or letting in water.
Exterior and Interior Walls
Visible defects in exterior (and to a lesser extent, interior) walls are often harmless, but there are times when they indicate deeper underlying issues. Wide cracks, and those around door and window frames, may be caused by structural failures within the home. They may also stem from foundation problems, such as heaving or settling.
To make sure that any cracks appearing on a home’s walls aren’t pointing to serious structural issues, it’s important to get a licensed engineer to perform a structural inspection.
Studs, Joists, and Beams
These crucial members of a home’s structure are susceptible to rot and termite outbreaks. Both rot and termites can cause irreparable structural damage and lead to severe outcomes, such as the failure or even collapse of affected elements. One needn’t look far to remember the tragic consequences of a neglected wet rot outbreak that claimed several lives in a Berkeley balcony collapse.
A structural inspection is a good way of preventing these issues from progressing to a point where they’re irreparable or pose an immediate threat to the home’s occupants. During the inspection, a structural engineer would check the home’s floors, walls, and exposed parts of the structure for bulging, warping, or other signs of rot or termite damage. If you’re about to buy a new home, a structural inspection may alert you to these issues before you commit to the purchase.
A licensed engineer can assess the condition of the roof’s structure to make sure that it’s able to carry its design loads — such as wind or snow loads — without risk of failure. Note that the structural inspection will not take into account the integrity of the roofing membrane and thus will not necessarily flag a leaky roof.
When Is a Structural Inspection Necessary?
Structural inspections are not mandated by law but may be required by financial institutions in the course of issuing mortgage loans, particularly when a modular home’s foundation has to be certified.
There are also times when it may be wise to request this service. Here are some scenarios in which you should consider commissioning a structural inspection:
Before You Buy a Home
The last thing you want is to find out that your recently purchased dream home is suffering from a termite infestation or has an uneven foundation. Structural issues often come with enormous repair costs, which may be difficult to shoulder without getting into debt or spending a sizable chunk of your savings.
Luckily, a simple home inspection can make you aware of the home’s “hidden skeletons” before you sign your name on the dotted line. It’s much wiser to pay $800 for a structural inspection and walk away from a disastrous purchase than to spend $30,000 on foundation repairs.
After a Natural Disaster
Whether your home’s just survived an earthquake, flood, or powerful storm, it makes sense to ask a professional to check for any hidden damage. A structural engineer may be able to find defects that are not immediately obvious and recommend corrective action to stop the home from deteriorating.
If You Suspect Structural Issues
If you’re finding signs of foundation problems or noticing other defects in your home, requesting a structural inspection is an effective way to detect these issues before they progress beyond repair. Consider speaking with a structural engineer if you see any of the following:
- Water getting inside the crawl space
- Large cracks in the foundation or exterior walls
- Windows and doors sticking in their frames regardless of the seasonal humidity fluctuations
- Warped floors, or floors that feel soft underfoot
- An obvious sign of the foundation is uneven
- Bulging or bowing walls
What Is a Home Inspection?
A general home inspection evaluates the home’s overall condition without focusing solely on the structure. Like a structural inspection, it may be performed before a home purchase to ensure that the building is in overall sound condition.
Typically, a certified home inspector will assess the following:
This is where home inspections and structural inspections intersect. A home inspection may encompass more elements, but it still evaluates the home’s structural soundness — albeit on a more superficial level than a full-fledged structural inspection.
For example, a home inspector will take note of visible defects, such as broad cracking, warped floors, bowing walls, and foundations that are obviously sinking or heaving. If the engineer finds evidence of such defects during the general inspection, they may recommend a structural inspection in their report.
Water can cause significant damage to various components of a home, including the structure, walls, floors, ceilings, electrical wiring, heating and cooling equipment, and more. During a home inspection, the inspector will look closely for signs of water damage that has occurred already, as well as indications that water has found its way inside a home.
Roofing System Problems
Unlike a structural inspection, which tends to concentrate on the roofing structure, a home inspection will evaluate the condition of the entire roof assembly. Possible defects that the assessment may uncover are:
- Damaged roof shingles
- Problem with eavestroughs and downspouts
- Signs of leaks
- Flashing defects
Note that it’s always best not to schedule such inspections during bad weather. High winds, heavy downpours, or snow accumulation on the roof may prevent the inspector from detecting issues.
Condition of Electrical, Mechanical, and Plumbing Systems
A home inspector will assess the state of HVAC systems and ductwork, electrical wiring, and plumbing to ensure that these systems are in good working order. Doing so will not only alert a prospective home buyer to imminent repairs but also confirm that the property is safe.
How Design Everest Can Help?
If you’re looking to buy a home or are worried that the house you live in may have sustained structural damage, Design Everest can perform a structural inspection to put your mind at ease. Our engineers will be happy to assess your home’s structure and inform you of any concerning conditions and recommend a course of action if the assessment uncovers defects. Our structural engineers are licensed by the state and have over 15 years of expertise in California, so you can rest assured that your house will be in good hands.
To find out more, please get in touch with us for a FREE consultation.