Do I Need a Structural Engineer?

A structural engineer is responsible for the strength and durability of a structure, among other things.


A structural engineer practices the art of building design, construction and maintenance.  With a focus on strength and durability, structural engineers ensure that buildings are designed to cope with environmental stresses and the pressures associated with human use.  The role of a structural engineer is varied and encompasses a wide range of responsibilities.  These include but are not limited to:


  • Selecting which materials will be used in the various stages of a building’s construction. These tend to be wood, concrete, steel and brick;


  • Liaising with architects and other construction professionals throughout each stage of a project to ensure design consistency and safety standards, as-well as ensuring newly erected buildings are structurally sound;


  • Preparing reports on how best to improve the structural integrity of buildings affected by issues related to subsidence;


  • Producing designs and technical specifications for a range of commercial and residential renovation works such as extensions and loft conversions;



Structural engineers are required for both large scale commercial projects and privately-owned residential properties.  For instance, our chartered structural engineers spend as much time with private home owners, assisting with improvements and inspection work, as they do contributing to major building projects for clients such as Cardiff University and Tesco.

Even supermarket chains, such as Tesco, require the skills of a structural engineer.

What is the Difference Between a Structural Engineer, an Architect and a Builder?


Whatever the size and scope of your project, it pays to solicit the advice of a professional.  But who do you call?  And at what stage?  Dependant on the size of your building project, you will require the services of one of the following building professionals:


  • An architect
  • A structural engineer
  • A builder


There tends to be a lot of confusion between the function of an architect, a structural engineer and a builder.  In short, the differences are as follows:


Architects are concerned with building aesthetics or what a structure will look like after it has been completed.  They determine how the building space will be used and create technical specifications, based on their designs, for the building team to follow during construction.


Structural Engineers will take the designs drawn up by an architect and assess if the structural elements are feasible.  As such, architects and structural engineers tend to work closely together.  They will select the materials required for construction and will play an advisory role during the construction phase, ensuring the building’s structural integrity and stability throughout the build.


Builders are involved purely in the construction element of a structure, after both the architect and structural engineer have signed off on its design and technical specifications.  Builders act upon the technical specifications provided by the architect and the structural engineer, as-well as co-ordinate and oversee each stage of construction.


The services of all three professions are required throughout the design and construction phases of a large, commercial build (i.e. hospital or office block).  However, you may only need to consult an architect and a builder if, for example, you are planning on building a new house.  That said, a structural engineer may be required if the stability of the house comes into question, as a result of complicated architectural designs and issues relating to size.


When Might You Need to Call a Structural Engineer?


If you are a home owner or landlord, there will come a time when you will need to call a structural engineer to assist with building alterations or repairs.  These include:


Loft Conversions

Loft conversions tend to involve substantial roof alterations, therefore a structural engineer will need to be consulted to ensure any changes made adhere to standard safety regulations.

Depending on the size and shape of the loft conversion (i.e. Dormer, Mansard, Velux or Hip to Gable), a range of supporting beams may be required to help support the structural changes made to the loft space.

The structural engineer involved will need to perform various load calculations and determine which material the beams should be made of (i.e. wood, concrete or steel).


House Extensions

With house extensions or any other type of renovation service, a structural engineer is required to compile the structural drawings required by the building team.

As alluded to earlier, if the house extension is such that it requires the services of an architect, you will need to contact a structural engineer to ensure the stability and structural integrity of the architectural designs produced.



Subsidence is a big problem in the UK, especially in London.  2004 saw a record number of insurance claims made by disgruntled home owners as a result of subsidence related issues.  These ranged from huge cracks in walls to shifting foundations.  Unsurprisingly, insurance premiums have risen in areas deemed subsidence hot-spots.

If you suspect your house has been affected by subsidence, you will need to contact a structural engineer to commission a report detailing the root cause and steps required to fix it.  A common treatment is underpinning, a process that strengthens and stabilises foundations that have been compromised by subsidence.


Drainage Repair

Drainage repair is common in older properties, such as those built during the Victorian era-the drainage systems beneath these buildings are made of brick, which can sometimes crack and collapse.  The excess water that leaks from a cracked or collapsed drain can also lead to subsidence issues.

If you suspect that your drains have been damaged, a structural engineer will be required to perform a drainage inspection.  This will determine if there are any structural defects and what repair work is required.


From loft conversions to supermarkets, our team of chartered structural engineers are well versed in all areas of contemporary structural design.  Need assistance?  Whether you’re a private individual or a large construction firm, call HLN Engineering Ltd on 02080 996 388, or email for an initial consultation.    

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