Frequently Asked Questions
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An engineer is responsible for providing a design conforming to code and legal requirements, such as the “structural frame” for your building, the geometry of your rail switchyard or the soil design properties for your project. Occasionally, when litigation occurs, engineering representation as an expert consultant is invaluable. Except for the simplest projects, use of a registered engineer to design your project is usually required by law. Design by a registered Structural Engineer is required for a number of special occupancies.
With respect to residential construction, an engineer's stamp is not required as long as the designer follows the requirements of the International Residential Code (IRC) or the Oregon Residential Specialty Code (ORSC). If the designer deviates from the codes prescriptive authorization, it is necessary to have a state licensed engineer design and stamp the appropriate portions of the building.
Because commercial structures often have a much greater occupancy, an engineer’s stamp is typically required in the interest of public safety. It is always required for education occupancies and for emergency facilities.
A building code is a standard set of rules that everyone must abide by when designing a building. In most states, the Building Code has the same authority as state law. It contains information, such as what loads to design for, i.e., gravity, wind and earthquake and how the loads affect the overall structure. In the past, each state had its own building code. In recent years, most states have adopted the International Building Code (IBC). Some states such as Oregon and California have their own specialty code which is based on the International Building Code. In Oregon, it’s called the Oregon Structural Specialty Code (OSSC). In California, it is referred to as the California Building Code (CBC).
A building official is an officer or other designated authority, either local or state, charged with enforcement and administration of the building code. It’s their job to review the design documents, observe and inspect the construction of your building and ensure that it is compliant with the building code.
Considering that many engineers have the same level of education and licensing requirements as physicians and a greater level than most attorneys, it would be logical to assume that engineering fees would be similar. In general, though, the hourly rate for engineers is less than half of that charged by either physicians or attorneys. Better yet, you rarely have to wait for an appointment!
Engineering fees typically vary with the cost and complexity of the project. For full services and a project of average complexity, design fees could range between 4.6% and 9% of construction cost. For very complex projects, design fees could range between 5.6% and 11.6%.
Frequently, fees are a smaller percentage of construction cost. Occasionally, they are a greater percentage. The fee for one of our projects, consisting of design and construction engineering of complex structural repairs to a multi story industrial processing plant designed by others, was 25% of the construction cost. The rest of the story, though, is that the plant had to remain in operation while the repairs were being constructed and the design had to accommodate this need. Our client appreciated our efforts and remained our client for many more projects during the time they were in the oil shale refining business.
Designer/Engineer/Architect – What’s the difference?
Designer: A building designer is not legally required to pass an exam or receive a special license to practice. They may NOT stamp and/or wet sign building plans.
Engineer: Although many people call themselves engineers, frequently illegally, a professional engineer is someone who has demonstrated sufficient education and experience to a state licensing board through written examination. The written engineering examination is 16 hours for a professional engineer (PE) registration, an additional 16 hours for a structural engineer (SE) registration and 8 more hours for a geotechnical engineer (GE) registration. A four year internship is required to be eligible for PE registration. Four additional years of specific structural or geotechnical experience is required to qualify for each of the specialty examinations. Only these licensed persons are allowed to use an engineering stamp on their work. In many jurisdictions, separate registrations as a structural or geotechnical engineer are required for specialty design.
Architect: A licensed architect is someone who has successfully passed a state architecture examination and is registered with the state board. Typically, the role of an architect is to provide their clients with an overall layout/design of the building as well as project management through completion of the building. They frequently subcontract portions of the design to engineers.