FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions)
The profession of structural engineering is not known to many, and people are sometimes confused about what we do. Therefore, Top Level Engineering has compiled this list of common questions and answers to help clarify things.
What does a structural engineer do?
In general, a structural engineer uses his/her knowledge of materials, physics, math, and engineering principles to design various structural elements. For a building, a structural engineer designs the “bones” that provide support for the structure. Typical structural elements are floors, columns, beams, walls and foundations.
So, like an architect?
Not quite. An architect typically designs the overall building size and finishes and a host of other elements that define the character and use of a building. Engineers design the various systems and components that make up the building and the site. An architect needs to have a working knowledge of the various components to ensure that sufficient space is allowed for them to work properly.
How do I know when I need a structural engineer?
In the most basic sense, if the structure appears to be carrying a load of any kind – you will probably need to consult a structural engineer. Sometimes the structural work is part of a larger project, like a building addition, in which case an architect would typically be the first contact who would then hire a structural engineer.
Does a structural engineer analyze soil capacity?
No, that would be a geotechnical engineer, who has specialized training for analyzing soil.
How do I contact a structural engineer?
You have found a good one here on this website! If you are building a structure in Virginia, Maryland, DC, Pennsylvania, West Virginia or North Carolina – Top Level Engineering can help.
If you are working elsewhere, there are generally groups and listings online that will provide engineers near you. Give one a call. If they cannot help, they will happily direct you to someone who can.
I want to become a structural engineer. Where should I begin my training?
If you love math, science and problem solving, you’re off to a good start! To become a licensed professional engineer, you will need a four-year degree in civil engineering or architectural engineering, preferably with an emphasis on structural engineering from an ABET accredited curriculum. The next step is to pass the “Fundamentals of Engineering” exam; then work under a licensed professional engineer for four years; then pass the professional engineering exam. This may sound like a lot, but it is definitely worth the effort for a rewarding career.
What types of projects do structural engineers work on?
Just about any type of structure including residences, hotels, hospitals, shopping centers, communication towers - the list is nearly endless! Structural engineers also design retaining walls and various other structures are not always visible to the naked eye.
Do they work on anything else?
Sure! Structural engineers conduct structural assessments and feasibility studies, among other investigations. Check out our blog on Structural Assessments or contact Kirby Hartle at Top Level Engineering for a consultation regarding your structural engineering needs.