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Whether you have built a home, or have been a part of a project that involves building a structure of any kind, you may have heard the term Structural Engineer. Well what do they do? It’s simple, really. They will analyze and design the structural components of buildings, homes, bridges and more, taking into consideration gravity support and lateral force resistance. In other words, they will make sure a structure will not fail when stressed by forces in any and all directions. We will cover the details behind the work in just a moment.

“All I need is an Engineer’s stamp”

The most common inquiry we receive is regarding the stamp needed to begin construction on a structure of any kind. Your local building department will require your design plans to be stamped by a licensed engineer. A popular misconception is that architectural plans come ready for construction, in some cases this may be true based upon the architectural/design group, but not typically. A Structural Engineer will need to determine and analyze the forces on each element in a structure, such as a beams, pillars, foundation etc… before adding their stamp of approval to the plans.

Structural Engineering of Commercial Steel Building

 The Analysis and Design Process

Each structure must be analyzed and designed to withstand the conditions of the location in which the structure is built. For example, a structure in California must be able to withstand seismic activity, while a structure in Colorado must be designed to withstand specific snow loads. An engineer will take into consideration the exact location of the construction site to better determine the values of specific forces that will act upon the structure. After determining these values the engineer will configure the structures elements to resist these forces. This process will iterate between analyzing the forces and designing elements of the structure until convergence is achieved.

Steel Beam Column Connection by Structural Engineer

What are these forces?

As discussed above, a structure is subject to loads from all directions;

Vertical, or “Gravity” loads. This includes “dead”, or permanent loads, which will be the overall weight of the structure and its components (Walls, floors, finishes etc…). This will also include temporary loads or what is considered a “live” load, which will include the structures contents, as well as occupants of the building and possible snow loads.

Lateral, or horizontal loads. This will include forces or loads created by wind, earthquakes, or explosions.

The importance of a Structural Engineer

So we know the work of these engineers is crucial because it directly influences the durability and safety of buildings and structures all over the world. It is Structural Engineers who determine an accurate evaluation of safe weight maximums, the amount of force from storm winds, and the magnitude of earthquake tremors that certain structures can withstand. Pretty important, right? Well, they also have a great impact on the overall construction process, ensuring that all materials and resources are being used efficiently. For example they must determine the best material grade for safety and function, without needlessly raising construction cost. They also must be able to work within the design aesthetics called for by the architect or design firm, all while combining practicality, resource budget, and other visual appearances to satisfy the needs of all involved.

Visit our homepage to learn more about PSE and how we can be a part of your design team for any projects you may have.