13 Common Remodeling Projects Needing Engineering

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Whenever you are remodeling, there are multiple factors to consider such as: design, costs, finding a contractor, paint options, new furniture, etc. 

It’s always fun to dream up ideas and watch as it becomes a reality. 

However, there is one component crucial to the success of the project that is often overlooked. 

Can you guess… engineering. 

This phase may not be as exciting as deciding what colors to paint the walls, but it is essential if you want to prevent your new creation from falling down.

This blog will run through some of the most common remodeling projects and potential engineering that may be required. 

Let’s jump in. 

1. Bathroom Remodeling- 

bathroom remodel

When you think of a bathroom remodeling project, you probably think of swapping out sinks, installing some tile, and throwing on a coat of paint. Rarely would a person think about needing engineering. 

However, there are plenty of times when a structural engineer will be necessary for your bathroom remodeling project. 

Here are a few examples:

  • Moving structural components- Anytime you alter structural components you need an engineer. Why? Home’s are designed to distribute loads in a specific way. If you remove a piece of the puzzle, the loads shift. If the loads are shifted onto the wrong part of the home, it may not be capable of supporting the new weight and could cause settlement or even collapse. Examples of structural alterations could be: moving the location of a door or window, knocking a load bearing wall down to increase space, or altering the shape of a closet. 
home falling down
  • Installing additional weight- It’s always a good idea to have a structural engineer perform calculations to ensure your home is capable of carrying additional loads. Home’s are initially engineered to accommodate dead and live loads. However, installing a large whirlpool bath tub could potentially exceed the original designs carrying capacity. If that is the case, an engineer can design a system to provide additional support. 
installing bathtub
  • Rerouting/adding plumbing- Sometimes a plumber may need to cut notches in trusses to run plumbing. An experienced plumber often knows the code regulations for how much they are able to cut into a joist . However, if a joist is mistakenly over-cut, a structural engineer will be required to design a system to reinforce the joist.

2. Kitchen Remodeling- 

kitchen remodeling

If you have an architect create a design for your kitchen remodeling project, a structural engineer will need to add structural details to the architect’s plan. Think of architects as the artist and engineers as the mathematician. The artist will generate a beautiful idea and the engineer will perform calculations to ensure it will work. 

architect and engineer working together

If you choose not to use an architect and go straight hiring a contractor, you still may need a structural engineer if:

  • You are removing walls
  • Installing additional weight 
  • Moving/installing larger windows or doors
  • Making any other structural changes 

If you don’t hire a structural engineer on the front end, your city’s building department may require it before they will release a building permit.

For instance, most city municipalities require a structural engineer inspection before they will grant a building permit to remove a wall.

Even if your contractor says it’s a non load bearing, the city will want a licensed PE’s approval. 

stamping plans

Note: If a structural engineer deems a wall to be load bearing, they can design a beam & column system to replace the wall. Your contractor can use the engineer’s specifications to install the new system. 

3. Kitchen/Living Room Open Floor Plan- 

open floor plan

One of the most popular remodeling projects right now is an open floor plan conversion, specifically, opening up the area between the kitchen and the living room.

This remodeling project could be as simple as tearing down a non loading wall or as complicated as moving a staircase, closet and load bearing wall to accomplish the task. 

removing a staircase

Regardless of the scenario, you will most likely need a structural engineer. As stated above, most city municipalities will require a structural engineer inspection to verify whether a wall is load bearing or non load bearing. If it is a load bearing wall, the city may even require a structural engineer drawing, depicting the structural system intended to take the wall’s place. 

4. Basement Remodeling-

basement remodeling

Every person’s ideal basement remodel will be unique to some degree. If you have huge plans, you may decide to use an architect. The architect will listen to your ideas and design a plan to functionally and artistically accommodate those ideas. The architect (or in some cases, the homeowner) will then have a structural engineer add structural details to this plan. 

Here are some examples of basement remodeling projects that require engineering:

  • Removing load bearing walls
  • Making alterations to your foundation 
  • Replacing a load bearing beam 
  • Installing a larger staircase 

A structural engineer is able to perform analysis and calculations to ensure your basement’s remodeling project is structurally sound.

5. Adding a Second or Third Story-

adding a third story to home

A remodeling project such as this WILL require a lot of structural engineering. This is because you are adding more load to the home. The engineer will need to ensure the foundation and footings are capable of carrying this new load capacity. 

Typically, an architect would draw up a plan and work hand-in-hand with a structural engineer to ensure the remodeling plans are solid. The structural engineer would make sure the new load path (the direction load travels when moving through each connective member)  was functional and properly transferring the total load to the foundation. 

There may also be times when a homeowner skips the architect for their remodeling project and goes straight to the structural engineer. Some structural engineers are a one-stop-shop and can create a drawing or design that includes the appropriate structural detailing. 

6. Converting an Attic to a Living Space-

Converting an attic to living space-

Converting an attic to a living space is a remodeling project that will require structural engineering. Think about it, that space was NOT originally designed to carry the loads of people or furniture. 

A structural engineer may need to “beef up” the existing structural supports which in turn adds even more load to the house. 

Things to consider before starting your attic remodel: 

beautiful attic remodel
  1. Does my attic meet applicable building codes? If your attic is going to be used as a living space, it must meet the same building codes as other rooms in your home (your architect and engineer will know this). 

For example, most rooms must: 

  • Have at least 7 feet of vertical clearance in the majority of the room, be a minimum of 7 feet wide and have at least 70 square feet of space available.
  • Be accessible by a full-size staircase.
  • Have another exit in case of an emergency, typically an easily accessible window.
  1. Do I need a building permit? If you are making any structural changes, the answer is yes. Talk to your city building department for the proper steps necessary for the attic remodeling project.  
building permit
  1. What is the purpose of my attic remodeling project? Share your purpose for remodeling with your architect and engineer. This will affect how the architect and engineer design your remodel. For instance, if you intend to host dance parties in the attic once it’s remodeled, an engineer NEEDS to know this. They will have to account for the additional loads that come with hosting large parties. Thirty people jumping up and down is a lot more weight than 4 people sitting around a table.

7. Vaulting a Ceiling-

vaulted ceiling

Vaulting a ceiling can dramatically change the look of your home, not to mention increase the value. However, this is not a DIY project. You will definitely need to hire a professional contractor and consult with a structural engineer for a framing plan. 

A few factors affecting the amount of structural engineering required:

  • Framing:

The existing roof framing will have a major impact on the difficulty of the project. It will also affect how much engineering is required. 

Look in the attic and notice whether you have rafters or trusses. If you have trusses, a bit more engineering may be required and virtually the whole roof structure will need to be removed to vault the ceiling. 

This is in contrast to a roof that was framed with lumber rafters. Engineering will still be required but typically the roof can stay in place. 

  • Chimney:

 A chimney can hugely affect the feasibility of your remodeling project. 

If it is located in the wrong spot (i.e. slanting into the area you want to vault), it may not be physically possible to add a vault or the engineering required may not be financially feasible.

8. Adding a Staircase-

adding a staircase

Anytime you are remodeling and want to add a staircase, you should consult with a structural engineer.

This is because adding a staircase will require cutting into existing ceiling joists in order to create an opening for the stair. Those ceiling joists are part of an engineered system that helps to distribute loads down to the foundation.

If these are cut without the proper reinforcement, the consequences could be devastating (shifting, movement or even collapse).

A structural engineer can look at your remodeling plans and add the appropriate structural detailing to ensure your staircase design will work. 

staircase design

Keep in mind, the project will be much easier if the stair runs parallel to the direction of the joists. If the stair runs perpendicular to the joists, you may need to design/install a beam and column system to support joist ends.

9. Remodeling the Master Bedroom-

Your plans and bedroom design will dictate whether or not you need structural engineering for your master bedroom install or remodel. 

Remember, you will always need a structural engineer for a remodeling project if:

  • You are removing walls
  • Installing additional weight 
  • Moving/installing larger windows or doors
  • Making any other structural changes 

Does your master bedroom include any of these? If so, count on consulting with an engineer

10. Adding a Deck-

building a deck

This may surprise you, but more than likely you need a structural engineering inspection to pull a building permit to add a deck to your home.

Why get a building permit? 

There have actually been cases where a city building department has forced homeowners to tear down their unpermitted decks because a) they didn’t have a permit and b) they were not built to code.  

EEEK! Talk about depressing. 

In order to prevent that headache, ensure your deck is built to code and safe, have a structural engineer perform the necessary calculations.

11. Install a Garage- 

A detached or attached garage install will most likely require engineering.

This has a lot to do with the area you live in. For example, garages in the north will need to be engineered heavily for wind and snow loads whereas garages out west must account for seismic forces.

snow on roof
earthquake ruins home

Because of this, most garage plans are not stamped/sealed by an engineer or architect upon purchase. These companies sell plans around the country, so they leave the location specific engineering work off of the plan. 

Even if you work directly with an architect for a custom design, a structural engineer will need to add structural details to the plan in order for a building permit to be obtained. 

Be sure to check your local building departments requirements for pulling a permit. 

12. Adding/Relocating Doors & Windows for a Remodeling Project-

Unless you are removing windows/doors and re-installing the exact same size of window/door, you must hire a structural engineer. 

This often shocks homeowners. However, there is a good reason for this.

When you change the size of a window/door, you must change the size of the header above it. A header is a beam that runs across the top of a framed window or door opening.

framing members
Notice window and door headers in the photo 

 Since the door/window is creating a hole in the wall, a header helps distribute the loads so that every section of the wall is carrying the same amount of weight, with no weakened areas. This is essential to the longevity of the home. 

So you see, windows and door headers are a structural component of the home. If they are to be altered for a remodeling project, a structural engineer will need to perform the proper calculations to determine an appropriate header sizing and any other necessary changes. 

This goes for relocating windows/doors as well. If you plan to cut into a load bearing wall, you better hire a structural engineer. 

13. Adding Dormers-

dormers on roof

Dormers are a fabulous way to add space and character to your home. And yes, they require structural engineering. This is because alterations will be made to your roof framing. It would be a terrible idea to just start cutting trusses or rafters before having a new design from your structural engineer. 

Factors a structural engineer will consider:

  • Roof slope
  • Interior headroom
  • Exterior appearance
  • Structural strength
  • Roof condition 
  • Costs

There are multiple ways you could attack a remodeling project such as this. 

planning a remodeling project

You could go straight to a structural engineer. There are some engineers who function as a one-stop-shop who will create the design and also add the structural detailing. 

However, there are also some engineers who prefer that an architect draw up plans, so they can add structural detailing after. 

We hope we cleared up any questions you had on whether or not your remodeling project requires structural engineering. If you have any further doubts, please feel free to call us at 763-544-3355.

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