3 Ways to Avoid Structural Engineering in a Home Remodel

Structural engineering adds a layer of cost and complexity to home remodel projects that many homeowners may not initially anticipate. Today’s ongoing changes to the building code, the seismic requirements in California, and the popular open plan layout remodel, make it more and more likely that homeowners will need to hire a structural engineer. But, sometimes we can avoid engineering work, which we’ll get into below.

When structural engineering can’t be avoided

As a design build remodeler in Walnut Creek, CA we get clients in our office daily asking to have a wall removed between the kitchen and family room to create an open plan kitchen. We get requests to enlarge windows, move a window to a shear wall or add an addition.

If you are moving walls, windows, or doors, putting in new openings in existing walls, revising roof lines, increasing floor, ceiling, or roof loads, or building an addition, you may be required to have structural engineering for the modifications. Especially in earthquake-prone California with our ever-changing building codes. That’s why we have amazing structural engineering partners at the ready for our projects.

How much structural engineering costs

Typically, the cost of the engineering to remove weight-bearing walls will run $2500 to $5000.  Obviously the more engineering that is required, the higher the cost will be.

When structural engineering can be avoided

Three areas of your home that may need engineering are your windows, shear walls, and roof.

Here are options on how to avoid structural engineering costs and have a simpler remodeling project.

Windows

Depending on your situation, making changes to your windows may or may not require engineering.

How to avoid structural engineering on windows

  • Replace a window without modifying the existing framed opening
  • Put a smaller width window inside an existing window opening
  • Change a window to a door within the width of the existing window opening

Windows that may require engineering

We typically run these decisions by an engineer to determine whether engineering is necessary.

  • Move a window to the left or right of the existing opening or install a new opening

Engineered Shear Walls

Changes to engineered shear walls typically require engineering.

One way to help identify an interior shear wall is they are typically 3/8” to 1/2” thicker than a normal interior wall. Shear walls can be built in a number of ways, but typically these walls are wood-framed walls covered with plywood. They are most often anchored to the foundation with special hold-down hardware.

How to avoid structural engineering on shear walls

  • Do not put a window or other opening in a shear wall.

Shear walls that may require engineering

  • Moving or putting a window or a door in a shear wall typically requires engineering.

We recently remodeled a home in Alamo CA, and moved a shear wall 24″ forward, reducing the size of the large kitchen, but increasing the size of the dining room by 2 feet, allowing for a large dining room table for entertaining. This Eichler kitchen, quite common in the East Bay, had a partial wall removed, opening the space up, but by leaving the post and half a wall, it did not require major engineering and did not need to have a long steel beam installed.

Shear wall that required engineering when opened up

Roofs

How to avoid structural engineering on roofs

  • Replace like with like. If your roof is shake or composite, replace it with shake or composite.

Roofs that may require engineering

  • If you are replacing a shake or composite shingle roof with a tile roof you may need engineering. Tile roofs are typically much heavier than other types of roofing and the existing roof structure may be inadequate. Roof trusses can crack and roof beams and rafters can bow from the increased load of a tile roof.   Additionally, roof trusses cannot be altered (i.e. cut) without affecting their ability to handle a load.  Modifications to a roof truss require structural engineering.

Is Engineering Worth It?

While there is a cost involved in removing a weight-bearing wall, we often find that the investment is well worth it for the client. We have seen homes where small, odd-shaped kitchens and closed off living rooms and family rooms turned into large, bright spacious family-friendly living spaces!

Check out this home, which had a tiny L shaped kitchen and dark rooms – now a bright, award-winning open plan kitchen! In fact, many of our kitchen remodels have a similar story!

Don’t just dream of how different your home could be with panorama doors or without that big, ugly fireplace wall blocking the light. There may be a solution.

structural engineering was needed for this kitchen remodel to remove a wall

When You Can't Avoid Engineering

Your design build firm or contractor will typically have one or two engineers that they work with should you need a recommendation. Working with a team of builders and engineers that have worked together on many projects can often make the process smoother.

2 Responses to “3 Ways to Avoid Structural Engineering in a Home Remodel”

  1. Bernard Rizzo

    I came across this article on my LinkedIn feed. It made for interesting reading.

    This was a fantastic article and spelled out the requirements for making structural changes in an easy to understand manner. It was clear and concise and showed that, even with structural engineering, almost anything can be achieved. However, it also clearly identified ways to avoid the extra work. I appreciate the options.

    Well written. Thank you.

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