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Why you need an Engineer

When submitting plans to a local Municipality for approval to build a new house, undertake a major renovation or construct a commercial building – then more than likely you are required to have an Engineer involved in the project, in line with the National Building Regulations (SANS 10400).

Following on from our article on 'Submit plans for approval' we look at why you need an Engineer for certain projects. What exactly does an Engineer sign off, and why is this required by legislation? What does an Engineer do for your project that an architect doesn’t?

SERVICES OF AN ENGINEER IN THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT

Structural Design Options: Your Engineer can assist you in determining the correct option or choice of options in an appropriate structural system for your project – precast concrete slab versus in situ concrete slab, steel beam versus pre-stressed lintel, raft foundation versus strip footings. Your Engineer provides you with advice on the best combination of performance, constructability and cost.

Specifications and Engineering Drawings: Your Engineer will provide specifications for all construction materials to be used in the project – such as the correct type and size of the steel beams, the correct amount of reinforcing steel, an appropriate strength of structural concrete and the best grading and density for earthworks. Your Engineer will provide drawings and details for the execution of the works.

Site Visits and Inspections: Your Engineer will conduct regular site visits and inspections as construction progresses – providing advice and approval to the Contractor to ensure that you get the best outcome.

Engineer’s Completion Certificate for Council Occupation Approval: Once a project is completed, then your Engineer will carry out a final inspection and issue a Completion Certificate (Form 4) which Council will require to provide Occupation Approval.

WHY DO I NEED AN ARCHITECT AND AN ENGINEER?

The Architect: The architect is responsible for the concept, position, layout, etc. of a building, the specification of finishes, the submission and approval of architectural plans, ensuring compliance with planning requirements and National Building Regulations, and similar activities. The Architect works very closely with the Engineer on the technical details of the project.

The Engineer: As has been described above, the engineer is responsible for the design of any engineering aspects of the project that require rational assessment or design. The engineer should inspect the work for which he assumes responsibility and certify that the design has been correctly implemented.

Unless specifically requested to do so, the engineer does not supervise the contractor or take responsibility for the contractor's workmanship.

WHAT ELEMENTS SHOULD ONLY AN ENGINEER DESIGN?

Roof Trusses – Suspended Concrete Slabs – Steel Beams – Lintels – Foundations – Soil Conditions – Subsoil Drainage – Retaining Walls – Storm water Management – Traffic Impact Statements - Earthworks

NATIONAL BUILDING REGULATIONS

The National Building Regulations (SANS 10400) set out requirements for all buildings. SANS 10400 provides details on the application of the National Building Regulations. In particular, SANS 10400 sets out measures that are deemed to satisfy the requirements of the Act. Regulation A19 of the National Building Regulations requires the owner of a building to appoint a competent person (registered professional) to accept responsibility for the design, inspection and certification of the work if (a) a rational design or (b) a geotechnical investigation is required.

The obligations with regard to supervision or inspection of the work extend only to ensuring that the design assumptions are valid, that the design is being correctly interpreted and that the execution of the work fulfills the design intent. In terms of these appointments, the competent person is not responsible for the day-to-day supervision of the contractor's activities nor for the quality of the contractor's work except where such workmanship could endanger the integrity of the structure or adjoining development.

PROFESSIONAL INDEMNITY INSURANCE

The limitation of liability is set in many standard forms of agreement at twice the professional fees paid or a manually agreed amount. If professional Indemnity cover is included as a condition of contract, the limit of indemnity (insured amount) should be specified. It is standard to include a limit of liability (maximum amount payable by either party to the other) and a limit on the duration of the liability (typically three years after completion).

HOW TO ENSURE QUALITY ENGINEERING?

There are a few simple ways to ensure that you receive the right advice and service. Firstly, make sure the engineer is registered with ECSA – the organization entrusted with curating the Engineering profession. This can be determined by visiting www.ecsa.co.za and entering the registration number of your engineer.

Request references from previous clients, and check off the three dimensions of Quality, Cost and Timeliness. Good references should give you comfort in these three aspects of Consulting Engineering services. Use standard forms of agreement and put all agreements in writing from the start. Your engineer should keep careful track of all costs and inputs
into your project, and be able to provide you with a detailed breakdown of costs at all times.

If you are dissatisfied with the services rendered by a registered engineering professional, there are two main avenues of recourse:

• Lodging a complaint with the Engineering Council of South Africa if you feel there has been a breach of trust or an infringement of the Engineering Professional Code of Conduct;

• Pursuing the remedies laid down in the contract between the parties (if any), including legal action against the engineer.

A client may terminate the services of an engineer and appoint another, or may request a second engineer to review the work of the first, provided the correct procedures are followed. Clients should be aware that according to ECSA’s rules of conduct for registered persons, one registered person is not permitted to knowingly attempt to supplant another on a particular project.

WHAT IS THE COST OF GOING CHEAP?

The cost of engineering design services only constitutes a small element of the total life-cycle costs of the facility being designed, and the client needs to be aware that professional fees that are too low can lead to substandard professional advice or rushed work. This could significantly increase the costs of construction, and long-term operations and maintenance costs. This increased life-cycle cost is likely to overshadow any short-term savings made in the cost of the professional services.

An engineering firm that is charging less than standard rates for your project are most likely using junior staff to do the majority (or all) of the work on your project. Is the professional engineer only present on your project to sign the final drawings or attend client meetings? Are you truly getting the skills, expertise and experience that you are paying for?

In order to ensure that you have access to the best combination of Quality, Cost and Timeliness for Engineering Services - please feel free to contact Justin Coetzee Consulting for a comparative quote on your next construction project.

 

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