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FAQ & FYI

Frequently Asked Questions and For Your Information... 

► WHO IS A STRUCTURAL ENGINEER?

Structural engineering is the science and art of designing and making, with economy and elegance, buildings, bridges, frameworks and other similar structures. Structural Engineer is a person engaged in the professional practice of consultation, investigation, evaluation, planning or design of structures to safely resist vertical and horizontal loads which include gravity, earth pressure, wind and seismic forces.  In California, Structural Engineers are state registered professionals qualified to perform civil and structural engineering based on their advanced education, training, technical knowledge and experience and are licensed through examination by the state to use the title "Structural Engineer".

 
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A CIVIL ENGINEER VS A STRUCTURAL ENGINEER?
Most of the Universities give their degrees in Civil Engineering with a concentration in Structural Engineering.  In California, Civil Engineers may practice structural engineering except in those areas specifically restricted. Only a Structural Engineer may design hospitals and schools as well as high rise structures regulated by local jurisdiction. In general, a Structural Engineer has a better understanding of structural engineering principles.
 
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN ARCHITECT VS A STRUCTURAL ENGINEER?
The Architect or designer designs what a building will look like, they define the building's style and function. The Structural Engineer designs the building's structure (skeleton) so that it will not collapse during normal everyday use due to imposed gravity loads.  The Structural Engineer's design also attempts to prevent the building occupant's from loss of life during an earthquake or wind storm where damage is expected to occur to the building from such an event.

WHAT IS VALUE ENGINEERING?
Value Engineering can be defined as an organized approach to the identification and elimination of unnecessary cost. Unnecessary cost is Cost which provides neither use, nor life, nor quality, nor appearance, nor customer features. The Structural Engineer is in a position to design the project to meet the code requirements with practical application but not to “over engineer” that drives up the construction costs. 
 
WHAT IS STRUCTURAL OBSERVATION?
Structural observation is the visual observation at construction site of the structural system, for general conformance to the approved plans and specifications, at significant construction stages and at completion of the structural system. The structural system includes the lateral and/or gravity load paths (bearing and shear walls). Structural Observation is required by the building code and when designated by the Structural Engineer or the Building Official.
 
WHAT ARE BEARING AND SHEAR WALLS?
Bearing walls are structural elements that support gravity loads such as material loads (dead), occupant loads (live), and snow loads. Bearing walls are critical to make sure that the structure does not fall down from the sky. Shear walls are structural elements that support lateral loads such as seismic loads and wind loads. Shear walls are critical to make sure that the structure does not collapse from ground shaking movement.

HOW OFTEN DOES THE BUILDING CODE CHANGE?
The California Building Codes is generally updated every 3 years to in order to improve the quality of construction. Not all code editions bring significant changes, but over the years many structural improvements have occurred especially in regards to seismic regulations. Each major seismic event brings new lessons and findings that eventually make it into the building codes. Thus, an adequate structured built by earlier editions of the code may not be considered adequate by the current code. When alteration occurs to an existing buildings, the Structural Engineer needs to determine whether the alteration merits a localized repair or overall building code compliance.
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