The word Engineer has a number of definitions. In the construction industry it refers to
someone that has shown competence in the particular discipline and been granted a license from the governing authority. In California it is done by the Department of Consumer Affairs. There are a number of professions regulated by the state and once approved the licensee is granted a number that is registered with the department. It is reapplied for every 2 years (at least for engineers). My number is C83929 and anyone can look me up on their site.
Also on this site is the means to fie a complaint against the licensee, find his mailing address and current status or standing within the organization.
Ethics and integrity are a vital part of the profession as poor quality work can lead to life safety issues for the public.
There are a number of sub disciplines with the field of Civil Engineering. Most common is the title Structural Engineer. To attain this grade, one must pass even more rigorous exams and have experience it more complicated structures. As a Civil Engineer I am qualified to design buildings up to 7 stories where Structural Engineers, once trained, can design high rise buildings. There license numbers will start with "S" where Civil engineer numbers start with "C". The word "engineer" is trade marked and can only be used by a licensed engineer. There are other disciplines under Civil Engineering such as Geologist, Traffic, Environmental Engineers.
Most construction plans, even smaller structural changes to a house, require design and calculations from an engineer as proof that there is no danger to the public of the building failing in an earthquake for example. This is enforced by the local building authority either the City or County if in an unincorporated area. The agency can not design but only see that the design is safe and that it is built per plan. Current building codes and basic engineering principles that are regularly reviewed and updated are applied by the engineer to create the plans.
I do my best to live up to the tradition and integrity of the profession and hope to apply my experience to service you in the future.
Remodeling in Los Angeles is seeing a very active period and it is not stopping any time soon. Interest rates are low and property values are rising steadily. House flipping is very popular and I have seen run down and neglected houses, less then 1000 sf, sell for $400,000 in the hopes of fixing it up and selling at a quick profit. Rents are also on the rise with building owners fixing up the unit and increasing rents as soon as someone moves out.
All this means that licensed contractors, engineers, designers are busy. That said, it is no excuse for them to take on more work then they can respond to quickly and do well. Most contractors are not good at organizing their businesses which leads to delays in production, calls not returned, and mistakes made as they fly by the seat of their pants. The good ones will follow up and still provide quality service as a good review from you is valuable. They will answer your calls and always try to do the right thing. Keep in mind that remodeling is a different animal. One never knows what is in the walls until work starts so be prepared for surprises. This is not the contractors' fault. I recently spoke a home owner that asked why screw head were visible in the ceiling after the house was re-roofed. We concluded that the motion and vibrations on the roof carried to the dry wall and shook some dry wall compound loose. The original builder had a bad reputation and as this problem usually does not happen, the roofing contractor really is not to blame.
Image from the 1994 Northridge Earthquake
Earthquakes are an important part of any new construction or remodel in Southern California. The City of Los Angeles take every opportunity to make any building safer and the newly created program is a good example of this. Aproximately 13500 apartment buildings have been determined to a "soft story" condition. This means that the first floor is not strong enough to withstand the lateral forces created by a medium or large earthquake. This is often the case when a row of car parking spaces are lined up under a 2 or 3 story building. The effects could be catastrophic.
The handling is to create a system of reinforcement that can withstand the violent shaking during an event. This is commonly done in 3 ways. The simplest is when there is a wall that is in line with the outer wall in question that can be made stronger. The next is to place a strong steel frame in around the one of the parking spaces in question. This is called a Moment Frame because a technical term for the way the corners are designed. The frame is so strong that it will not bend during an earthquake. The last and often most practical is created by placing strong steel posts in a strong concrete footing. These will go up between the parking spaces and attach to the building above. These too are so strong that an earthquake will not move them from side to side very much.
The City of LA has set up a special unit within the Building Department just for issuing these permits and has set up special guidelines to make the retrofit as smooth as possible. It is also possible that a building is on the notification list and needs no actual work done, just an engineering verification that is meets the standards. These are rare but could occur.
There is a 3D modeling program published by FEMA that can be employed in this case. Though it will require much more engineering to create this 3D model, it may show that the building does not in fact require a retrofit at all.
All of these require an engineer to design the most applicable solution to the building and follow through with approvals by the city. Concurrent with the engineering plan check, is the approval by the Department of Housing. They want to make sure the tenants are well taken care of and rent increases are per the established guidelines. These are usually handled directly by the building owner or management company.
It is most common that new home owners or expanding families wish to enhance their home and make it more functional. Many older homes where designed with out-dated floor plans and around the baby boomer ideals or early 2oth century workers’ housing goals. Now that they have endured the rigors of weather, age and changing social needs these humbles domiciles are being re-caste into mini-mansions and luxury abodes following the styles of the rich and famous. Certainly the steady flow of home and garden network shows muse the creative spirit of many a proud home owner. It is not hard to imagine the improve efficiency and quality of life one can obtain by pushing out a wall or adding a master bed and bath to the back. In some cases professional architects are employed to do the designing for them or a one finds a designer with such skills. Though architects are licensed to handle the structural aspects of the changes, designers and building contractors are not. This is where building permits come in.
Building permits are issued by the local governing authority, be it the city or in the case of an unincorporated area, the county. One finds the “Department of Building and Safety” whose job is to protect its citizens from dangerous construction. One does not have to look to the distant past to find head lines of tragic injuries and death caused by poor design or construction of buildings. The department does 2 things for you, check the plans against current building codes and insure the construction is inspected before being covered up.
When getting or “pulling” a permit, which his usually done by the contractor, the city will check that the he has a valid contractor’s license and workman’s compensation insurance. The latter is important. It protects the homeowner from being sued if a workman is injured while working on your property. It is not cheap for the contractor but better in the long run as the work can be dangerous.
The permit can also be pulled by the homeowner and hire a contractor without insurance. The obvious difference is that now the homeowner is responsible for the workers and one should check his insurance policy before going this route. To check to see if you contractor has his insurance and is current one can check the Consumers Affairs at;
Now if you are changing the structure you will most likely need engineered plans. This is to ensure the changes or additions will not fall on the occupants or cause them to fall and be injured. Though it is possible to do some construction without an engineer (or architects experienced in structural) most will require calculations and details by an engineer showing the structure is strong enough for many years and will not fail in an earthquake. There do exist a set of rules that map out the procedure for a home owner to build without an engineer called the “Prescriptive Plans”. These are in a document that pretty clearly tells you how to build a small house without an engineer for the do-it-your- selfer.
I have found that it is hard to stick to these guide lines and often need an engineer to stamp the plans before the city will accept them. This is where I come it. I can make sure the plans pass the plan check approval step and are ready for the contractor to pull the permit. Often times I can work out a cost effective design saving money in the construction phase. The plans can be passed out to a number of contractors for bidding. Some people will speak to the contractor first and the engineer, often working for the contractor which limits your advantage of price comparison. I have 20 years experience in construction and work well with contractors to minimize the effort of building process itself without compromising the structural integrity of the buildings.