How to Choose an Engineer for Your Home

So, this is a super boring but necessary post to keep you all up to date on my house that I’m building. If you are following along or if you are planning to build your own house, then this might be very helpful to you. Otherwise, it’s pretty boring and I won’t blame you if you skip it!

How to choose the right engineer for your house build. Choosing an engineer for building your home. Picking the best engineer to build your home.

Not to scare you, but I will start this post by saying this was the most stressful part of my project to date, and it was not fun. I had more fun and less stress spending two years salary in one day on my land than I did trying to get our engineering complete. I also had some setbacks and issues that you may not have. But, be in the right mindset for this portion of your project. You need to have your architectural plans complete before you can get an engineering quote. This is also an out of pocket expense, so you’ll be paying for this in cash. What do you need to get an engineering quote? You need a set of drawn plans from your architect and your land survey.

I researched a lot of engineers before choosing one. Mammoth has only one engineer and she was backed up about six or so months, so again that would have delayed our project if we didn’t go outside of town. So, I started looking for engineers in the Lake Tahoe/Reno area. I knew that this would be a next natural step as they deal with a lot of the same weather issues and snow that we do here in Mammoth. So, it seemed logical to me that they would be familiar with our area. I was right about that. And that area has a plethora of engineers, and I talked to many of them. My builder, Tim, even recommended one he likes and I emailed him first.

I was totally planning on just going with the firm that Tim recommended. But, when it took the recommended engineer quite a while to get back to me with a quote, I started to worry. If he was taking this long with a quote, would he be lagging on the rest of the project? So, that’s when I decided to email a few more and check the responsiveness. I also thought it would be a good idea to compare quotes. One of the local architects we met with originally (who was too busy to help with our project in our timeframe), had mentioned a ball park number that we’d be spending on engineering. So, that was the number I had in my head.

I started to get back some quotes from people and I also learned a little bit about them all. There was one firm that stood out to me because of responsiveness. He was the absolute most responsive person I had talked to. And, quotes were all over the board spanning a $5,000 difference between firms, which is a pretty good amount of money to me. But, this is not something you want to try to save a few dollars on – this is a very important part of your project. And, also one that can save you money in the long run or cost you more, depending on how it’s engineered. So it’s important to go with someone you trust, like, and can work with.

When the quote from the recommended engineer finally came back, there was also a clause in his contract that said after thirty days he had the right to re-evaluate the project and charge more if need be. I understand that sometimes you quote something and it’s not exactly accurate, but as a business that happens. This only told me that an open ended number figure could be given at the end, without me knowing what it was. And I did not like that. Sometimes cakes cost us more than we anticipate because of outside factors, like our delivery didn’t bring powdered sugar that week, so then we have to run to the store and buy powdered sugar at a higher price. That changes our margins, and also our labor and cost become more expensive. Yet, I don’t upcharge people for that cake if that happens. So, I couldn’t get on board with a fluctuating price. That, combined with the delays it took in this guy getting back to me is what made me want to choose someone else even though he was recommended by my builder.

So, I ended up going with the person I felt most comfortable with. We used FNW Engineers out of Lake Tahoe. Steve was very responsive and talked with us on the phone a few times before we signed with him. It seemed like he had a smaller firm that had been doing this a long time, and I liked that and it made me feel better about everything because engineering is something I don’t know anything about.

What does the engineer even do? That is a great question as you’re probably wondering why you pay them so much. The engineer will take your architect’s drawings and turn them into structural drawings that will meet local codes. And also turn them into plans that your builder can follow to build your house. It’s the technical part, which is also probably why it was no fun for me. I am more creative and I had hard time wrapping my head around stair heights, beams, roof trusses, and things I couldn’t really see in my head. But, it’s an essential part to getting your house built properly – and so it won’t fall down, haha.

I tried answering all the questions that Steve had for us as quickly and accurately as possible, but this is where we ran into problems. Because our architect stopped being responsive, especially to to Steve. So, Steve kept asking us the questions as our architect wasn’t responding to him. And, turns out we didn’t know all the answers to them. Then, he asked our builder who seemed to get annoyed that he was being bothered with something that was definitely not his job, and rightfully so. I would be unhappy with a customer if they kept asking me what kind of cookie jar to buy for their cookies – um, whatever kind you want! So, we had a little bit of a rough patch for a minute.

Delaney and I just had to take it into our own hands and figure it out. This was before we had gotten our new architect and so we were completely alone and trying to get the engineering complete. One of the main questions was roof trusses – there were four options and we had no idea what the differences were. So, we played detective and we called the roof truss guy (because his info was on the options that Steve sent over) and we asked him a ton of questions. Then, we made the best decision we could based off the knowledge we had. If we had an architect at that time, it probably would have gone a lot more smoothly. During this time we were up in the air if Stephanie was going to actually help us finish or not, and we were trying to answer Steve’s questions so he could keep working and not put our project aside. It was very stressful to say the least. Especially because most all of the questions were things we didn’t know about or didn’t really understand. If I never hear the word “cantilevered” again, I’ll be okay

When we finally realized we needed a new architect, I actually told Steve about it. And I asked him if he had any recommendations. I had already realized that it’s super important for your architect and your engineer to get along because it will only make your project go more smoothly. They need each other, (and you need both of them) so if they already know each other or work with each other then I think that is a huge plus. I’m sure maybe there are firms in larger areas that have both architects and engineers – because that seems like a smart idea to me! Steve was more than happy to help and was even remorseful for our situation. He introduced us to Eric who became our new architect and he is the one who came in and saved the day. He had to redraw all of our plans, and he was very familiar with what was needed for architectural plan sheets that we needed to submit to the town for permits. So, that was great and we finally felt like we could relax a little bit. Eric and Steve finished up our plans (both architectural and engineering) and they shipped us stamped copies for the town. Once you have your engineering done, you are ready to submit your plans to the town for approval! Stay tuned for my next post on submitting plans.

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Make sure to check out my post My Farmhouse Kitchen in the Mountains, which I’m sure you’ll love too! And, share it with someone who you think may also like it!

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