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Find an Engineer for projects of any size to develop residential, commercial or industrial solutions. Whether you are planning a renovation or preparing for a new construction, or searching for civil, structural or environmental solutions, the ideal Engineer for any location across Australia can be found here. All your questions about choosing, hiring and working with Engineers and the complete building and design process are answered below. +
Published by Martyn Sanjay
- What does an engineer do?
- I am building, renovating or extending a house. Do I need to hire an engineer?
- What factors may make it necessary to consult an engineer on building work?
- I am not building or renovating. Why else might I need an engineer?
- What kind of engineer do I need?
- At what stage in the process should I consider hiring an engineer?
- How are engineers' fees calculated?
- How are engineers accredited in Australia?
- What is the relevant legislation covering engineering?
- Which bodies oversee engineers?
Finding and hiring an engineer
- Where can I find a list of engineers?
- Who can tell me which engineer to chose?
- How do I narrow down a shortlist of engineers?
- Should I investigate more than one firm?
- How many firms should I consider in depth?
- How can I learn more about a particular engineer?
- How can I check if my engineer is registered or accredited?
- What sort of qualifications should I expect an engineer to hold?
- What should I ask the engineer at a preliminary interview?
- What should I ask when following up references or testimonials?
- Do I need to sign a contract?
- What should the contract include?
- Do I need to take out insurance?
Finding and hiring an engineer through an architect
- How is an architect different to an engineer?
- I am designing a house and have employed an architect. Do I need to employ an engineer as well?
- Who is responsible for finding and hiring an engineer?
- How will my architect choose an enginer?
- What factors will be taken into account when an architect selects an engineer?
- Who signs the contract with the engineer?
- How will the engineer and architect work together?
Engineers and the building process
- What needs to be done before the engineer begins drawing or evaluating plans?
- What laws and regulations might influence the engineer's work?
- What can I expect an engineer to produce?
- What kinds of working plans will my engineer produce?
- What if I don't like the engineer's plans?
- Will the engineer be involved in construction?
- What factors might cause my project to run over budget?
Defects, disputes and redress
- How can I protect myself against scams and unethical practices?
- Is my engineer responsible for problems with my house?
- How can I settle a dispute with my engineer?
What does an engineer do?
An engineer applies scientific and mathematical principles to specific practical and technical problems. The kinds of engineers involved in construction and building design usually deal with structural, electrical and mechanical problems. This may include anything from ensuring the stability of your house and its foundations, to designing air conditioning and heating systems, to co-ordinating the electrical design of a building.
I am building, renovating or extending a house. Do I need to hire an engineer?
Engineers perform a range of roles. In some jurisdictions, you may be required to provide engineer's plans for new buildings and any other building work that involves major structural changes. In other jurisdictions, you will be required to provide engineer's plans if the council or state approving your building application believes there is likely to be a structural difficulty with your building.
What factors may make it necessary to consult an engineer on building work?
There are a number of reasons why you might choose to hire an engineer, or why an engineer may be required by your local planning authority:
- Some building materials are more likely to require an engineer's approval than others. In particular, planning authorities often require you to consult an engineer if you are building with concrete, steel or masonry.
- The site may influence whether you need to hire an engineer. Generally, they are required for any site that may threaten the stability of a building. If there is a high amount of wind, if the ground is unstable, if it is subjected to tides or large amounts of ground water or if your area is subject to earthquakes, then you are likely to need an engineer.
- Under the Building Code of Australia, there are two ways to meet the outcomes specified in the code. One is to use traditional, proven ways of meeting them (also known as the "deemed-to-satisfy" criteria). If you do not want to use these methods, an engineer can help you to prove that you are still achieving the required outcomes. This may be a necessary step in obtaining building approval.
- If you are planning on making structural changes to your house, you should consult an engineer to check that it's safe.
- If your building includes complex electrical or mechanical systems, you may need the assistance of an electrical or mechanical engineer.
I am not building or renovating. Why else might I need an engineer?
You may need to hire an engineer for any of the following reasons:
- If your house has been damaged by a natural disaster such as a flood or earthquake, or if its structural integrity has been compromised for any other reason, a civil or structural engineer can verify whether the building is safe to live in and, if it isn't, can help to devise ways of fixing it.
- If you are considering purchasing a house or if you want to renovate, a civil engineer can verify the structural integrity of your building before you go ahead. An electric or mechanical engineer can also check that the electrical or mechanical systems are safe, and functioning as they should.
What kind of engineer do I need?
There are over two hundred recognised engineering specialisations but only a few of these work in the building and construction industry. Each specialisation requires its own unique knowledge and skills, so it is important to check that the engineer you employ is actually qualified to do the work you need. Engineers that you may need to consult when building or renovating a house include:
- Civil engineers design and supervise the construction of a range of structures, including buildings. They are the most common kind of engineer in building work. You may need them to inspect the site before construction begins or to check the structural stability of plans or pre-existing parts of the building.
- Structural engineers are specialist civil engineers who design the framework of buildings.
- Another important civil engineering specialisation is geotechnical engineering, which deals with soil and foundations. If you have problems with your foundations, with seepage or with the soil or ground on which your building is constructed (or will be constructed), a geotechnical engineer can provide specialist advice on these matters.
- If you need to organise a sophisticated electrical system for a building, you may need an electrical engineer. You will probably not need an electrical engineer for domestic or standard office electrical supply.
- If you are designing a commercial building or other large-scale project, you may also need a mechanical engineer to design mechanical systems, such as heating, ventilation, elevators, air conditioning and plumbing.
At what stage in the process should I consider hiring an engineer?
A civil engineer should be consulted very early in the process, to determine site conditions and any problems that you are likely to encounter, as well as potential ways of dealing with these problems. If you leave it too late, it may make earlier plans redundant, costing you unnecessary time and money.
Most other engineers will need to see preliminary plans before they can begin work. These engineers will therefore usually be briefed once the architect or draftsman has set out a basic outline for the house (such as the plans required for initial government approval, or the Development Application).
In all cases, you will need to ensure that the engineer's plans and recommendations are considered and finalised before construction begins. If the plans are required to get building approval, they will need to be submitted in their final form with the application.
How are engineers' fees calculated?
As with most building practitioners, engineers may calculate their fees in a range of ways. They may charge a fixed fee, a percentage of the total cost of the project, an hourly rate or cost plus. Cost plus means that the engineer will charge an additional fixed fee or percentage in addition to their expenses.
How are engineers accredited in Australia?
Accreditation varies from state to state. In New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT, registration is not required. Engineers working in the building industry in Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland may need to be registered to do some kinds of work. Accreditation is the responsibility of the Building Commission in Victoria, the Board of Professional Engineers in Queensland and the Director of Building Control in Tasmania.
In addition to these compulsory registration procedures, engineers throughout Australia may attain Chartered Status through Engineers Australia. To qualify for Chartered Status, an engineer must prove their competency as an engineer. This is evaluated based on education, work experience and an interview.
Engineers Australia is also responsible for assessing engineering qualifications in Australia. Accredited engineering degrees at all Australian universities are assessed to a minimum standard by the organisation, and all international degrees are assessed to ensure that they are comparable to an Australian degree before they are recognised. Therefore, any recognised engineering degree in Australia guarantees that the engineer has a minimum standard of training.
What is the relevant legislation covering engineering?
Engineers operate according to a range of laws. As with most people involved in the design and planning of buildings, engineers must comply with the Building Code of Australia and any other local or state government regulations. In addition, some states have laws that specifically govern the practice of engineers. These include the Professional Engineers Act 2002 in Queensland, the Building Act 2000 in Tasmania and the Building Act 1993 in Victoria. These laws set out the procedures for an engineer to become registered and the standards that they must meet in order to work in each state.
Which bodies oversee engineers?
The peak body (main representative body) for engineers in Australia is Engineers Australia.
The Office of Fair Trading in each state is the consumer watchdog responsible for most disputes involving engineers. In Victoria, the Building Commission, which is responsible for regulating the building industry, deals with disputes involving registered engineers.
Where can I find a list of engineers?
Specifier.com.au provides a database of engineers.
Who can tell me which engineer to choose?
- Ask people you know who have employed an engineer in the past about their experiences and whether they would use the same engineer again.
- Ask an architect. Architects often work closely with engineers in designing buildings. They may be able to recommend an engineer who produces sound work for a reasonable price.
- The National Professional Engineers Register provides a list of fully qualified engineers who have demonstrated their competence through professional experience. It can provide a useful way of verifying an engineer's credentials and experience.
How do I narrow down a shortlist of engineers?
Narrow a list of possibles with a few phone calls. Ask some easy preliminary questions: if they're available, or if they're interested in a project of that size. Have some idea of what it is you want, and try to sum it up in a couple of sentences.
Should I investigate more than one firm?
Yes, unless you have had a previous association with an engineer that worked well. Don't feel embarrassed about checking a number of options. It's expected.
How many firms should I consider in depth?
It's generally recommended to look at three to five in depth.
How can I learn more about a particular engineer?
Before hiring an engineer, you should check their credentials. Engineering requires a high degree of technical knowledge, so you should always ask to see their qualifications and, if in doubt, check with Engineers Australia that their degree is recognised in Australia.You should also ask your engineer for references from past clients. Try to get a combination of recent and older references, as some engineering flaws will only become apparent in the medium to long-term. An older reference will allow you to assess how durable the engineer's work is. When asking for references, remember that engineers may be employed by a wide range of clients, including governments and large corporations as well as private individuals and small businesses. Ask to speak to a client whose work (and budget) was similar to the project that you are planning to undertake.
How can I check if my engineer is registered or accredited?
Engineers Australia will be able to tell you whether the degree held by the engineer is accredited in Australia. Chartered Professional Engineers - who are required to have more experience, undergo continuing professional development and provide evidence of appropriate insurance - may be registered on the National Professional Engineers Register and may use the acronym CPEng with the appropriate date range (such as 2006-07) after the acronym. You should always check that the date range is current.
What sort of qualifications should I expect an engineer to hold?
An engineer should hold a minimum of a four-year Bachelor's degree in their field of engineering (if you are hiring a civil engineer, for instance, don't accept a degree in mechanical engineering). This degree should be accredited by Engineer's Australia.
What should I ask the engineer at a preliminary interview?
At a preliminary interview, you should explain why you are seeking the services of an engineer and ask how they will approach your job. In particular, you want to know what solutions they might typically use for problems of this kind, how their fees are calculated and whether they have experience with this sort of work. Ask the engineer to be as detailed as possible, but remember that they may not be able to give you firm answers without first inspecting the site.
What should I ask when following up references or testimonials?
When following up a reference, you want to establish whether the engineer can provide reliable, cost-effective solutions that will meet your needs. Ask past clients whether initial estimates of cost proved to be accurate, whether the project came in on time and on budget and whether the work has lasted well. Ask if they encountered any unexpected problems during construction or later in the life of the building.
Do I need to sign a contract?
Yes. A contract is an important way to avert conflicts over fees or the scope of the work, and to ensure that everyone involved understands the nature and cost of the project. Contracts also ensure that you have a firm legal ground to stand upon should anything go wrong.
What should the contract include?
The contract should include:
- A description of the nature of the project
- The overall budget of the project
- How the engineer's fee will be calculated and what it is likely to be
- How and when fees are to be paid
- What services the engineer is expected to provide for this fee and what drawings or other documentation will be produced by the end of the contract
- Any additional services that may add to engineering costs, and how much the engineer will charge for these
- A time frame for completion
- How any disputes can be resolved.
At this stage, you should also discuss any other specific requirements that you have and consider contingency plans in the event that the project runs over budget. Ensure that you are clear on all the details of the agreement (and have them in writing) before any contracts are signed and before work begins or money exchanges hands. If you are in doubt or if the project is particularly expensive, you should always seek legal advice to ensure the contract is sound.
Do I need to take out insurance?
You engineer should have professional indemnity insurance to cover any cases of error or negligence on their part. If you are unsure whether your engineer has this insurance, you should check with them and verify this before proceeding.
If you are undertaking any building work, your builder will also be required to have some form of home warranty insurance (also called builder's insurance or home indemnity insurance). However, unless you live in Queensland, you should be aware that this insurance will probably pay out only if the builder dies, disappears or becomes insolvent - not if they fail to complete the job or if they produce substandard (or even dangerous) work.
How is an architect different to an engineer?
To generalise, an architect is interested in the building as an aesthetic and inhabited space as well as a structure. Architects are trained as designers and have a more comprehensive role that allows them to coordinate a range of contractors and consultants. An engineer, on the other hand, is typically more concerned with practical considerations than aesthetics. Engineers have specialist and technical knowledge that allows them to ensure the structural integrity and proper functioning of the building and its internal systems.
That it not to say, of course, that engineers can only perform in a practical capacity, or that architects have no structural expertise. Some practitioners are knowledgeable or technically qualified in both fields.
I am designing a house and have employed an architect. Do I need to employ an engineer as well?
If you have employed an architect, you may still need to have an engineer involved in the process. This will depend on the complexity of the design and any relevant building approval requirements, all of which your architect should be able to advise you on.
Who is responsible for finding and hiring the engineer?
This is something that you will need to organise with your architect. In many cases, the architect will find and hire the engineer on your behalf. Because the architect and engineer will need to work closely together in designing the building and because architects are more familiar with the quality and reputation of local engineers, it often makes sense for the architect to be responsible for this part of the process. Be aware that the architect will usually charge for this service.
How will my architect choose an engineer?
The architect may choose an engineer by inviting bids from a range of engineering companies or by simply employing someone who they have worked with and liked in the past. You can ask your architect how this choice will be made and, if you wish, express your preference for one method over the other.
What factors will be taken into account when an architect selects an engineer?
Regardless of the method by which they are chosen, an architect should always look for some key characteristics in a good engineer. They want someone whose work is cost-effective, of high quality, and compatible with their own. Architects and engineers must be able to work effectively together to achieve the desired outcomes. Remember that although price should always be a factor in the selection process, the cheapest engineer is often not the best engineer. Employing a qualified, reliable and high-quality expert can save you money through reduced construction and maintenance costs.
Who signs the contract with the engineer?
This will depend upon the arrangements you have made with your architect. You may choose to sign the contract with the engineer yourself, you may choose to have the architect sign the contract, or you may ask the architect to sign the contract as your agent. If the engineer is negligent or fails to meet the terms of their contract, who signed this contract may become important - if the architect enters into an agreement with the engineer, they may be responsible if the engineer fails to deliver.
How will the engineer and architect work together?
This will depend upon why you have hired the engineer and what work they are doing. A civil engineer who inspects the site initially will advise the architect on problems with the site that will need to be taken into account. They may consult with the architect on possible solutions to these problems.
Structural, mechanical or electrical engineers will be hired later in the process and will use the architect's plans as the basis of their designs. If necessary, they may consult with the architect and, in some cases, ask the architect to modify their initial plans to take account of technical or construction difficulties.
In all cases, engineers and architects have important and complementary roles in the design process. It is important that they have a good relationship and are able to work together effectively to reach a compromise between preliminary plans and engineering needs.
What needs to be done before the engineer begins drawing or evaluating plans?
The engineer will need to inspect the site to determine external factors that might influence the building. For a civil or structural engineer, this may include wind, snowfall, seismic activity, soil quality, and so on. Engineers may also need to gather information about how the building will be used, particularly any unusual or excessive stress that will be placed on the structure of the building, and will need to inspect any preliminary plans or pre-existing structures carefully.
What laws and regulations might influence the engineer's work?
An important part of the engineer's job is ensuring that the building complies with the Building Code of Australia and other relevant local, state and federal government legislation. The engineer's primary function is to ensure that the structure is safe and that it complies with all major structural and safety codes. They may also be required to consider disabled access, heritage concerns and environmental issues.
What can I expect an engineer to produce?
If you are building a house or other structure, you can usually expect the engineer to produce a set of working plans, as well as specifications that contractors and subcontractors can use for construction. Working plans provide detailed instructions for builders and subcontractors to follow when construction begins. The nature of these plans will depend on the type of engineer that you have hired and the work that you have instructed them to do.
What kinds of working plans will my engineer produce?
The four main kinds of plans that an engineer will produce are:
- Civil plans: These will include a site plan and grading plan (which describe the nature of the site and the grading work that will be required, respectively). They give an idea of what your site is like and note anything that needs to be taken into consideration. They are prepared by a civil engineer.
- Electrical plans: These outline the wiring and position of switches, lights and electrical outlets. Complicated plans or those intended for a large building may be prepared by an electrical engineer, although this is unusual for single-family residential buildings.
- Mechanical plans: These include plans for furnaces, ducting, ventilation, air-conditioning and so on. Complicated plans or those intended for a large building may be prepared by a mechanical engineer, although this is unusual for single-family residential buildings.
- Structural plans: These include foundations and framing plans as well as all relevant cross-sections. In many cases, they will be prepared by a civil or structural engineer.
Note that most of these plans will need to be produced by different engineers, unless the engineer that you are using is qualified in several areas.
What if I don't like the engineer's plans?
The engineer's plans are less open to negotiation than those of the architect or designer, because they involve fewer subjective aesthetic considerations and more practical decisions. Nonetheless, if you think that an engineer has failed to consider an important element of the preliminary plan or if you are unhappy with some aspect of the eventual design, you should discuss it with them, focusing particularly on what alternative solutions may be available. Sometimes this will be possible - moving a light switch might not cause too much drama. However, be aware that alternate solutions will often involve additional compromises on cost or convenience. Sometimes, it will not be possible to change an engineer's plans without breaching the Building Code or risking the safety of people who will use the building in future.
Will the engineer be involved in construction?
The engineer may be involved in construction in some circumstances. If your project involves very complex structural, mechanical or electrical considerations, they may need to supervise the construction process to ensure the safety and success of your building.
Alternately, if you are not using an architect, the engineer can sometimes take on the role of coordinating the design and building process. In this case, they will be responsible for organising tenders and hiring subcontractors, as well as monitoring the progress of construction.
What factors might cause my project to run over budget?
Engineering fees are often difficult to predict in advance and may run over budget for various reasons. Encountering some unexpected surprises in the demolition process, particularly if you are working with an existing property, may make it necessary to hire an engineer to do more work than was initially intended. This risk is increased if you wait too long to undertake basic engineering work, particularly the civil site inspections - any unexpected surprises here can require you to rework existing plans, costing time and money.
Changing your preliminary drawings after you have briefed an engineer is also likely to add to your costs. These changes will require the engineer to revise the work they have already done and will therefore add time and money to the project.
Finally, bear in mind that any unanticipated engineering difficulties may add to your construction costs as well. If it turns out to be more difficult to realise the preliminary plans than you and your architect or draftsman had expected, you may have to pay more in materials or contractor's fees - particularly if the solutions that you find require more contracting work.
How can I protect myself against scams and unethical practices?
Choosing a reputable engineer - whose financial position is sound and whose education, skills and experience meet Australian standards - is the best way to ensure that your engineering work is completed successfully. Look for an engineer whose qualifications and references stand up to scrutiny and who is a member of Engineers Australia and other professional organisations. This shows that they are involved in their profession, and, in the case of members of Engineers Australia, are bound to a Code of Ethics. Engineers may be expelled from the society if they breach this code.
To prevent unpleasant surprises, you should also agree upon a fee structure and get it in writing before the engineer begins work. Make sure that you set out all fees and charges, including any extra costs that you are likely to incur. Be wary of engineers whose fees seem too good to be true, or who ask for large up-front payments.
Also ensure that you set out a clear and comprehensive contract before you begin. Getting your agreement in writing will give you a stronger starting point if you are unhappy with the outcome. It will also clarify the expectations of both parties before work begins, and therefore help to avert conflict in the long run. Ensure that your contract has a dispute resolution clause. If you are uncertain or if your project is expensive, it is probably worthwhile asking a lawyer to look over it to ensure that it will hold up if challenged.
Is my engineer responsible for problems with my house?
The legal responsibility of engineers and other design professionals is a complicated question. Engineers may be held accountable if the problems are a result of a design flaw caused by their negligence or a culpable lack of skill. If this is the case, you may be entitled to sue them. If you think your engineer may be responsible for problems with your building, you should seek legal advice.
How can I settle a dispute with my engineer?
There are a number of ways of seeking redress if you feel that your engineer has not fulfilled the terms of the contract or has otherwise short-changed you.
- Talk to the engineer first. Calmly and courteously explain why you are unhappy with the work or fees, and try to negotiate an appropriate form of redress. Take any relevant documents with you to support your case - particularly any contracts, letters or emails in which they make promises that you feel they have broken.
- Check your contract. If it details how disputes should be resolved, you should follow this procedure.
- Approach the relevant consumer watchdog in your state. The nature and organisation of the relevant body varies from state to state, but it is usually affiliated with the Office of Fair Trading. In NSW, the Consumer, Trading and Tenancy Tribunal will hear disputes involving engineers and their fee structures. In Victoria, complaints against registered engineers can be brought before the Building Practitioners Board (part of the Building Commission) and may be brought for prosecution by the Building Commission.
- If you have pursued these avenues and are still dissatisfied with the outcome, you can seek legal advice to determine what other options you may have.