Well, the answer is in the statement, when it comes to structural engineering determinations and designs, licensed structural engineers are the go-to for such purpose. However, if other disciplines are engaged, professional engineers such as mechanical & electrical professional engineers should be hired.
Sometimes structural engineers’ consulting fees are higher than regular professional engineers but if looked at the overall benefits of spending the extra money, it would be very noticeable especially in the deeper understanding of the material and building codes. The difference in the knowledge is very discernible and architectural firms should pay attention to that. Understanding the material and building codes are key in saving the owner’s cost of material and labor which outweighs the consulting fees. It is wise to look at the overall picture when hiring your consulting team. Additionally, hiring a structural engineer does help in the process of plan check. In many cases, the plan checker may ask code related questions requiring a deeper understanding of the physical meaning of code interpretation to be able to respond to such comments. Therefore, engaging a structural engineer will also help in making the approval process for construction by the plan check department go faster and smoother.
In fact, In the state of California, hospitals and school districts require hiring a structural engineer on the design and all participating consulting teams. This also bolsters the argument of hiring a structural engineer when considering the appropriate consulting team. When considering seismic design for your structures and wind design, the structural engineer can easily compare and abstract the appropriate values for each lateral system and consider the suitable lateral resisting system.
Understanding the difference between lateral systems and for which application, is key in achieving an overall comprehensive and cost efficient projects. In order to receive a structural engineering license in the state of California, it is required of the civil engineer to have a very good understanding of these systems and a deep comprehensive understanding of the codes. Whereas, being a professional engineer, civil, the license does not require the engineer to have this level of details and code comprehension.
In recent years, other states have followed the trend of putting restrictions on what a professional civil engineers can design versus licensed structural engineers. This, of course, comes after noticing the different behavior of structures under earthquake and wind loading events when designed by a licensed structural engineer versus a licensed civil engineer.
In summary, hiring a structural engineer for your projects or on retaining an SE on your team as an architect, is the right decision for both the hiring teams and the clients. Many professionals, architects, and developers will seek to hire a structural licensed engineer to gain the benefits these professionals offer and bring to the table.