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Best way to gain knowledge in residential renovation & repair

Best way to gain knowledge in residential renovation & repair

(OP)
Hi all,

I'm looking for some feedback on what is the best way to gain knowledge in residential (one- and two-family small) renovation & repair. I was hoping to find a more senior structural engineer with experience in this sub-field to be an "apprentice" to, or something like that. However it seems that most of the structural engineers who I've come across in this sub-field work for themselves and aren't interested/don't need assistance. Do you think I'm correct in this assessment, or have I just not found the right person? If I am correct, then what are my other options for gaining knowledge in this sub-field. I've bought several books and I've found some helpful online resources like this website, but it seems like residential renovation and repair involves a lot of unknowns and details that are gained only by having experience, knowing what to look for and what questions to ask. Most of my experience to date has been structural design of new larger commercial buildings.

Thanks in advance for your insights.

RE: Best way to gain knowledge in residential renovation & repair

I would recommend talking to contractors better introduce you to the field. They may not have the expertise in providing direction from an engineering standpoint; however, their knowledge and experience (depending on the quality of contractor) can be enlightening into the "way things are done in the field" and possible pitfalls to avoid. If you've been working as a design engineer, you'll likely see how the structural concepts apply to this field beyond the information you glean from the contractors. Continuous load paths still apply; bending is still bending, correct application of load combinations is important; etc. One thing you might note is that simplifying assumptions are more common. Of course, these err on the conservative side but they tend to be less significant in increasing construction costs and allow an engineer to do his work in MUCH less time.

If you have engineering concerns beyond that and you still feel the need for support, engineering seminars or even additional college courses might be in order that focus on wood construction. (I'm not being demeaning or critical as I'm sure you have your college education; however, very few - if any - established curricula can hit all of the topics needed to do all types of structural engineering.)

RE: Best way to gain knowledge in residential renovation & repair

(OP)
Muncher- excellent point re talking to contractors and just being on site as much as possible too. I am on the lookout for good seminars and other continuing ed courses too. It still seems like some sort of mentoring program would be beneficial, speaking from my humble opinion. All the structural engineers I know doing residential work are independent people working for themselves. Not really any opportunities in that space for a newbie to ask questions, bounce around ideas, get advice. In my humble opinion....

RE: Best way to gain knowledge in residential renovation & repair

It is very tough to get good training in this profession, let alone get specific training in a narrow market like residential. In my (few) years of experience I have found that the engineers run from excellent to "stamp anything for money" with not much in between.

Either case, they usually aren't interested in any help because they run low-overhead, small shops, with reasonably stable market shares. They aren't growing, so they rarely need any added staff.

My best advice for this scenario would be to try to get a job with a local government. Personally I interned for a little over a year with a Structural Engineer who specialised in residential and small buildings, they moved onto Bridge Maintenance with the Federal Government (here in Canada). Best decision I've ever made: You will learn far more about that to do and not to do by seeing and repairing very old designs than anything else you could do.

I've now started a small engineering firm doing exactly what you're looking to do... And it has been in large part thanks to my experience with Bridges that I feel confident about how to repair an existing structure. The renovation and repurposing of existing structures you simply cannot learn without a Mentor. Not safely or without extreme liaibility at least!

Good luck, and ask lots of questions around here. That will help a great deal!

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