What Do Structural Engineers in Construction Actually Do?

You might have heard of structural engineers before and you might have a vague idea of what they do in construction. But how do they add value to your project and what should you consider when hiring one? Today, we’ll discover what a structural engineer is and how you can work with your contractor to find the best one for your project. 

What is a structural engineer?

The short version: Structural engineer usually specialize in a particular type of structure. They make sure building don’t fall down due to the inadequate force on the building. 

The long version: it can be complicated as different structural engineers work on different tasks and different areas of expertise. For example, some engineers focus on bridges while others work with buildings. Often, these engineers have extensive experience in their specialty. 

They work in a dynamic environment, where a variety of tasks must be completed, plans change, and problems must be solved. In construction, the main duties of a structural engineer include preparing designs, preparing investigative reports, and offering advice to construction teams.

Why do you need a structural engineer?

Without structural engineering, buildings are vulnerable to collapse, either during construction or as the stresses of holding the weight weakens supporting elements. Structural engineers have the know-how to create designs that use mathematical calculations and physical properties to construct buildings with maximal structural integrity.  

For example, they use calculations to determine the allowable stresses and loads. They also decide which materials have the needed strength and which don’t. Creating a plan for support beams is also a key responsibility. 

Their Role During Construction 

Now that we understand what a structural engineer is and why they’re important to your construction project, let’s discuss their specific roles in more depth. A structural engineer serves three primary roles: to survey a project before it begins, to prepare status reports, and to offer advice to others working on the project. 

Survey Before a Project Begins

Structural engineers must complete a site survey prior to the start of construction work. During a survey, structural engineers investigate the site and confirm that it meets the requirements of the project.

Preparing Reports

Progress reports are a regular feature of a structural engineer’s job. These reports are highly detailed. They must be precise because even a tiny miscalculation has huge impacts on the structural foundation.  

Offering Advice

Structural engineers are a key source of technical advice for other teams working on a construction project. For example, they could offer invaluable insight to your plumber to make sure any plumbing alterations don’t negatively impact the structure of the building. In addition, structural engineers help workers and technicians solve technical difficulties. 

What to Look For in a Structural Engineer

Building projects need structural engineers to handle the highly technical design work. They have the training and knowledge to make the precise calculations necessary for structural integrity. They also supervise the operation, solve problems, manage materials, and communicate important information both internally and externally. A structural engineer’s contributions are invaluable. While their area of expertise might differ, there are three traits a highly effective structural engineer will have. 


Communication ranks as one of the most important duties of a structural engineer. They must consult and coordinate with their team, which includes people from many departments, such as environmental scientists, engineers, landscape architects, and architects. 

In addition to internal communication, structural engineers play a key role in gaining legal permits. A structural engineer must have good communication to ensure important information reaches the necessary parties. Miscommunication can result in costly design flaws. 

Project Management

Structural engineers manage the delivery of equipment and materials, making sure that they arrive in the right place at the right time. They also observe managers and laborers and use these observations to enhance efficiency.

Industry Knowledge

Structural engineers must be skilled in physics, 3D conceptualization, and problem-solving. In addition to education and knowledge, a structural engineer needs practical experience in applying their knowledge to the task of constructing safe and sustainable buildings. 

Structural engineers also keep up with the latest methods and technologies in the industry. With each new innovation, a structural engineer studies and trains on them so they can advise on new construction technologies in subsequent projects. 

Carlton Building Services in Hampton Roads Virginia

Carlton Building Services specializes in repairs, maintenance, renovations, remodelings and build-outs for a variety of clients in Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach, and Chesapeake areas. We have years of experience handling projects in the retail, office, and healthcare space and would love to work with you on your next project!

To learn more about our services, check out past project highlights or contact Carlton Building Services to see how we can help with your next project. 

JP Carlton

J.P. Carlton

J.P. Carlton is the founder of Carlton Building Services, a Hampton Roads-based construction company.