Institution Member Cem Ahmet MIStructE (of Sketch Structural Engineering) is a UK structural engineer based in London and the Herts/Essex Borders. This year he attended Grand Designs Live in London as a resident expert, providing free consultations to members of the UK public about their home improvement projects. Here he discusses the event and common domestic problems he encounters in his work.

100% of my work is on domestic projects, so I really enjoyed Grand Designs Live. It was a wonderful experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed helping the public with their house projects. 

During the event I encountered a varied set of questions and issues, but a common inquiry was about supporting a rear knock-through – that is where a rear, load-bearing wall is removed as part of an extension. 

I was surprised that I was also asked to critique another engineer’s design on more than one occasion - I suspect these engineers were rather large operations and unwilling to devote the appropriate time to smaller domestic projects like these.

In my day to day work, the most commons consultations I do relate to loft conversions and extensions, where a structural engineer is required to provide a design which satisfies Building Regulations.

Other issues I encounter could have been prevented if I had been consulted a little earlier - for instance sometimes an architect, while preparing planning drawings, gives a client the wrong impression about the requirement for columns, or places them in the wrong location. I am then called in to help unpick the problem and find a solution, where an earlier consultation could have saved the client money.

This is still an issue because a lot of UK homeowners still don’t really know what a structural engineer does or what we offer. Once they do understand, invariably, they want the design for a cheap price, as they have not budgeted for it. The more our role is understood, the better it will be for us and clients: that’s why Grand Designs Live is such a great opportunity, to showcase our role and put a face to the profession.

When you're looking for a structural engineer it’s a good idea, where possible, to seek out a member of the Institution – as Chartered Structural Engineers our MIStructE qualification is a sign of quality that can give the client comfort they are hiring a suitably qualified professional. However, I would add that the structural engineer must have experience of domestic projects - like all things, this sector is a specialism and so it is “horses for courses”!

To locate a structural engineer near you, or download our free client's guide, visit Building Confidence.

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