• By Ram Tirumala, PE

“Buyer Beware”

The term Buyer Beware is not new to the real-estate industry. The buyer of goods must take care to ensure that they are free from defects of quality, fitness, or title before making the purchase. If the goods turn out to be defective, the purchaser has no recourse against the seller. This proverb applies equally in selection of quality Engineering and Inspection Services. It becomes especially relevant in the age of internet marketing, when quality is often masked by advertisement, buyers of services must do their due diligence in selecting the right firm.

Civil engineering is the oldest engineering field and though it appears to be simple and able to be performed by anyone, this is not the case. For new and redevelopment projects, to get the best value, use of a well-qualified firm is required. As a Civil Engineering firm specializing in Environmental, Geotechnical and Site Civil Engineering, as well as construction inspections and monitoring, we have come across numerous owners who incurred 30% to 50% more in construction costs because they retained unqualified or underqualified engineering firms to prepare their construction documents or permit applications.

States, local cities, and municipalities have regulations and ordinances to be followed during construction projects, from initial permit approval to construction inspections. Owners are encouraged to perform environmental due diligence (a.k.a. Phase 1) to understand potential soil and ground contamination, and their impact on cost of construction and long term effect of indoor quality. Many owners in an attempt to cut costs in hiring a qualified firm to perform Phase 1, have paid thousands of dollars in cleanup costs and forced projects to stall. In New Jersey, the Site Remediation Reform Act (SRRA) permits Licensed Site Remediation Professionals (LSRPs) to review and approve remedial actions and issue a remedial action outcome (RAO) to a site undergoing environmental remediation. It is prudent for the owner or developer to select a knowledgeable and ethical LSRP as it is critical that the LSRP directs work in accordance with all regulations and guidelines to avoid later scrutiny and rejection.

Geotechnical Engineering is a discipline of Civil Engineering that deals with subsurface soil and ground water conditions. A good Geotechnical Engineering firm will evaluate subsurface material (soil and rock) to adequate depth, identify foundation alternatives and provide recommendations for earth work, slope stability, settlement, etc. Considerable engineering and analytical skills are required in developing suitable foundation, dewatering, and backfill recommendations. Borings performed to insufficient depths, and lack of ability to identify index and engineering properties of subsurface soil have potential to result in damage to nearby buildings. In urban environments improper construction of foundations adjacent to existing buildings have potential to result in damage of existing structures and increase liability. To avoid such problems, it is crucial to select erudite geotechnical engineers.

Many owners skimp on the cost of proper quality control testing and inspections before realizing it is their investment that will not have full value if it is plagued with construction defects. The International Building Code (IBC), which is widely used as a standard for the construction industry, recommends using accredited laboratories and inspection agencies to ensure quality in construction. IBC Chapter 17 Structural Tests and Special Inspections identifies qualifications of individuals to perform inspections and quality tests. It is essential that before selection of construction material testing and inspection firm, the owner or developer should do their homework to engage a qualified firm and get the most value for their money.

Ram Tirumala, PE is president of Distinct Engineering Solutions, Inc.

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