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When Do You Need A Structural Engineer?

Updated: Apr 26


We're getting in the Holiday spirit in the open living room on the parlor floor.

Many new homeowners walk through an old Brownstone with aspirations of creating a large open space. While we are fans of keeping original details and not removing too much of the original structure in some buildings it does sometimes make sense to open it up. We kept our structural changes very light so we didn’t require an engineer. And good thing too because we definitely didn’t have the budget for that additional expense.


Many brownstones and townhouses in Brooklyn are over 100 years old. Dramatically altering the structure requires some rethinking of much of the existing support and adding new support. A structural engineer is sometimes needed to ensure your new home will be safe for you family to live in, but when do you need to bring one in?


The beam that was added during renovation is almost hidden in our open kitchen. We were fortunate to avoid a structural engineer.

We love the original windows in the back of the parlor floor. We opted not to open the whole wall to avoid the costs of a structural engineer.

The old walls and beams in a Brooklyn brownstone were built to last. It really is remarkable seeing the bones of an old building still solidly going strong after 130 years. Based on how extensive your structural changes are your architect will know when to bring in the services of a structural engineer, but here are some common examples:


- If you are creating an opening in an existing bearing wall over about 14-15 feet, you most likely will not need one, but beyond that it is likely that you will. We pushed it to the limit and replaced a bearing wall with a 14 foot header in our kitchen. It was the most extensive structural work that we did, but our architect was able to handle it without calling in an engineer.


- It’s common in some renovations to remove the bearing wall completely and reinforce the joists to span from party wall to party wall. This typically involves doing the same thing on all floors from the ceiling of the floor where the wall is removed to the roof. In that situation you’ll most likely need a structural engineer to determine the reinforcement necessary on the existing joists, and also the ability of the masonry to support it.


- Another common time a structural engineer is needed is when a large opening is created to the exterior of the building. If you’re dreaming of that large wall of windows with a slider to a deck, chances are a structural engineer will need to determine how to build it while keeping the remaining bricks in place to hold up the building.


- There are also existing structural issues you can inherit when you buy a place and other times that it might be necessary to have an engineer.


Our living room still feels quite large given we did not tear down the wall to make it one open space.

The entrance foyer with the original moulding. We did not want to lose the character.

These are all things that are important considerations when budgeting. It can be a major expense ranging from $5,000-$20,000, not including the actual work. Then on top of that, depending on how extensive your changes are, you might even need a superintendent to be onsite inspecting the progress. This can add thousands more.


It can all be worth it depending on the finished result you’re looking for. But if all else fails remember that the closed kitchen is making a come back so maybe you don’t need to remove that wall after all!


Our first successful Thanksgiving was celebrated in our open kitchen. There is so much light coming in the original windows in the back!

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