If you’re embarking on your first home extension project, you may be confused about all the different professionals you may need to involve – architects, builders, structural engineers. What is the difference and which of these do you actually need? Continue reading for more information on what a structural engineer is and if you will need one.

What is a structural engineer?

Specialising in just a few key areas, a structural engineer may be required if your building project affects the structure of your property in some way. This includes things like rear extensions, loft conversions and room alterations involving the removal of interior walls.

A structural engineer’s job is to ensure the structural integrity of your extension. To do this, they consider the location of the extension, the type of materials to be used, the weight of the build and the structural support needed. They make technical calculations and drawings to ensure the structural stability of your project. This information can inform your architects plans, guide the builders and aid the planning permission stage by ensuring compliance with building control regulations.

What is the difference between a structural engineer and an architect?

An architect specialises in the design of your project, being an expert in ensuring your extension looks beautiful and fits in with the existing look of your home to maximise space and future value when it comes to resale. Using key measurements and taking your ideas on board, they come up with design ideas and drawings of what your final extension could look like. They work with you to ensure that the final plans are to your satisfaction. They can then submit the proposed designs for planning permission on your behalf. They can also create building regulations plans.

What is the difference between planning permission and building regulations approval?

Planning applications and building regulations applications are different because they are considered under different laws.

When you make a planning application, you are requesting permission from your local authority to allow you to carry out your building project. When making their decision, your local authority will consider the principles of your development, whether it will comply with national and local policies and whether it might cause unacceptable harm, such as to the local environment or your neighbours’ amenities.

When you make a building regulations application, you are requesting approval of your plans for compliance with construction standards. When considering your application, your local authority will consider the structural details of your plans to ensure they meet regulations.

When planning an extension project on your property, you will likely need to make both a planning application and building regulations application. However, there are two ways of making a buildings regulations application, one is by submitting a Full Plans application and the other is by submitting a Building Notice notification.  The Full Plans application involves full specifications and detailed plans of your project. A Building Notice may be sufficient if you are carrying out simple work to a domestic dwelling and this does not require the detailed plans. The downside to this is that you don’t get the protection you would get with a Full Plans application and you would be required to demonstrate compliance with building regulations at the site inspection stage, which could be risky.

Will I need a structural engineer for my extension?

If your architect offers building regulations plans as part of their service, you may not necessarily need to hire a structural engineer to ensure that your planning applications are approved. This could help you to reduce the overall cost of your project, depending on the individual fees charged by your chosen architect.

It’s a good idea to do some research and compare the services and fees of different professionals during the early stages of your project to ensure that you get the best deal and save delays and disappointments down the line.