I’ve worked with many structural engineers and know how much value they bring to commercial projects.
But they’re also helpful in domestic projects, such as opening up ground floor space to create a kitchen diner and removing walls.
Read on to find out the cost of a structural engineer for load-bearing walls.
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How Much Will a Structural Engineer Cost?
A structural engineer normally charges around £100 to £200 per hour (depending on experience and qualifications).
The calculations should take no more than two to three hours for work of this nature. However, the initial survey to establish loading conditions can add another three hours to this time.
Also, if you want the structural engineer to submit the Building Regulations application, add one more hour.
The structural engineer will inspect the work in progress as an additional service. This inspection typically takes place when installing the support beam. I.e. they need to ensure the seating is correct and adequate packing is under the brickwork to prevent settlement.
So, you’ll be looking at £600 to £1,400 for getting your approval through and a further £300 to £600 for an inspection.
Some websites quote fees for writing a report, but this isn’t necessary when all you want to do is open up your home and give it a fresh look.
What Does a Structural Engineer Do?
If you think you can use your architect for the structural calculations, forget it. This work is a specialist subject needing an expert engineer.
Principally, an architect is concerned about aesthetics and using space and materials. A structural engineer advises on the mechanics of stability and strength.
In this guide, I’ll explain how a structural engineer adds value by providing the following:
- Calculations and design drawings/sketches
- Submitting for approval under Building Regulations
- General advice and options for removing load-bearing walls
Structural engineers can also inspect the work as it proceeds and provide a report on completion. This paperwork may be necessary when it comes to selling your home.
Building Regulations Approval
I recommend asking a structural engineer to apply for Building Regulations approval. They’ll deal with the plan checker and resolve any issues.
There are two routes you can use for a Building Regulations submission:
- Local Authority (LA)
- Private Approved Inspector (PAI) — These are on the Planning Portal.
Choosing between the two options is up to you, but a structural engineer may recommend a PAI. If you follow their recommendation, check their fees, as they might be significantly higher than your LA. Remember, they all do the same job.
There are two types of applications:
- Full Plans — this process takes between 5 and 8 weeks. At the end of this process, you will receive an approval notice.
- Building Notice — suitable for smaller projects, and you can start work immediately. However, you won’t get a completion certificate or an approval notice, so if you’re selling your house, you have no proof that the work is “approved”.
Which application is the best? I recommend a full plans application if you can wait for the approval notice. The Building Notice is the way to go if you need to start quickly.
Fees for Submission
LAs have a fixed schedule of rates for checking plans and conducting site inspections.
PAIs will negotiate their fees directly with you, even though they may have a set band of rates based on the LA’s fees.
You can submit applications online using the Planning Portal Building Control Application Service. This service is easy to use if you decide to apply yourself, but you must attach digital drawings to your application.
If you’re only knocking through/removing a load-bearing wall, the application cost through the LA is based on the value of the work. If the price is under £5,000, the fee will be around £260 for Full Plans and £280 for a Building Notice (including inspections). These costs depend on where you live in the UK.
If you’re undertaking a more significant project, such as building an extension, the act of knocking down a load-bearing wall is part of the project and not subject to a separate fee.
Pro Tip: check your LA’s website, as fees vary. Also, only include the cost of the structural work — not the finishes, fixtures and fittings.
If you want to know more about UK Building Regulations and what they entail, Homebuilding & Renovating is a handy resource.
The Party Wall Act
If your load-bearing wall is attached to a shared wall (common in many terraced and semi-detached houses), you may have to agree with your neighbour in writing before starting work.
A structural engineer has a part to play in facilitating this agreement but can’t act as a Party Wall Surveyor on your behalf.
Under the act, you must notify your neighbour if you intend to do any work on the wall separating your two properties. This requirement may come into play if you’re considering inserting a steel beam into the party wall to remove the load-bearing wall on your side.
Your neighbour can’t object to the work, so they can’t stop you. However, they can have a say in how and when the work is conducted.
My advice? Don’t cut the wall on your side all the way back to the party wall. Instead, leave a short projecting pier, say 450mm.
This pier is enough to sit the beam on and provides a buttress to the party wall. If you can avoid invoking the Party Wall Act, do so.
The Party Wall Act is a long-drawn-out business that takes at least 10 weeks from start to finish, excluding any dispute. Also, you will incur the additional cost of appointing a party wall surveyor if you don’t want to do it yourself. Talk to a structural engineer if you think this might affect you.
Surveyor Anstey Horne has a helpful fact sheet on their website if you want more advice on the Party Wall Act.
What is a Load Bearing Wall?
A load-bearing wall supports the weight of a floor, roof or another wall, and it’s an integral part of the structure that cannot be removed without putting something back in its place.
One way to determine if a wall is a load-bearing wall is to check the top of it. If the floor joists sit on the wall, it’s load-bearing (1), but it’s most likely a non-load-bearing (2) wall if they run parallel with the wall.
However, the wall may still provide lateral support to the floor, in which case you will see metal straps joining several joists and tying them to the wall.
Pro Tip: You don’t have to do much investigative work to know which way the joists run; just check out the floorboards. If they’re laid parallel to the wall, then the joists must be supported by the wall.
Also, if the bottom of the wall does not continue down to solid ground, it won’t be load-bearing.
Some walls might not be load-bearing but provide lateral support to another wall. Usually referred to as a ‘buttress’ wall, these walls are equally important.
Taking a Load Bearing Wall Down — DIY or Hire a Pro?
A structural engineer will advise on removing the wall and tell you if it’s too big a job for you and your mate.
The job is not beyond the capabilities of most DIYers, but there are things you must consider, such as propping the floors before you start. Listen to a structural engineer; they could save you time and money.
Tools for the Job
Like any DIY job, the right tools can make light work of the most challenging jobs. Check out our guide on the best concrete breaker for demolition work.
Angle grinders are great for providing a neat cut on each side of the wall before you begin breaking through the wall.
Pro Tip: whether you do it yourself or bring in the pros, seal off the work area to avoid excessive dust build-up in your home. Do this by taping heavy-duty polythene to the walls, floor, and ceiling on each side of the wall, leaving a workspace of around 1,200mm.
Place the hose section of a vacuum cleaner inside this space and let it run for a while before starting to cut. This trick creates negative pressure within the workspace, keeping most of the dust inside and sucking up the dust as you go. I tried it — it works!
- RSJ — Rolled Steel Joist. A steel beam, which is traditionally hot rolled in the mill. The acronym RSJ now describes any steel beam used in domestic situations.
- UB — Universal Beams, sometimes referred to as an I-beam or H-beam. UBs differ from the RSJ because the flanges are flat rather than tapered.
- T-Beam — T-shaped beam that sits flush with the underside of the wall. The upright sits between leaves of brick or block.
- L or Angle Beams — similar to T-beams, but the upright sits on one side of the wall. More applicable to single-leaf walls.
- Lintel — a preformed beam for small openings. These are often used over door openings because they’re lightweight, and you can easily insert them before removing any structure below. No calculations are usually needed as these are standard for set conditions.
- UC — Universal Columns. Like UBs, but usually of equal depth and width.
- PFC — Parallel Flange Channel. A PFC is a ‘C-section’ or ‘U’ steel channel which you can use as a beam or column. Because of its shape, you can build brickwork into the web for extra rigidity.
- CRS — Cold Rolled Steel. These steel sections have undergone a secondary process after hot rolling, usually at room temperature. CRS’ are characterised by their bright appearance and many shapes and profiles.
- Partition wall — a non-load-bearing element of structure.
Lintels may provide a cheaper alternative to RSJs or UBs if the total load is less than 30kN. Consider this one by Catnic:
These lintels are available in lengths up to 4,800mm, so allowing for 150mm seating on each side, they effectively span 4,500mm. Designed for a single leaf of brick or block, you can install them back-to-back for thicker walls.
There are three advantages of using a lintel rather than a beam:
- Weight — 15.7kg/m compared to 23kg/m for a UB.
- Cost — £70/m compared to £140/m for a UB.
- You don’t need full calculations — just the safe working load.
For comparison purposes, I used a 203 x 102mm UB with a higher ‘Safe Working Load’ (SWL) of 66kN than 27kN for the lintel. However, if the lower SWL is sufficient, it makes sense to opt for the lintel.
Get Three Quotes in Writing?
We advise you to get three quotes, but it’s difficult to compare anything other than the bottom-line price when appointing a structural engineer.
You can’t compare the quality of the calculation, and it doesn’t matter if one uses sophisticated computer software and another is calculated manually.
What you can do, though, is look at what each quote includes. Here’s a list of things to look out for and have in your job description:
- Initial survey
- Establishing loading conditions
- Working out the beam size needed to span the opening
- Providing calculations for submission to the LA or PAI
- Applying for Building Regulations approval
- Inspecting the work during construction
- Provides sign-off once work is completed. This sign-off might be of value if you go down the Building Notice route.
It may also be worth checking if the engineer has Professional Indemnity Insurance. This insurance covers you if the engineer makes a mistake, e.g. specifying a beam of insufficient depth, resulting in excessive deflection.
This mistake is unlikely because the building inspector will check for this in the calculations.
PI insurance can be costly, and only top chartered engineers typically carry this, so don’t let it rule out some excellent undergraduate engineers who can handle this type of work.
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Structural engineers vary in terms of experience and qualification. You don’t necessarily need a Chartered Engineer, just someone who knows what they’re doing and has experience in this work.
If your load-bearing wall is attached to a party wall (a wall you share with your neighbour), you need their agreement. The best thing to do is pop over and explain what you want to do to the party wall.
Avoid any work to the party wall altogether by leaving a short buttressing wall and sitting the steelwork on it.
Below are answers to frequently asked questions about structural engineer costs.
How much does it cost to have a structural engineer look at a wall?
Looking at the wall and advising on its structural status can cost between £300 and £600. If you need calculations for a beam, add £200 to £400.
How much does removing a load-bearing wall and installing a beam cost?
The average cost of removing a load-bearing wall is typically around £1,200 to £1,750. Quotes will vary depending on the job size and location.
On top of this, you will have to pay for new flooring and plastering, and you might also have to pay for moving electrical supplies and plumbing to a radiator.
For a more detailed look at this, check out our article on the cost of knocking down a wall.
Do I need a structural engineer to remove a load-bearing wall?
You don’t need a structural engineer to remove a load-bearing wall, but somebody must work out the loading and calculate the beam size required to take this weight. They must also provide calculations for Building Regulations approval.
You don’t necessarily need a Chartered Engineer to calculate a beam size. Anyone with a degree in engineering should be capable of working out loads and submitting calculations.
How do structural engineers determine a load-bearing wall?
The critical areas to look at are the top and bottom of the wall. A structural engineer considers what’s resting on top of the wall and the wall’s supporting base.
These observations aren’t conclusive if the floor is solid (e.g. concrete). However, the wall is load-bearing if any roof or floor joists run on the wall.
Also, a load-bearing wall may continue up into the next storey.
Do I need planning permission or Building Regulation approval to remove a load-bearing wall?
You only need planning permission to remove a load-bearing wall if your property is a listed building.
The removal of a load-bearing wall requires Building Regulations approval in all cases.
Can I remove a load-bearing wall myself?
Removing a load-bearing wall yourself is possible, but you should take advice from a structural engineer, who will tell you how to do it. They’ll walk you through the following three significant steps:
1. Propping the floors
2. Cutting the walls and knocking through
3. Inserting the beam
You’ll need help, that’s for sure. The beam can weigh more than 100kg, and you must place it accurately on the support walls so it’s level.
Would it be a problem if I didn’t get an approval notice or completion certificate for the work?
If you applied using a Building Notice, you wouldn’t receive any certification on completion, even though the inspector came over to check things out.
This lack of certification may be a problem when you come to sell your house. Still, provided you have the submission details (including any calculations) and receipt for payment of fees, this should be accepted as proof that the Local Authority consented to this work.
Do I need to consider fire before removing a wall?
Walls are sometimes used to create a fire compartment in multi-occupational properties. However, in a single-occupancy house, this is not an issue.
Remember, though, that the beam or lintel used to provide support after removing the wall does require fire protection. This protection is usually achieved by covering it with two sheets of skimmed-over plasterboard.
How do I get a flush ceiling with no beam visible?
You must raise the beam to sit within the floor zone to achieve a flush ceiling. A structural engineer will advise on the best way to do this, as it could involve cutting existing floor joists — not a job to be taken lightly!
Another thing you need to consider is deflection in the beam, which over a 4,000mm opening could be more than 10mm.
This deflection can cause significant cracking in the ceiling, spoiling the effect. To avoid this issue, follow the steps below:
1. Position the beam into place.
2. Fully load the floor. I.e. put all furniture back in place.
3. Remove the props and allow the deflection to take place.
4. Cover the beam with plasterboard and skim it.