7 Tips for Hiring an Engineer
Your engineer is a crucial team member for any new construction or major renovation project. Here are some best practices for creating a good partnership.
Engineers are responsible for designing, planning, and building basically everything from large scale construction projects to smaller infrastructure pieces. With more than 303,000 engineers in the United States it can be a difficult process to find the right firm to work with. When you are looking for an engineer to assist you with a project, you want someone who will work alongside you and provide the expertise needed to make your project last for years to come. Given that it is an important decision when hiring an engineering firm, here are a few tips to help you find the right firm for your job.
1. Look for companies with experience with your project
Engineering covers a broad spectrum, and it is important to find a firm that can do the job you require. There is no substitute for experience and while most engineering firms will have the technical capability for almost any project, the more experience a firm has on projects similar to yours, the less likely it is that there will be issues down the road.
Brian Laubenthal, principal with Aline Architecture Concepts, an architectural firm located in Scottsdale, Arizona, says he looks for engineering firms with at least ten years of experience who have a good portfolio.
“When choosing an engineering firm to work with it is more about seeing the quality of work in their portfolio than if they have over 20 years of experience,” he says. “After reviewing their portfolio, we bring up certain projects to see how they solved certain issues or what are ways they have saved a client money on a previous project. It is important to discuss these topics with the engineer to better understand what they can bring to the table.”
2. Check reviews and certifications
Finding references for an engineering firm used to involve taking time to make a lot of phone calls and speaking to other people in your industry. In today’s world it is as easy as doing a simple Google search. Before hiring an engineering firm be sure to thoroughly vet the company. Check the Google reviews and make sure they are for the large part positive. Verify with the firm that they have all of the required certifications such as a Certification of Authorization for Professional Engineers. Certifications vary by state so check with your state’s engineering board to see what your state requires. Also make sure the engineering firm is fully insured before hiring them. If you notice a company is being passive in discussing their certifications and insurance, it is best to move on.
3. Ask for references
While it is important to check online reviews, you should take the time to speak with members in your industry about engineering firms they have used in the past. Relying on a trusted source of information will always give you more peace of mind than an online review. Ask them about their experience working with the firm. Were they accurate in their bidding? Did they complete the job on time? What did they like the least about working with the firm? The references you receive from members in your industry can help give you a good starting point in your search.
You should also speak with the engineering firm about the clients they typically serve. If they tend to serve high-end developers or owners, they are probably more respected in their field. Engineering firms working with high-end developers may cost more but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. That being said you may be able to find an excellent firm that has great references for a lower price if you take the time to do your research.
4. Supplying of equipment and personnel
An engineering firm should have the ability to supply the necessary equipment and personnel for a job no matter how large or small. Ask the engineer you are working with if they will need to rent or purchase any equipment to finish the project because this may drive the cost up. Also make sure the firm has enough people to fulfill the job. If outside contractors are needed, then the price may also rise.
5. Having a contact person
Communication is key when working with an engineering firm on a project. In some engineering firms your initial point of contact will be different than the person taking the lead on your project. Developing a relationship with your point of contact before the project begins will help ease any communication issues as the project progresses. Ask if there is a specific number you call to speak with a person on the job or if you will have to go through a middle person to get information. It is best to have a firm that will keep you in contact with a person on the ground so you can receive the information you need when you need it.
6. Maintaining quality control
Quality control is essential in getting your project done on time and on or under budget. Discuss with the engineering firm the practices they use to ensure quality control. The answers to these questions may vary on the project you are undertaking, but it is important to find a company that will give you detailed answers that are specific to the scope of work taking place.
7. Compare prices
Finally, you will want to compare prices with the firms you are considering for your project. Price is always a major factor in the final decision of which company you should hire. When comparing prices, know that the lowest bid isn’t always going to be the best firm to work with. Many companies underbid on projects and then renegotiate later when it becomes clear they are running out of money to finish the job. Check for loopholes in the contract before signing as the price the firm gives you may be too good to be true.
The best way to approach bidding on your project is to find a common middle ground. Know how much you are willing to pay on your project and find a firm that is under that price but not to the extent it seems outrageously low. Finding a firm in the middle ground ensures that the engineers understand the scale of the project and are accurately quoting you on price.
When hiring an engineering firm, you always want to ask for an exclusion’s breakdown and an addendum page, Laubenthal says.
“If one firm has two pages of exclusions and another engineer has one page you can see their ability to decrease costs,” he says. “When we seek out bids, we want to see a breakdown from contractors to really understand how they have estimated their costs.”
After viewing the exclusion pages you will want to look at the engineering firm’s addendum page that allows you to further see how the firm can save money on the project.
“Let’s say we need to buy a certain mechanical unit for the project,” Laubenthal says. “After speaking with the contractor, they come back and say they can meet that expectation with a unit that costs less. This shows you the firm is working to save money on the project while meeting your needs.”
Finding the right engineering firm is one of the most important things you can do to make sure your project makes the transition from design to reality. With so many engineering firms to choose from it can be difficult to find the right one to work with you on your project. By following these basic tips, you can ensure you are hiring an engineering firm that will suit your needs and give you the best results possible.
Zane Pucylowski is the president and principal engineer at Phoenix Engineering and Consulting Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia.