We have found in our industry that a cheaper price usually means reduced scope of service, and with that comes an increased level of risk to the client, to the point where it can be dangerous. With that in mind, we are going to cover some of the areas client’s need to be aware of where ‘competitive’ quotes are concerned.  

Structural Engineers and site investigations  

Some engineers will work only on plans and not complete a site visit to inspect existing buildings, the ground, location etc. This means they are working on information and assumptions that have not been verified. They will not have assessed the conditions of the many elements key to structural integrity, for example: If you are converting barn from agricultural use residential use such as a  holiday cottage – how would the engineer know ithere was any rot in the timbers or a beetle infestation. It is these types of things that an early site visit will identify and allow the client to make informed choicesThey are then able to obtain specialist costs to sort these initial issues before moving on with the project.   

Checking existing foundations of buildings is another example of the importance of a site visit. Older buildings with lots of windows will be more flexible by natureIf you then create a massive opening with large steel beamas part of a conversion but have not assessed the capacity of the load of the wall it may continue to settle.  

If a Structural Engineer designs a beam and floor in isolation, without a site visit, they are essentially passing the risk on to the homeowner in the form of assumptions. Those risks/assumptions aren’t always communicated clearly which can lead to issues.  

Skipping on the costs of site visits because a more ‘competitive’ structural engineering quote does not include them could cost more money in the long run should problems be uncovered later in the project.   

Pre-cast floors 

Where pre-cast floors are concerned a more competitive quote may not be able to achieve the required span. We have seen that some plank suppliers are only able to achieve 80% of the span that some manufacturers can with an identical slab depth. This is because the strength of the concrete used is less and therefore the manufacturer is unable to induce sufficient pre-stress to achieve the span needed. If we need to introduce a significant number of additional beams to make the floor space work, at best this change will be cost neutral but there would be a delay in the project. 

A junior staff member who has been asked to collect quotes may see a competitive quote on paper as they don’t understand the implications. Quotes were competitive, but there was no clear explanation of the shortfalls i.e. weaker concrete. 

Engineer floor joists 

There will always be a cheaper option, especially if the material is of lower quality. However, cheaper, or lesser quality materials may not be able to do what we need them toWe are therefore constantly juggling constraints, one of which is our client’s budget.  

For example, cheap lintels that look good on paper but may not provide the right protection. Ancon, for example, provides a variety of stainless-steel products – but their competitors use a lesser grade stainless steel. If clients decide to go with a cheaper masonry support system, we will have to put them on every floor, rather than every other. The individual components may be two thirds the price but we would need twice as many.  

When it comes to specifying any product, we encourage our clients to ask the question of the manufacturer as to why a price might be more competitive, and the implications of any variation in spec. We also encourage clients to run quotes past us and we’ll let them know whether a saving is genuine. We will always consider the implications and are happy to look at the different options available to help the clients budgets.  

We really want to avoid client’s cherry picking the best prices and then wondering why it doesn’t all fit together, which may cost more in the long run.  

CE marked Fabricators 

Steelwork fabricators are generally very good at what they do and have invested a lot of money on equipment and materials. Some of the cheaper fabricators, although they have been going for many years, may not have the CE mark. Certain fabricators, for whatever reason, have not become accredited, and so technically they shouldn’t be supplying to building sites. Using steel from these non-CE marked fabricators will automatically invalidate the warranty.  Please, only use fabricators with a CE mark.  

These are just a few examples of where buying cheap is not a good idea, especially if you don’t understand the implications. The adage ‘if it’s too good to be true, it probably is’ is also true in construction. That is not to say there aren’t deals to be had or competitive quotes out there, but it pays to double check the specification and complete a thorough like-for-like quote comparison to ensure you are getting the best price. If in doubt ask your structural engineer, who should be happy to check the details for you.  

For more information on working with SWJ Consulting call 01993 225085 or email info@swjconsulting.co.uk