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What to Consider When Hiring a Civil Engineer
John Pittman looking over construction plans on paper

If you or your business are intending to plan a major construction project, particularly one in an urban, suburban, or township setting, it can benefit you and the project itself to obtain the services of a civil engineer.

What Is a Civil Engineer?

A civil engineer is a highly educated construction professional who helps with the design and planning of a construction project, from the edifices, to ground-moving, to manipulating the building site environment, to municipal projects like bridges, roads, and dams. By applying their experience and education, they are able to produce creative solutions to social problems (such as adding roundabouts to busy, accident-prone intersections). They consider and plan for a variety of scenarios, including natural disasters, aging and wear and tear, human acts such as terrorism or intentional misuse of a construction project’s elements, and environmental impact of a structure.

What Kind of Civil Engineer Do You Need?

Civil engineers generally specialize in one area of engineering, which ranges from coastal engineering, structural engineering, and earthquake engineering to environmental engineering, water resources engineering, and construction engineering. Depending on the plan for and scale of your project, you may need to hire or consult with more than one civil engineer. Try to find those whose specializations overlap with the potential issues created by your proposed project, such as a coastal engineer and a structural engineer for a beachfront hotel. If that project happens to be planned for an area, like California, where there is a lot of tectonic activity, a civil engineer with a specialization in earthquake engineering should also be consulted.

What Credentials Should Civil Engineers Have?

As with any industry where safety and performance are of great importance, there are regulatory bodies which manage the professional standards for civil engineers. You want to ensure that you’re hiring a civil engineer or civil engineering company with the right education and background for your planned project. Is your potential civil engineering firm licensed by the state? Do they have the necessary permits for work? Do they carry appropriate levels of liability insurance for the services they offer to their clients? Do their employees, contractors, and subcontractors have appropriate degrees from accredited schools?

What Is the Proposed Cost of Hiring the Civil Engineering Company?

As with many construction and information-based fields, civil engineering companies should be willing to provide potential clients with an estimate of the likely cost of their services. This allows you to compare the services offered by various local civil engineering companies and make a decision based on both expertise and expense. Remember, however, that in construction, as in many areas of life, you get what you pay for in terms of civil engineers. If a company is quoting you a rate that is substantially less than another competing firm, be careful before jumping to save funds. Are they offering a low rate because they are hoping to break into a new area of business or secure a solid relationship with your business for future projects, or are they low cost because they have a poor performance record or hire poorly-educated or inexperienced staff to keep their overhead low?

What Is the Company’s Reputation Locally?

Do your potential civil engineering companies have a solid reputation for reliable work and adherence to deadlines? Do they have a strong customer satisfaction rating? Have they been sued for breach of contract or failure to perform? All of these issues, as well as word-of-mouth reputation of a company and its practices should be considered before any contracts are signed. 

Do the Civil Engineers Being Considered Have Appropriate Experience?

If you are planning a proposed bridge across a river, you don’t want to hire a civil engineer with experience building office compounds and arenas. You should look for firms with civil engineers on staff who have previously designed or consulted on projects like the one your business is beginning to plan. Twenty years of solid experience in building tornado-resistant structures doesn’t make a civil engineering proficient in earthquake engineering. You really should be trying to hire the best available civil engineers in each particular area of need for your project.

Is the Civil Engineering Firm Large Enough to Meet Your Needs?

Especially in smaller communities, locally-based civil engineering firms may not have the staff on hand with the proper expertise or the equipment on hand that your company will need in order for the planned project to go through on time. Reliability and the company’s ability to work at the scale you require is a major factor in how well the civil engineering firms you are considering may perform on your project.

Finding the right civil engineering companies and professionals is an indispensable step in planning for any major construction project. By choosing carefully and asking appropriate questions, you can save yourself plenty of future frustration as your project gets underway.

About the Author

John Pittman
John Pittman