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What to Consider When Hiring a Civil Engineer
Civil engineer man with blue hardhat and blueprints

Major construction projects, particularly those in urban, suburban, or township settings, can benefit from hiring a civil engineer. Civil engineers can help steer a project to completion safely and under budget. However there are some things to consider when hiring 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. They use their specialized knowledge and education to produce creative solutions for social problems. When planning and building, they take into account a variety of scenarios, such as the impact of natural disasters, aging for wear and tear, human acts such as terrorism or intentional misuse of a construction project’s elements, and the environmental footprint of a structure.

Homeowners often consult with a civil engineer to make sure they are adhering to all the regulations required to build. If you feel you need a second pair of eyes to guide your project, then hiring a civil engineer is a worthwhile move. 

Civil engineers provide information and advise on:

    • Plot plans and permits
    • Septic and sewer rerouting
    • Stormwater and isolated drainage problems
    • Building code and zoning knowledge and research
    • Project oversight

What Kind of Civil Engineer Do You Need?

Civil engineers generally specialize in one field of engineering, ranging from coastal engineering to structural engineering, earthquake engineering to environmental or water resources or construction engineering.

Depending on the location and scale of your project, you may need to hire or consult with more than one civil engineer. For example, if your projects happens to be in an area with frequent tectonic activity, such as California, a civil engineer with a specialization in earthquake engineering should also be consulted.

It is not only important to know the specific expertise of the civil engineer you plan to hire but to double-check the resume of the civil engineering company you plan to hire. Does their resume boast expertise and success in the same kind of projects you are planning? Twenty years of solid experience in building tornado-resistant structures doesn’t equal proficiency in earthquake engineering.

What Credentials Should a Civil Engineer Have?

Washington State law requires both engineering firms and individual engineers to have the appropriate and up-to-date credentials to operate here. This is also true of the states of Oregon, Idaho, and California. Although, there may be slights requirement variations for each individual state in the United States. Regardless of where the company headquarters is located, a business entity is required to be licensed in the state in which the project is being constructed.

It’s important that both the engineering firm as well as the individual civil engineer working on your project retain the appropriate licensure to operate in Washington State since their work-product can directly affect the health, safety and welfare of the general public.

To protect public and the industry itself, Washington State has a minimum set of standards and qualifications.

Licensing for Engineering Firms

Firms will need to obtain a certificate of authorization, to file annual reports, maintain current licenses of their qualified employees, register an agent service, and pay any related taxes or fees to the secretary of state. For most engineering firms, compliance is the biggest hurdle.

Professional Credentials for Civil Engineers

Civil engineers must pass 2 competency exams and complete an 8-year apprenticeship before becoming fully licensed to practice in Washington State. Once they’ve met all of the State’s licensing requirements, they’ll be legally allowed to sign-off on and submit engineering plans for projects in the private and public sectors.

The two competency exams for civil engineers are designed by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) and administered by Washington’s licensing board, the Board of Registration for Professional Engineers & Land Surveyors (BORPELS):

  1. Fundamentals of Engineering exam is the first of the two competency exams, giving the budding engineer their Engineer-in-Training Certification.
  2. Principles and Practices of Engineering exam is the second competency exam, which allows the blooming engineer to obtain their Professional Engineer License.

If the engineer wants to specialize in bridges, buildings, or any other load-bearing structures, then there’s a Structural Engineer exam that they must pass to obtain their Structural Engineer License.

Once the civil engineer successfully completes the BORPELS application process, then the engineer must remain in good standing with regular license renewals or continuing education hours.

But, as previously stated, the licensing board for each state has their own requirements for how civil engineers can keep their license.

Civil Engineer License Renewal Requirements in PNW:

  • Washington: no professional development hours required; renews every 2 years
  • California: no professional development hours required; renews every 2 years
  • Oregon: 30 hours of continuing education every other year
  • Idaho: 30 hours of continuing education every other year

As with any industry where safety and performance is concerned, you especially want to make sure you are hiring a civil engineer or civil engineering company with the right education, relevant experience, and up-to-date professional credentials for your planned project.

If you’d like to verify the licensure of a professional engineer, Washington’s licensing agency allows consumers to look up search.

Questions to Ask Before Hiring the Civil Engineer Company:

  • Is your potential civil engineering firm licensed by the state?
  • Do they have the necessary and up-to-date permits for the type of project you are planning?
  • 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?

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.

However, just because a company is offering a substantially lower quote for their services than a competing firm does not mean they are the better choice.  Are they offering a low rate because they are hoping to break into a new area of business or is the low cost due to poor performance?

Cost and budget will always be a crucial part of construction so asking for a proposed quote from the company and then comparing it to your own research on the cost of hiring a civil engineer is definitely a worthwhile step to take. 

What Is the Company’s Reputation Locally?

Does your potential civil engineering company 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 the word-of-mouth reputation about a company and its practices should be considered before any contracts are signed. 

Are There Enough Civil Engineers Available to Meet Your Needs?

The scale and size of your project determines the amount of manpower needed to smoothly and successfully execute it. In smaller communities especially, a locally-based civil engineering firm may not have the amount staff with the proper expertise available on hand. When hiring a civil engineer, be sure to ask about and/or meet the specific civil engineers you will need for your project. Civil engineers are specialized experts and you want to make sure you are hiring round pegs for round holes.

Still have questions or concerns about hiring a civil engineer? Please feel free to ask our professional civil engineering expert at Pittman Engineering & Inspection!

About the Author

John Pittman
John Pittman