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The Cost of Engineering

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One of the questions we are commonly asked is what is your standard engineering fee for a certain type job.  Invariably, the answer is, it depends – on the type of job, the specific conditions, the desired services, etc.

Engineering is the art of applying science to the solution of a problem.  For the nonprofessional, understanding the science is difficult enough, but adding in the concept of an art just makes it incomprehensible; and for those without significant experience, and even for some with, the selection of an engineer is simply reduced to who can do it cheapest.  Often such a choice fails to consider the real engineering cost.

While the direct cost for engineering is dependent upon the project type and agreed upon services, the real or total cost for engineering must consider the cost of the constructed project and long-term maintenance.  This is where the art comes in, designing a project that performs the desired function in the most efficient manner, at the lowest practical cost, with the lowest long-term maintenance.  All of these issues must be considered in a IMG_1446-Edit-JuPwell-designed project.  Consulting or design engineers generally are limited to providing a service rather than a product.  Consequently, the only commodity we have to offer is our experience and time.  If insufficient time is dedicated to a project then the resultant design cannot and will not consider all of the aforementioned issues.  It must be remembered that the engineer’s design is intended to be constructed and the cost of construction should be a factor.  Generally, the cost of construction will be a factor of 10 to 20 times greater than the cost of engineering.  If additional engineering time results in a reduction in construction cost, you almost always come out ahead and the total project cost is significantly less.  While such is not the case in every instance, you would be surprised at how often this is true.  Similarly, such or even greater savings can be realized in long-term maintenance.

In soliciting engineering services, the first step to ensure that you have the needed services is to talk with the engineering firm about their services and how they work.  Make sure that you have an engineer that considers your best interests rather than what is economically in his best interest.  Next, you should make sure that if you have competing proposals that each contains the same services and, if necessary, ask questions if one proposal contains a service that is not readily apparent in another.  Often the best way to evaluate proposals from different firms is to question those who use their services.  Don’t forget to consider questioning a contractor who has worked off of the engineer’s plans.  Oftentimes the contractor is the very best judge of the quality of an engineer’s product and is able to comment on the ease of construction, required change orders, cost savings, maintenance considerations, etc.

So what is the cost of engineering?  The answer is, the appropriate cost for the project in light of the improvements to be constructed including all the issues necessary to achieve a well thought-out, designed, efficient and cost-effective final product.  Optimum engineering services will almost always be more expensive than minimal services which focus only on the engineer’s bottom line.  However, when the total long-range cost of the project is considered, the optimized services will most likely result in the least overall cost while realizing a much better final product.




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