Coronavirus pandemic; how to do structural design and MEP engineering remotely
This is an article in the series adapting to the pandemic, where we intend to share useful tips for making it through these troublesome times.
Social distancing is a critical response to the coronavirus outbreak. Everywhere, companies are encouraging their employees to work from home. However, the construction industry faces a unique challenge.
Any kind of construction work requires some sort of inspection, as the architects and designers need to know what to plan and design for. This is the foundational step upon which the entire work will be based on.
It’s also important to highlight that construction projects are costly and lengthy. As such, any kind of error can have unbearable consequences in the loss of time and money. For that reason, having an architect paying a visit onsite is very reassuring that the job gets done correctly.
As our own safety during the coronavirus outbreak demands social distancing, we need to find ways to effectively work while also slowing the virus’ spread.
In this post, we are sharing some of our experiences in how construction design work can be done remotely. As it turns out, there are even some benefits in remote work, as we are able to cut unnecessary costs and lower carbon emissions.
We hope these tips help both homeowners as well as designers.
6 tips for remote work
1. Use architectural plans.
A good architectural plan is almost all we need for structural design and MEP calculations. If these maps are not found in the homeowner’s attic or basement, and if you can’t get them from the previous owner, we can start with contacting the local municipality office. They might be able to give you the blueprints right away unless the house is very old. Even without the plans, the municipality office still yields valuable information about the house, so fill out the forms and get as many documents as possible from them.
Next, try the realtor, as they might have a copy of the floor plans (but bear in mind that their plan might slightly differ from the actual state of the house).
The last step is the inspection office. Every construction work requires a permit, which sometimes contains floor plans and elevation drawings. These documents are filed with the inspection office, and also contain the name of the contractor, architect or builder who you can contact for more information.
2. Use Google maps.
Some jobs (for instance, decks) can be generally checked using Google maps and images. A trained eye can easily detect if the structure is in good shape, or if further evaluation is necessary. There might be spots that are not visible on Google maps, but a trained engineer can easily guide the owner to spot them after the overall structure is measured.
3. Ask the homeowner to draw sketches and share photos.
Unlikely as it seems, but sketches and photos go a long way in resolving design challenges. In fact, we have rarely needed to ask our clients twice about photos, as the first set was usually enough for the task.
This method is very efficient for smaller projects that focus on particular areas of the house. A professional designer can easily guide the owner to take photos of or draw sketches of the necessary places. This combination is even more efficient than video, as such footage may contain a lot of unnecessary recordings. Photos, however, go straight to the point and provide what the structural or MEP designer needs.
4. Start work early.
Some issues may not be evident as the work starts. Since we are relying on a remote surveying work, we need to have as much information as possible. By starting the design work early with the information at hand, we can easily spot any missing requirements, and ask the homeowner to provide them.
5. New buildings need no inspections.
When the project is about expanding or remodeling construction, knowing what is in place is a must. However, if we are building on a new environment with no previous construction, there is essentially no need for inspections (unless we are dealing with civil engineering and geotechnical reports). Trained engineers can easily use their experience and online maps to gather all the information they need to develop structural design plans.
6. Offer both structural and MEP design.
Having a single source of responsibility for both structural and MEP design is a huge cost saver and time-saver, particularly in these circumstances. It would put much less burden on the homeowner, as the information collected during the above steps could be used for both tasks. Also, design clashes can be lowered significantly as structural and MEP design teams can work together much more efficiently when they are from the same company.
The benefits of remote work
Remote work would not be a priority if it was not for the coronavirus. But besides being a safety measure, remote work has many benefits too.
Since there is no inspection, it can cut the costs of onsite visits. It can also be a huge time saver, as there will be no need for traveling. Simultaneously, this leads to less carbon emission.
While remote work has been forced upon us, we should also appreciate its benefits.