A Step in Time Structural Engineering

A Step in Time specializes in residential structural engineering inspection services. Ray Gessner is a licensed professional engineer in Virginia, Florida and Maryland. We offer engineering services including existing residential structural inspections, foundation and crawl space inspections, attic and structural framing inspections
Residential foundation inspections. A homeowner encounters unlevel floors, doors not properly opening and closing or cracks in exterior brick or foundation wall. The contact a foundation contractor to come and give a free opinion. They determine it needs $25,000 in structural repairs and before having the repairs performed they contact us. We come and perform an inspection, review the work the contractor proposes and determine if the work is required and if the recommendations are correct. To be honest, what we encounter is that most times, issues like improper grading of soil is causing underlying shrink/swell clay to rise and fall in the wet and dry seasons. Sometimes it can even be non soil related and discover the attic has improper ventilation which cause truss uplift during hot and cold season. Sometimes we find the repair is needed but the design for the repair, locations of foundation supports and members sizing is incorrect. This usually gives a customer a piece of mind that there is an unbiased structural engineer who is recommending a similar type of repair procedure if the repair is required.

Insurance claims

There are many lawyers who would be happy to fight insurance companies but there aren’t too many structural engineers who will do it. The reason is that most insurance companies have teams of structural engineers and they have been trained to understand not only structural engineering but the building codes that allows insurance companies to either deny claims or diminish claims. Trust me, not all structural engineers are bad and not all insurance companies are evil businesses. The simple fact is that the more insurance companies have to pay in claims, the lower profit or revenue they will have to advertise or the higher their premiums will be compared to other companies. Think about it. Watch every insurance company advertisement and many will say there was an accident and they covered it. The companies want you to feel comfortable about signing up for insurance, paying premiums for the insurance and when there is a claim, you would expect that it would be covered. The process usually goes this way. You have a claim and the insurance company sends an adjuster who is employed by the insurance company to determine if the claim is a covered loss or denied by policy terms for a number of reasons including policy exclusions, pre-existing conditions, insufficient documentation or no covered issues like soil settlement, flooding or earthquake damage. The problem with this is that most have been trained by the company themselves and the procedure they perform to do these training. Sometimes even the trainers may be unknowingly training their employees incorrectly. Most of the time, issues are simple. For example:,

A brick chimney is leaning away from the house and is about to topple over. Insurance adjuster comes out, says he has seen this many times and says that it is foundation settlement of the chimney and the claim is denied because soil settlement is not covered. We were hired, performed laser level analysis of the chimney, found the chimney vertical to the roofline and horizontal cracks in the mortar at the roofline and looked through recent weather events and constructed engineering report that the chimney was leaning because of lateral wind load from a specific weather event and the claim was paid to rebuild the entire chimney for over $38,000.

 Adjuster visited home to inspect for roofing hail damage. Found some minor hail damage and awarded claim for approximately $1200 to fix various metal components on the residence. We documented the hail damage, found the shingles were brittle and unrepairable and entire roof was awarded replacement for just over $40,000.

A major tree fell on a house and split the house in two from the second to the first story. The insurance company sent adjusters, proceeded to repair the home with construction permits and properly licensed contractors. 90% through the repair, the homeowner had a bad feeling about the entire process and called us for an unbiased opinion. We inspected the property, reviewed previous engineering reports from the insurance company's structural engineer and disagreed with the original structural engineering report that the home had received code 502.2 "less than substantial structural damage." It was our opinion that the home had received "substantial structural damage." The complexity of this statement involves design strength and limits of the entire residence and you can run down a rabbit hole of complexity that makes quantum physics look like basic math. The result of that case was that the insurance company paid the client two payments after our initial inspection. One was for $200,000 and the last was a final settlement for another $300,000.

Contractor disagreements

We have had numerous contractor related inspections. Some have been examples of a contractor who was trying to rebuild a pool and during excavation, the soil eroded, caused damage to sea walls, concrete patios, and some foundation damage. We documented the damage, wrote an engineering report and review and last we heard there was a $130,000 settlement offer, but we do not know if it was accepted. Other contractor disagreement include homes being built to non code complying standards and we develop reports for the homeowners to send to the builder, city officials or their attorney for addition information. How de determine our inspection is to find the building code violation, which has been voted into law and develop our report with these facts. Many structural engineers rely on their opinion as a professional opinion. What happens if you have two opinions that are opposite with the similar qualifications. The answer is to write and document your report existing building codes.

Termite damage

Those little pesky creatures. Too bad we can’t sue them. In cases of termite damage, we offer advice to home inspectors and homeowners of how to repair termite damaged members and the proper way to perform these operations. Our engineering report follow building codes where replacement joists are required to span from bearing end to bearing end. We won’t allow a repair contractor to improperly sister a joist. This violates building codes and can result in floor joist failure.

Residential automobile impacts

We have performed quite a few of these. Some have been relatively straight forward with the simple required repairs that everyone can see. But some have been rather complexed. Depending on the angle of impact, the type of damage can be quite different. The reason is the structural framing directions. One instance occurred where an automobile impacted the corner of the residence, and it impacted a major structural component. The small deflection of this beam transmitted the entire load to other components of the house. Following the structural load path of the impact revealed that attic joists, rafters and interior floor girders also deflected and caused significant damage. We do not know the result of this inspection, but we documented a proper report.

City permits and other city issues

This is always a fun task and I say that in a sarcastic tone. The city has a job to make sure that homes are constructed and follow building codes. There are so many building codes and if I only knew 10% of the building codes, I would be the smartest engineer alive. Building codes are like law books. Just a small loophole in a building code can solve an issue that is otherwise insolvable. I have spoken to many code officials and many of my reports have passed across various jurisdictions desks. I typically write my reports to city officials with codes and reasoning why something should be allowed. Many times, I can help my clients who may be builders, contractors and homeowners. The reasons differ so many times. One example was that the city placed a home on the demolition list, because it was structurally unsound. We performed an inspection, documented statements that it required certain repairs to bring it to a structurally sound condition and the homeowner obtained a permit, had repairs perform and the home is off the demolition list.

Load bearing wall determination

Many times homeowners simply want to remove a wall and need to know if it is load bearing. Most owners do not have building plans and so we need to review the structural layout and determine load paths to verify if it is load bearing or no load bearing.

Residential Deck Inspections

Deck failures have occurred for vacation rental homes and recently several jurisdictions have mandated residential structural inspections. A Step in Time Structural Engineering can perform a residential deck inspection, determine structural soundness and provide required occupancy limits.

Structural Soundness of components

Many times homeowners simply want to know if a defect is a major structural defect or a cosmetic issue that does not affect the structural soundness of the member. Many times, the answer is provided with reasoning and common sense explanation of why issues may occur. For example, we inspected a CMU basement wall with horizontal cracking in the connecting mortar joints. The wall was vertical and not bowing inward. We explains that gutters were draining along his foundation wall, the water pressure was pushing the wall and has cracked the mortar but if the gutters are properly diverted away from the foundation wall than this problem will solve itself.

Fire and water damage

We have performed many fire and water damage investigation. Sometimes we recommend complete replacement and that repair is what building codes call technically infeasible. Sometimes we recommend repairs that many people may not consider. One example is that there was water damage of wood flooring in a residential home. The restoration company replaced the floors and months later, the floors were buckling and unlevel. They asked our opinion and it was determined that not only should they have had the floors replaced but the soaked water damaged subfloors should have also been replaced. The subfloor lost the elastic structural properties and would flex and deflect with live load applications.

These are just some of the common services we provide. We have also provided some really detailed structural engineering including construction vibration damage assessment, structural design, commercial building inspections, foundation design, geotechnical soil classification, load analysis, structural analysis, construction management, feasibility studies, forensic engineering, historical restoration, roof inspections, peer review, risk assessment, construction document review, masonry design, structural health monitoring, structural steel design, quality assurance, retaining wall inspections and more.