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What Does a Construction Project Engineer Do?

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  • Written By: Carol Francois
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 14 April 2014
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People who enjoy problem solving, working with others, and large projects will find great enjoyment as a construction project engineer. This title describes an important role on any construction project. A person in this position is involved in every aspect of a construction project, from the sourcing of materials to the actual construction of the structure. This role has three primary aspects: planning, project management, and communications.

Some construction project engineers are fully licensed, Professional Engineers (PEs). This designation requires the completion of a university degree in engineering from an accredited school, in addition to a minimum three years of working experiences as an engineer and the successful completion of the certification examination. As a PE, there is a continuing education requirement, as well as a code of ethics to which the engineer is legally required to uphold.

A construction project of any size requires a significant amount of planning. This stage can take between two or three months and a full year to complete. Budget, design, client requirements, materials, and timeliness must all be finalized before work can begin. Multiple iterations, client meetings, and discussions with other building professionals can be time-consuming, but all are required at this stage.

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Project management typically shifts to the construction project engineer when the actual work is ready to begin. On any large project, there is typically several project engineers. Working as a team, each engineer takes responsibility for a specific set of tasks, all of which are critical to the project. The primary project leader is responsible for coordination of the project, ensuring that communication lines are open and that everyone is held accountable.

The construction project engineer must be able to clearly communicate requirements and expectations to the various trades and workers. Items such as timeliness, daily activity plan, and problems must all be communicated to a wide group, quickly and efficiently. In addition, he or she must have a management style that encourages others to communicate mistakes, problems, or concerns. Without this opening, issues are hidden, causing delays and even increasing the risk of injury on the site.

During the building phase, most of the construction project engineer's time is spent on the construction site. He or she is expected to be able to spot potential problems, resolve issues, and manage the staff on site. This requires a deep understanding of the project details, client requirements, and time lines.

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anon246294
Post 5

An architect designs the look of a building. A civil engineer deals with all the dirt work and anything not considered part of the building on a site, from houses to skyscrapers. This consists of any underground utilities as well plumbing, electrical, etc.

A structural engineer makes the architect's dream a reality from concrete foundations to the type of iron in the roof. They make the building structurally sound.

These are the three main drawings you will find on blue prints: C, A and S. Civil, architectural and structural. You'll also see a "P" for plumbing an "M" for mechanical and an "E" for electrical.I'm not so sure if an actual engineer draws these last three up.

A general contractor gets wind of jobs being built and has to bid them against other general contractors, or gets lucky and knows a architect who was given the job, but either way, we will say they have the job to make this easier. What they will do is post the job online somewhere and various trades of subcontractors will bid on the work: plumbers, roofers, concrete guys, dirt guys, electricians, etc. They will more than likely get, several bids from each trade and 19 out of 20 times they take the low bid unless they know you and you do great work.

From here, the general contractor has a contract with the owner and each sub has a contract with the general contractor and work begins. A project engineer would work for a general contractor or in some cases, a sub. Any building built in America legally has to be stamped by architects and engineers or it can't be built.

JimmyT
Post 4

@stl156 - I'm pretty sure you are right about the job of the engineer. They don't choose the look of the building, but they do choose materials and make sure the building will be able to support itself. Another important aspect is making buildings resilient to earthquakes or other natural disasters common to an area.

I'm a little confused about the role of a contractor, too. Maybe contractors are the people who are one step below the engineers and are responsible for the hands on work of assigning laborers to different jobs. At least in home building, I think that's what contractors do. They would be the people that make sure the plumbing and electrical work gets installed, too.

Does anyone know what the construction bidding process is like for a project?

TreeMan
Post 3

@Emilski - I'm not sure, so maybe someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but I would say most engineers are just used in large buildings where they need to put their skills to use in making sure that something is going to be stable.

I wouldn't say they are limited to only commercial, though. If you think about apartment buildings or even huge mansions, I'm sure there are construction engineers involved along the way.

I'm curious what type of engineers usually do this kind of work. I know I have heard of general, civil, and mechanical engineers. I'm sure in a lot of cases, there might even be engineers with different types of training that work together at a firm, and each gives his own special input.

stl156
Post 2

When a new building is being built, the engineers don't actually design the building, right? Isn't that left up to an architect? From what I know the engineers just make sure that the building will actually be stable, and they do what needs to be done to make the architect's vision a reality.

On construction jobs, I've heard of general contractors, too. I always thought they were the people that were in charge of getting everything built. What is the difference?

Also, is the project engineer responsible for anything on the inside of the building like plumbing or non-structural design?

Emilski
Post 1

Am I right in assuming that most construction project engineers are involved with large scale commercial or industrial buildings, not so much residential designs?

I know that there are usually engineering firms that are responsible for getting buildings going in the right direction. How many engineers actually work on a building? How are the different responsibilities broken up?

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