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What Is the Difference Between a Civil and Structural Engineer?

Structural engineers are often consulted during civil engineering projects.
Structural engineering is a type of civil engineering.
Structural engineers are responsible for ensuring that construction materials adequately support the size and design of the structure being built.
A structural engineer specifically focuses on support structures for tunnels, buildings and bridges.
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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2014
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The difference between a civil and structural engineer is slight, because both occupations fall under the general category of civil engineering. Structural engineering is a specialty within the field that focuses on the design of columns, beams, and other support devices for buildings, bridges, tunnels, and similar infrastructure. Civil engineers might specialize in a wide range of projects, from marine engineering to mechanical devices.

Careers in these fields require design skills to ensure the safety, stability, and utility of construction projects while considering cost. Civil engineers might act as supervisors at a construction site or work strictly on design, research, or teaching. A civil engineer and structural engineer use math, science, and computers to develop models during the design process.

Structural engineers typically analyze how wind and temperature fluctuations affect tall buildings and other structures. They might evaluate the impact of traffic on a bridge or freeway overpass, especially if the road will endure heavy use by large vehicles. Both a civil and structural engineer might also devise safe methods to raze existing structures to make way for new development or renovations.

One difference between a civil and structural engineer might include inspection of work as it progresses. Civil engineering focuses more on design elements, while structural engineering might involve inspecting building materials, such as cement, steel, and lumber. The inspection process ensures construction materials can adequately support the size and design of the development for its intended use.

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Civil engineers might choose from a wide array of specialties after completing their studies. Mechanical engineers work with any equipment that produces power through steam, gas, electricity, or other sources. They might design elevators, generators, or engines for private companies or public agencies.

Material engineers study, design, and test materials used in construction or manufactured products. They might also focus on a specialty under the broad category of civil engineering. For example, material engineers might only work with products made from plastic. Others might specialize in certain metals used in construction or manufacturing.

A civil engineer and structural engineer both need knowledge of government regulations in the region where they work. Consideration of environmental concerns typically falls under duties in both classes of engineering. In some regions, a license is required after gaining experience under the supervision of a certified engineer. Successfully passing an examination might be required to earn licenses as a civil and structural engineer.

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