Konstantin Ashkinadze, P.Eng.

Consulting Engineer

("Konstantin The Engineer")

frequently asked QUESTIONS

How are your projects typically organized?
We tend to break the project down into a series of small, manageable stages. The idea is to avoid long-standing obligations between parties. This works best on projects when the commitment is not yet made and the engineer's report is used as the basis for the client's decision-making.

Usually, we insist on doing the inspection first. We strive to respond to initial calls in a very compressed time frame (typically within a week) and the report usually takes 2 to 3 weeks to complete, depending on its complexity and on how busy we are.

The payment for the inspection is collected when we have finished the inspection, before leaving your premises. We believe this is fair for both parties. We have done work for you, and typically have answered many of your questions during the inspection. These answers represent our best-faith opinion of the phenomena we observed. The payment at the time of the inspection is the necessary protection of our interests if at a later date you change your mind (for example, if you decide not to proceed with the project, based on our inspection findings).

Typically, after the report is delivered to you, the project is closed. (Except for the inquiries on the report, which we hope will be minimal because our reports are very detailed.) We are paid up and there are no more standing obligations to each other from either side. You enter the next – planning – phase.

You can use the report to answer the following questions:

  • How serious is my structural or foundation problem? How practical is it to fix? What will happen if the condition is left unattended?
  • Is my proposed renovation feasible?

Based on our report, you can obtain construction cost estimates from contractors. You can also obtain a Development Permit from the municipality to see if the proposed change agrees with the existing architectural zoning of your area, before you expend money on detailed engineering design.

If you use innovative or unusual construction materials, such as straw bale or structural panels, check with your insurance company and your banker if they have any objections to financing or insuring it. This will allow you to get organized with your budgets, suppliers and construction forces. In some cases, you may not go ahead with your project at all. In some others, it may take you years to proceed from one stage to the other. That's why our system with no "open ends" on the project, in our experience, works best.

When you are ready to proceed, you should contact us and obtain a design. The quotation for the design is usually provided in the report. We then reopen your file and start working. Typically, the design takes 3 to 4 weeks but it may be more if it is extensive or innovative.

At the inception of the design, we will typically contact you and obtain clarification on aspects that were left to your discretion in the report. When the design is substantially complete, but before formally issuing it, we will send you an unstamped review set for your consideration. This will be your opportunity to make any corrections you feel necessary, ask questions, or raise concerns.

When the design is finalized and stamped, we will be ready to hand it over to you (in person or electronically) and collect the payment. Again, after this is done, the project is closed and there are no more mutual obligations between the parties left unfulfilled.

Not everyone who obtains designs from us moves ahead to the construction phase -- not immediately, anyway. Those who are determined about their construction plans enter the stage of construction planning. You typically need to apply for and obtain your Building Permit, rectify your construction cost estimate, get on the waiting list of the contractor and agree on the construction schedule, obtain confirmation of financing from your bank, and make other necessary arrangements. In some cases, this downtime may also amount to years, especially if you are a do-it-yourselfer and share your construction efforts with your day-to-day work and family duties.

When finally you are in the construction phase, we can provide construction supervision or the final inspection. The costs to do so are usually outlined in the report but they may need to be corrected if they have become outdated over the years of preparation.

The final inspection and certification is typically a requirement of your Building Permit and is required for the bank to approve the release of the funds. It will also be required if you decide to sell the house in the future. However, even if none of these conditions applies, you still need the Compliance Letter for protection of your own investment. There is no excuse for failure to call the engineer to do the final inspection.

Construction supervision inspections are not strictly required but may be necessary if the construction passes through multiple stages and the installed components will not be observable later after pouring of the concrete or application of the finishes. The fees for all inspections are paid on site at completion of the inspection. We do not release the inspection reports or the compliance letters until we have received the payment.

What to expect and what not to expect from the engineer's inspection?
  1. While the engineer will make every effort to properly diagnose your problem, he obviously cannot see through the ground and behind your finishes. The inspection will use secondary telltale signs such as the profile of your cracks and the measured deformation to identify the pattern of movement. This is our inference and is only reliable if the pattern of movement is sufficiently pronounced.

    Many houses have disperse damage in the form of multiple small cracks in different parts of the house. There may be numerous reasons for such behaviour, including uneven shrinkage or settlement of the soil under the foundation, cracks in the concrete foundation, framing deficiencies, uneven drying of the wood, defects of the finishes application etc. etc. Some of these we are able to detect positively; others can only be suspected.

    The engineer's report is a statement of our findings (including calculations if necessary) and the most probable diagnosis of the structural problem. We then prescribe remedial measures based on the best information available to us. The findings must then be verified at every opportunity when the finishes are opened up before the plans for the repair action are finalized.

    An alternative to this would be to demand demolition of the finishes and/or excavation of the foundation as a pre-condition to the inspection. Although commendable in some cases, this measure should be used sparingly, since it will put you at a disadvantage of having your house in the need of repair before you have even decided whether to proceed with the project. Non-destructive ways of examination should be exercised as much as possible.

  2. Sometimes, we may prescribe the "do-nothing" course of action. This may happen if the reason for the distress is not clearly pronounced, is disperse, and would be too difficult or costly to eradicate, while not presenting a safety hazard but being merely a nuisance. A lot of irritating cracks or floor sags can be remedied by measures such as using finishes insensitive to movement (i.e. wallpaper, wall panels, straw mats), flexible drywall joints, or cosmetically levelling the floor with plywood of varying thickness, carved to adjust to the sags. However, these measures can only be recommended by the engineer based on a comprehensive review of the reasons for the faulty performance, after he establishes that there is no safety issue or clearly present structural problem.

  3. After your foundation is underpinned, it is natural to expect that it will never move again. Unfortunately, this is a mistaken belief. The rate of settlement should be significantly smaller than it was before the underpinning, but it will never be zero, no matter which system you use. The very nature of clayey soil behaviour under load predisposes it to slow, progressive deformation over time. Unless you support your house off solid bedrock (which is not found at reasonable depths in the Edmonton area), the settlement may present itself again.

    Other reasons for the continuing settlement include:

    • In systems using anchors installed with eccentricity (i.e. underpinning from the side of the footing or wall) – structural deformation of the heads of the eccentrically loaded anchors;
    • In systems using concrete piles installed directly under the footing – voids forming under the footing due to the difficulty of concreting in the upward direction.
    • In systems using push pile underpinning – the phenomenon of "hydraulic lock" when the build-up of pore pressure in clays of low permeability causes the pile to stop the penetration prematurely, and then it will release when the pore pressure slowly dissipates.

    Practically, no system on the market is free from these sorts of problems. However, the severity of the cracking and the amount of the differential settlement should be significantly reduced after properly designed underpinning is installed.

  4. In many cases, the problem that looks like foundation settlement may not be related to it at all. Other types of defects such as basement slab heaving may give the patterns of cracking very similar to foundation settlement. Then, underpinning the foundation may be a complete waste of money. It takes a considerable engineering skill to distinguish one from the other, which underscores the supreme importance of careful diagnostics before any repair strategy is chosen.
Does your company provide warranty to the repairs you engineer and certify?
Please be advised that our company does not provide any guarantees, expressed or implied, that the repair we prescribe or undertake will eradicate the structural problem. The reasons why we are not in a position to provide such guarantees are as follows:

  • A foundation underpinned on only a portion of its perimeter (usually between the "starting" and "terminating" cracks) may continue to settle over the rest of its non-underpinned perimeter. Sometimes it happens soon, sometimes it may take years, or in most cases may not happen at all. In any event, we are not advocating to pre-invest your money to deal with a problem that has not presented itself yet and may not occur ever.

  • The alternative would be to underpin the entire perimeter of the house and all its interior supports to eradicate its possible settlement completely. The only thing that can be "guaranteed" is that it will cost you a lot of money. It is not unlike giving a full overhaul to an old car. No matter how much money you expend, it will not become new again. But, it can be brought to a technically sound condition when it may give you an odd squeak here and there but it will reliably carry you around.

  • Our foundation designs are typically based on the general knowledge of the soils in the area. Few of our clients are willing to pay for a site-specific geotechnical investigation. This works in most cases but not in all cases. If you happen to live in an area of a known problem (a former dump, a reclaimed lake or a swamp, and the like), please let us know. Also, soils can be affected by climatic factors such as drought or frost, erosion, tree growth, mechanical disturbance, leaky utilities and many other factors beyond our control.

  • A typical house in the Edmonton area is a property that was not engineered to begin with, was built with a minimum amount of quality control, with little or no documentation, using the least expensive construction material available. When inspecting your house, we are trying to deal with significant problems, which may endanger your life or the value of your property. Some minor cracking may be too difficult or impractical to attend to.
Does your company carry professional liability insurance?
Please be advised that we have made an election not to carry the professional liability insurance in our business.

The professional liability insurance for engineers in Canada is not mandatory. However, in Ontario, for example, a company practicing without insurance is obligated to expressly notify its every client of this fact. In Alberta, there is no such legal obligation; however, we feel it is fair to disclose this information to our clients.

Rather than making our clients pay for the professional liability insurance through inflated service fees, we rely on doing our job well to eliminate the very basis of potential claims. We believe in clear conscience, knowledge, experience, diligence, integrity, and the duty of care. We have received many responses from our past clients commending us for our thoroughness. We know a significant deal but continue to expand our knowledge base from every project we execute.

On every job, we do overall measurements enabling us to draw a set of structural plans for the property. From these plans, we establish how the load is transferred and how the bearing structures on different floors line up. This allows us to calculate forces acting at any point of the structure and check its strength rigorously if required. We probably do more calculations and analysis than most other engineers in this industry. Our inspections typically last 2-3 hours. This often surprises people. In the design, we use various self-checking techniques and software to reduce the likelihood of an omission.

This, of course, still does not mean that we cannot make a mistake or overlook something. Very rarely but such cases may happen. In such cases, we will re-inspect the property to collect the evidence and issue a statement about the nature of the problem and whether it is related to any deficiency in the design. Then, we will propose measures to recover from this condition, including a revision of the design if necessary.

The rates for the revision will be objectively estimated depending on the root cause of the problem and the amount of work involved, and agreed upon with you before we commence the work. Fairness and honesty from both sides is the keyword in all cases.

Does your company perform "Rush Jobs?"
Lately, more and more often the prospective clients approach us with requests to perform their assessment or design super-fast, claiming it is imperative to complete the report in 2-3 days and the design drawings in one week or similar. These requests are becoming increasingly aggressive and widespread.

While we realize the importance of the time factor in business, we insist that a professional must be given adequate time to perform the required "due diligence" for quality and safety while maintaining a reasonable life balance and concurrent services to many clients. People usually take it as a reality of life when they have to wait for weeks for their doctor's appointment; they may ask, but won't try to apply pressure to make it happen sooner. Other professionals such as lawyers or accountants operate at their own pace and good luck trying to rush them. However, engineers live amid heightened urgency expectations, whether it is truly needed or not.

Please be advised that unless it is a verifiable emergency, we do not make firm commitments on the date of the project completion. The timelines we quote are only our best estimates at the time they are given, and are subject to change with our evolving workload, the degree of complexity of the project and other circumstances of life as may occur. The sequence of the project execution is determined by our business judgement. It is not necessarily "first come - first serve."

The following specific situations apply:

  • We recognize the time criticality of assessments for open offers for property sales and acquisitions. If the time the offer closes is completely unrealistic, we will request an extension. Our fees for this type of urgent work will be increased.

  • We honour structural safety emergencies and will attend to them as soon as the access to the site is cleared, again at a premium rate.

  • The mere impatience on the part of the client does not constitute an emergency for us.

  • The failure of the client to plan a project, their procrastination and unrealistic expectation of how long it will take us to complete our assessment, resulting in them running out of time in their schedules, does not constitute an emergency for us. Upon kind request and at a significantly increased rate, we may honour such calls, but it is strictly subject to our availability and discretion.

  • If a client's deadline for a permit application is about to expire, it is not an emergency for us. We will perform our assessment at our usual time and rate. However, we can undertake to contact the Safety Codes Officer in charge for this permit, informing him/her that we have just been retained on this project, have performed the inspection, and request additional time to complete our assessment in due course. From our experience, the extension is usually granted. The Safety Codes Officers fully realize how busy and overextended the engineers are, and cooperate with their requests.

  • If the situation warrants it, we can agree to expedite an informal e-mailed statement of an inspection or calculation findings for the client's factual information only. This makes sense to support the client's decision-making, such as whether to buy the property in question and how to adjust the sale price in view of the future required work. The formal stamped report will be issued in regular time.

"How soon do you need this report?"
"To be honest with you, I need it yesterday."
"I am sorry sir; yesterday is fully booked already."