A Guide for How to Hire an Engineer
With few exceptions, applicants for new or expanding Group B public water systems need the services of a professional engineer when applying for design approval.
If you have limited experience hiring engineers, this information will help you ask the right questions when selecting an engineer.
What is a professional engineer?
A professional engineer is a person who has a specialized college education and engineering experience, passed our state exams, and is currently licensed by Washington State.
When do water systems need to hire engineers?
State Board of Health rules describe when a water system must use the services of an engineer (see Group B regulations). Unless a local health jurisdiction has exceptions in their regulations, an engineer must prepare the design for any new or expanding Group B water system.
When you submit engineering design documents to the Office of Drinking Water or the local health jurisdiction, be sure to give the reviewing authority enough time to complete the review and send you an approval letter before construction begins. If the submittal needs corrections or additions, you must respond to the reviewing authority's comment letter before an approval letter will be issued.
The licensed professional engineer is expected to:
- Prepare facility designs that will function properly, and operate safely, reliably, and efficiently.
- Prepare complete construction project cost estimates and project schedules.
- Prepare detailed construction documents to implement the selected alternative.
- Help the applicant get plan approval from the reviewing authority.
- Help the applicant solicit and evaluate bids from contractors to perform the work.
- Inspect and test the quality of a contractor's work and making necessary reports and recommendations to the applicant.
- Complete a Construction Completion Report Form (Word) to document that construction was completed according to our approved construction documents.
What kind of engineer does my system need?
There are many categories of engineering specialties. Water systems often employ civil and environmental engineers, but these they are by no means the only ones that might be appropriate.
The engineer you select must be a professional engineer (PE) licensed by Washington State who has experience with public water systems. It is not legal for engineers or land surveyors to undertake assignments they are not qualified to do (196-27 WAC).
Why must a Group B water system applicant hire a professional engineer?
- There are numerous technical details involved in planning, designing, and constructing water system components. Some details, such as structural requirements, soil conditions, corrosion, performance standards, sizing criteria, construction and operating costs, treatment process interactions, and safety, health, and environmental standards require the expertise, knowledge, and experience of a trained professional engineer.
- State rules require a PE licensed in the state of Washington to prepare certain documents related to public water systems (WAC 246-291-120).
- State rules also require systems to submit a certificate signed by a PE to us within 60 days following completion of and prior to use of any project we approve (WAC 246-291-120). The certificate states that 1) the PE inspected the project and 2) it was constructed according to the approved construction documents.
How to find an engineer with water system expertise?
Other than reviewing the Yellow Pages or on-line sources, you can find engineers who may be interested in and capable of providing needed services by asking other water systems which engineers provided them with excellent service.
What criteria should be considered when selecting an engineer?
The primary considerations in selecting an engineer are relevant experience in the types of services needed and demonstrated ability to serve in a timely and effective manner. The basic criteria to use in the selection process include:
- Knowledge: The engineer should have specialized education or training in the aspect of public water system planning or engineering that the small water system needs.
- Experience: The engineer should have professional engineering experience with similar water system projects for a similar size system.
- Ability to Serve: The engineer should demonstrate that sufficient uncommitted time and other resources are available to perform the services within the time needed by the water system.
- Communication: The engineer should demonstrate the ability to communicate in a thorough and timely manner as needed to keep the water system fully and satisfactorily informed.
- References: The engineer should provide three or more references from previous clients where similar water system engineering services were performed. In addition to a contact person, the engineer should provide information on the type of project, year the project was undertaken, total actual versus estimated cost of the project, and the name of the engineer in charge of the project.
If you hire an engineering firm, these criteria should apply not only to the firm, but also to the specific engineer or engineers who will do the actual work. Many large engineering firms have people who meet all these criteria, but they don't actually work on all of their clients' projects.
What services should the engineer perform?
There is no standard package of engineer services. Engineers tailor their services to the specific needs of each small water system. Generally, engineers are involved in three phases of a design and construction project:
- Planning and Preliminary Design Phase: Involves studying the problem, determining alternate solutions, outlining the basic concept, making preliminary cost estimates, and establishing project feasibility.
- Final Design Phase: Includes design, fieldwork, preparing construction documents and cost estimates, and submitting to and obtaining approval from all required agencies. In some cases, other government agency approvals are necessary in addition to Office of Drinking Water or local health jurisdiction approval of the water system design.
- Construction Phase: May involve construction staking, managing the selection of a contractor, surveillance and inspection of the contractor's work during construction, approval of shop drawings, reviewing field test results and the contractor's progress payment requests, and other matters required to administer the construction contract. This phase often includes preparing as-built drawings and completing the Construction Completion Report Form.
How to determine the costs of engineering services?
You may base engineering fees on a set fee per day, cost times a factor, lump sum, or a percent of project cost. Whatever financial arrangements you make, before signing a contract you and the engineer should fully agree on the specific services to be performed and how they will be reimbursed. It is common practice to withhold a percent of the fee to make a final payment to the engineer after we approve the project. Details to work out with your engineer include:
- Will travel time be an additional charge? If so, at what rate?
- Will the fee include all consultations? Or, will there be an additional charge for each meeting above a set number?
- How will the engineer charge if changes or additions to the engineer's submittal are needed?
- Will a particular pay option provide incentives for the engineer to save money?