Aug 13, 2020

The Importance of Structural Engineering for Multi-Family Housing

By Focus Engineering In Expertise, Projects, Services No comments

Salt Lake City currently has a 35,000-unit housing shortage. The limited supply drives up rental rates and as a result, FOCUS sees new job sites springing up. The increase is due to a number of factors including the rising cost of single-family homes, a demand for new higher density apartments in downtown locations, and above-average in-migration. It could also be argued that the rising cost of land makes townhomes, apartments, and condominiums more affordable options for developers.

With more out-of-state developers looking to Salt Lake as a high-growth, secondary market, we will continue to see design and amenity innovation for new multi-family housing projects. As multi-family housing becomes a longer-term choice for people of all ages, it becomes important to know which amenities are a trend and which provide true value to residents and investors. The FOCUS team has observed bigger and bigger townhomes and condos with more stand-out details and customization. For example, there are many floor plans for three-story townhomes that don’t have a basement and include custom details like interior balconies or lofts – design features more common in single-family applications.

Building multi-story apartments or condos over a two-level concrete podium impacts design, building layout, height challenges, and open space utilization. Multi-family residential projects are often complex undertakings and require structural modifications and tweaks to provide flexibility, affordability, and speed to build. “We see a bit of a disconnect about what it takes to design multi-family,” notes Joel Whitmer, FOCUS Structural Assistant Department Manager. “There is an expectation that structural design for townhomes should be as affordable as single-family residences, but at the same time provide a higher level of detail usually provided for pricier commercial designs.”

Other obstacles facing the townhome market is the lack of contractors and skilled labor as well as high costs for land and building materials. While this challenge impacts all building types, the townhome market certainly isn’t immune. “For a recent project in Heber City we learned the contractor had to bring in a framing crew from Las Vegas because there weren’t enough local workers,” shares John Charchenko, FOCUS Structural Project Manager.

FOCUS Advantage
To mitigate these challenges the FOCUS team has developed processes that streamline design efforts by capturing structural calculations and details. Capturing information that can be reused for other applications creates efficiency and cost savings.

Our clients also benefit from the size, experience, and flexibility of our team. “The most successful multi-family project requires a lot of up-front coordination. It’s not the design that is so time-consuming, but rather the coordination with the owner and architect. When coordination happens early in the process the engineering design development is much smoother,” reflects Joel.

The Discovery Townhomes in Park City had a very tight deadline to design four luxury, custom townhomes. FOCUS not only completed the project in two weeks but also with value engineering in mind to save on construction cost. “Our hypervigilance in coordination and response time in design and throughout construction is why so many clients keep coming back to FOCUS,” states Joel. He encourages clients to include a structural engineer in the process as early as possible. “We’re able to provide input that will most certainly save you thousands in construction costs.”