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We have received some questions about home modifications. The answer typically boils down to "It is probably more complicated that you imagine. Hire an engineer."

Each question is similar, but unique.

How should we handle these questions?

  1. Answer/close them individually?
  2. Redirect them all to one typical question (i.e. a target question for "close as duplicate")?
  3. Others?

Some sample questions:

  1. can-i-remove-one-or-both-of-these-support-posts-in-my-basement
  2. first-glance-structural-integrity-of-this-roof
  3. how-significant-is-a-8-500-lb-concentrated-load-in-a-large-25-floors-resident
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    $\begingroup$ Additional options - We can update the "on-topic" page in the help center to explicitly state those questions are off-topic. We can also create a custom off-topic close reason. Custom close reasons are generally reserved for high volume issues though. $\endgroup$ – user16 Dec 5 '15 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ My comment is "I think if this question in the form "What are the necessary structural engineering parameters that need to be considering when removing the supporting post?" IMHO This type of question is valuable for this site" This type of question can help poster get educated on engineering perspective. $\endgroup$ – Mahendra Gunawardena Dec 6 '15 at 2:07
  • $\begingroup$ This meta discussion is certainly useful in discussing this from a liability side, as this falls under the same liability issues as anything else. $\endgroup$ – Trevor Archibald Dec 6 '15 at 4:44
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At a minimum, I think we need to close off the questions that are asking about structural modifications. Personally, I'm neutral towards whether we close them after updating the on-topic help page, as a custom close reason, or as duplicates of a canonical "You need to hire an Engineer" type question. For that matter, I wouldn't object to closing them purely as "too broad" either.

If I had to pick one, I would lean towards updating the on-topic page to indicate that questions requiring a licensed Engineer to answer are simply too broad for the scope of the site and therefore off-topic for the site.


Regarding answering the questions, even if it's to the effect of "You really, really, really need to hire a licensed Engineer." I'd discourage answering those types of questions as the answers don't provide lasting value for the site.

By way of example, let's take the answer from one of the example questions you listed. It's a well written answer, and currently has 8 up votes. But the crux of the answer boils down to this:

NO! GOD NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!

I don't think we want answers like that to become commonplace on the site.

A cleaner way of handling that would have been to leave a comment stating "There are far too many variables at work for a meaningful answer to be provided. Please consult with a licensed Engineer in your area to have this evaluated." And if you feel compelled to comment upon the sanity of the project at the same time, then, well, that's what comments are sometimes used for.

It's probably worth pointing out that questions that are closed are likely going to be deleted. I think our community is better off focusing on answering questions that are more likely to be kept around and add value to our site.


It's probably worth noting that 2nd and 3rd examples provided are a little different than the first. The roof structure and large aquarium questions were more about evaluating what was already there as opposed to modifying the integrity of the structure.

And that also brings up a related comment from Mahendra:

I think if this question in the form "What are the necessary structural engineering parameters that need to be considering when removing the supporting post?" IMHO This type of question is valuable for this site

We need to walk a careful path here. On the one hand, the suggestion represents an Atwood Transform as mentioned in the article Q&A is hard. But we need to make sure that the transformed question remains reasonably scoped. With the remove support posts question, I'm not convinced that an Atwood Transform would work on that question. I think the resulting question would remain too broad and not a good fit for the site.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not totally sold on the dupe-in-lieu-of-off-topic approach but I think it's worth a try. Let's see if we can make this an exceptionally high-quality canonical question to use for closing questions that we can't (or shouldn't) answer from behind a keyboard. (That's not all of the potential questions we're talking about here but it's a good chunk - maybe a majority.) $\endgroup$ – Air Dec 8 '15 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ n.b. the [home-improvement] tag is at this point an uncomfortable experiment that may ultimately need to die. Let's see how it goes. $\endgroup$ – Air Dec 8 '15 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ Adding onto the comment, if OP seeking engineering solutions such as "I would like to remove the supporting post, what are the alternate methods to distribute the load" or "How can evaluate the force acting on these posts? or "What do I need to consider if I need reinforce the supporting beam If I remove the supporting post?" These type of questions will help OP be educate when seeking a consultant engineer. $\endgroup$ – Mahendra Gunawardena Dec 9 '15 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ @air (and others) I would imagine that this topic/concern must show up on diy.SE frequently. Should we research how they handle it over there? $\endgroup$ – hazzey Dec 9 '15 at 21:23
  • $\begingroup$ @hazzey I did a cursory search of their Meta site but didn't find any sort of fully-formed policy. I also looked at existing questions involving the modification of existing structural elements (e.g., A, B, C) and saw that the M.O. over there seems to be simply to answer as normal with caveats as necessary. I think some migrations will be possible and others we'll simply need to turn down in one way or another. $\endgroup$ – Air Dec 9 '15 at 22:51
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I have to comment on the approach taken by Air - I think it is wildly successful and brings out a unique approach to this site.

Having been on for a while, I've seen quite a few questions shut down for "not enough information" or "you need to hire a professional". While this is a valid response to questions, I believe from what I've seen that most people who ask us questions simply don't really understand the information that is needed.

From that perspective, I like the Atwood Transform proposed - especially if we can be proactive like Air and make several good canonical questions. I'd like to add a few more. With enough views, these will pop up in searches and likely help not only with traffic, but help a poster from asking a question only to get shut down - instead they will see that "yeah I shouldn't even ask this now - I need to follow the advice of this Q&A and seek help / get more information".

That way, instead of shutting down a question with "you need more information", we can shut them down with "you need more information, and goto this question to find out what information you need to ask this question". To put it more succinctly, let's be the opposite of this image and help them understand:

Solving Problems

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  • $\begingroup$ engineering.stackexchange.com/questions/6493/… - This is actually happening to me, so I figured I'd throw it in as well. Since "knocking out a wall" isn't the only kind of do-it-yourself engineering in the modern home. $\endgroup$ – Mark Dec 10 '15 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ It's too early to say whether the approach of writing a canonical question and then closing its permutations as duplicates rather than as off-topic will be successful or not. I'm a bit nonplussed by the answers on the trial balloon question so far. $\endgroup$ – Air Dec 14 '15 at 16:28

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