A photo showing an architect working on a draft with a pencil and rule

Ati Aziz

Structural Design for Residential Architects: How to Get Started

How to easily set up your structural calculation for common residential structures with structural design software like ClearCalcs.

As building professionals, you may be required to have a basic understanding of structural technology to perform structural design analysis and calculations for your projects.

Unfortunately, most structural design software isn't designed for residential architects -- which is why, as an architect, you've likely faced these issues:

  • Most structural engineering software is too elaborate for architects to use
  • They are expensive, as they are loaded with different features you're never likely to use
  • You often need to dedicate many hours to understand or become familiar with the software

Additionally, while there is plenty of simpler software available, you often need to use 3+ tools to help with designing different materials or to spend a long time manually to make your entire design work.

In this article, we will be walking you through how to easily set up your structural calculation for common structures in residential houses in ClearCalcs within minutes.

Looking to try structural design software right away? You can open one with ClearCalcs in under 2 minutes and sign up for our free 14-day trial.

Want to find out the exact steps you'll need to go through in order to create your structural calculation? Keep reading!

What do you need to get started with structural design

Here is what you need to get started with your structural design calculations.

Your drawing plan

Generally, the structural design process begins with the design blueprint of the residential house being built. This will enable you to identify the relevant members involved in the construction and select the most suitable materials that can safely uphold the structure.

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The most common members you can design in ClearCalcs:

  • wood beams like roof headers, floor joists, rafters, those for load bearing wall removal, etc.
  • wood columns like posts for decks, stud walls, or even lally columns
  • footings such as spread footing or pad footing, and pier footing for a deck

Your project setup

In ClearCalcs, your set of calculations (like beams, columns, and footings belonging to the same structure such as a residential house) is grouped in a project tied by the project name, job number, client name, address, and building standards.

[BLOG] residential-architect-project-set-up.jpg

To create your project:

1. Identify your building code When you sign up to ClearCalcs, you will be automatically assigned a default building standard based on your selected country of origin.

For example, if you're an architect from the United States, you will be assigned the US building standard, and your calculation will default to the International Building Code (IBC) 2018.

You can change the building standard applicable to your project once you have identified the specific member you want to calculate for.

2. Input your address This feature currently only locates the project in the Google Map. Future integration will include automatic calculation of wind load specific to your project.

3. Set your preferred sections (optional) If you already have specific material (wood or steel), manufacturer types, or species you will be working with for your project due to clients' requirements, you can set your preferred sections so you can save time to quickly access the list of your favorite sections in your calculation.

How to set up your first structural calculation

Now that you're ready with your residential layout and project information. Here's how to get started with your first calculation.

1. Identify the structure you're designing Let's say you are designing a residential deck comprising four main structural elements of deck joist, deck beam, deck post, and pier footing. You can start with your calculation by adding a new calculation to your project and choosing Wood Beam to ASD or LRFD Requirements: Wood Joist Calculator.

[BLOG] residential-architect-wood-joist.jpg

Note: Not sure which to use? Based on our user data, it's most common to use ASD for Wood and LRFD for Steel.

2. Input the key properties of your member This generally includes the key geometry (eg. beam plan length) and the support conditions (fixed, pinned, or roller support).

Note: Need more info about the different support types? Read our support guide on how to enter beam supports in ClearCalcs.

[BLOG] residential-architect-key-inputs.jpg

3. Input loads Easily enter loads to be factored and analyzed on your calculation. In ClearCalcs, you can add different loading types in combination to your member.

[BLOG] residential-architect-load-input.jpg

4. Select your material type Once you've finished entering the geometry and loads of the calculation you want to analyze, you can evaluate if your calculation passes satisfactorily by selecting your desired type members in any of our materials libraries.

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The Member Selector will automatically summarize your governing checks to make sure your calculation passes in green or yellow (red means fail)!

What else can you do with ClearCalcs?

What else can you do in ClearCalcs once you have created a calculation? Here are a few things:

Link the reactions of your loads with other load-bearing members

The problem with manually doing your design calculations is that anytime you work with two or more load-bearing members, you need to update your calculations every time you make changes upstream or downstream.

With ClearCalcs, you can easily link reactions between beams, columns, and foundations as point loads or line loads where applicable. And the loads will be dynamically tracked through the structure in the same project.

Load linking between beams and columns

If the top calculator's reactions change, the loads being inherited onto the lower calculator will update automatically. No need to copy and paste reactions between calculations!

Export your calculation for submittals to permit reviewers

ClearCalcs export feature enables you to either export the entire project or select a specific calculation to export as a summary.

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The report automatically includes the governing checks of each calculation as well as clear assumptions such as the design code, references, etc.

Ready to start calculating in ClearCalcs? You can use the account for 14 days for free, with no commitment required. Need ClearCalcs for a one-off project? Subscribe to our month-to-month plan and cancel anytime, no questions asked.

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