Earthquake retrofits are needed to ensure that at-risk buildings can adequately withstand the impact of seismic activity. Without proper earthquake preparedness, non-reinforced buildings can become severely damaged, and in some cases, entirely collapse in the event of an earthquake.
Amongst the most severely compromised structures in need of seismic retrofit are soft story structures.
These structures are classified as having a weakened ground floor that is unable to bear the extent of the structural weight of the stories above it, thus leaving the building compromised during seismic activity. These buildings tend to have large ground floor openings, such as tall windows and parking areas.
Other factors that make buildings susceptible to needing an earthquake retrofit are having wood-framed structures and being built before 1978.
However, all buildings that do not comply with up-to-date seismic retrofit standards are at risk for damage or collapse in the event of seismic activity. Buildings that have not been recently updated and those damaged by time will need to get a seismic retrofit that meets all current codes to guarantee safety.
Laws, such as mandatory soft story retrofit requirements for identified at-risk buildings, have been passed in a bid to minimize earthquake damage.
Earthquakes threaten residents of the greater San Francisco Bay Area at all times of the year, and structures that are not properly secured run a high risk for earthquake damage. Any situation that involves the ground shaking can cause structural damage, leading to the building sliding off its foundation, cracking, walls warping, floors buckling, and a host of other serious structural issues.
In severe cases, compromised buildings can slide off their foundation or collapse, which puts residents and people in the surrounding area at risk for injury or even fatality. Since soft story and at-risk structures are already structurally unsound, even the slightest ground movement could be enough to completely unsettle the structure.
Because this omnipresent threat of earthquakes looms over the area, residents of the greater San Francisco Bay Area need to secure their buildings.
Homeowners can discover if their homes are soundly secure by booking a complimentary foundation inspection, though there are many warning signs of foundation damage homeowners can look for to stay ahead of the process.
Catching signs of damage early on is critical, as it will prevent the damage from spreading and the repairs costing even more money. Cracks are one of the clearest indicators of a damaged foundation.
Cracks that are abundant, closely clustered, horizontal, and/or unusually wide often indicate a structural issue. Foundation damage can also make itself apparent through altering the appearance of the building. A visibly slanted home, bowed floors, and buckled walls all suggest structural damage.
Homeowners should inspect the premise for water intrusion, crumbling foundation, doors and windows that have difficulty opening, and any other signs that point to something amiss. Though your house might have received a seismic retrofit in the past, the wear and tear of time, changing soil, and other environmental factors could have left your home vulnerable to gradual damage. Structural issues could also be the result of faulty initial construction, so it’s crucial to remedy weakened areas before seismic activity strikes.
To brace the building for full earthquake preparedness, necessary retrofitting will need to occur in any weakened areas. Most residential homes can be properly retrofitted with a combination of foundation bolting and cripple wall bracing.
Foundation bolting secures the structure to the ground to prevent it from sliding off the property, while cripple wall bracing ensures that the structure avoids collapse and remains intact. Floors can additionally be attached to braced cripple walls for added security.
Overall, the extent of work needed depends on the degree of foundation damage. Most cases of damaged foundation can be treated with foundation replacement to get the building fortified.
However, some prolonged cases of foundation damage might need to be treated with foundation replacement. This process typically involves fastening new steel structures, removing the existing slab, placing the new reinforcements beneath the previous ones, and pouring in new concrete for an overall reinforcement.
At Bluestar Development Co, we walk our clients through every step of the retrofitting process starting with the free inspection. We’ll be with you each step of the way, from obtaining permits to having plans approved and cleaning up afterward.
Keep in mind that structures that have been identified as soft story and received a mandatory Order to Comply will need to complete the retrofitting process within a predefined timeline.
Homeowners should take preventative action to ensure that their buildings are properly retrofitted for when earthquakes strike.
However, soft story building owners don’t have the option or whether or not to retrofit.
In some areas in California, certain buildings identified as soft story structures have been mailed an Order to Comply, which specifies that retrofitting is mandatory for the structure.
After receiving the order, building owners have 2 years to submit plans to retrofit, plans to demolish, or plans of a previous retrofit. They then have 3.5 years from receiving the order to obtain all permits needed for the project and a total of 7 years to complete the project. This is a non-negotiable timeline that was implemented to provide earthquake protection in areas prone to seismic activity.
Failure to fully comply with the soft story timeline will gravely endanger building residents and the lifespan of the building. Furthermore, it can result in penalties for the building owner.
While it’s true that seismic retrofits are not the cheapest home maintenance projects, they might be more affordable than you think. Overall, the cost of the project will depend on a variety of factors. The extent of the current damage will have a major influence over the final price.
To avoid dealing with more expensive and invasive retrofits, it’s important to be on the lookout for signs of foundation damage and book a professional inspection as soon as you spot any potential warning signs.
The size of the building also factors into the overall cost. Multi-unit building retrofits always cost more than single-unit buildings, since they tend to have more openings on the ground floor that threaten the building’s structural stability. Additionally, the level of hazard also influences the cost.
For example, unreinforced hillside homes present more of a challenge when it comes to securing the building. More contributing factors include the contractors, engineers, and materials used in the seismic retrofit.
While mandatory soft story retrofits are necessary, other homeowners choose to simply do the bare minimum rather than comply with current codes. While this might save money in the meantime, keep in mind the potential costs of seismic damage. At Bluestar Development Co, we make it our mission to deliver premium services at the best price on the market. We work within the budgets of our clients by cutting costs without sacrificing quality.
The Earthquake Brace + Bolt (EBB) program helps homeowners offset the costs of critical earthquake retrofit renovations.
Bolts and braces are needed for securing homes in the event of seismic activity, as anchored crawl space bolts prevent the home from sliding and braces strengthen cripple walls to avoid collapse.
Through EBB, homeowners can receive up to $3,000 to help fortify their homes against seismic activity by providing bolt and bracing services for residential crawl spaces. To be eligible, homeowners must meet Chapter A3 specifications.
Homes that meet the requirements are typically wood-framed, located on level ground or a low slope, contain particular cripple walls, or have a foundation that is raised. To be eligible, the home must also be located within the specified EBB zip codes and be built before 1980.
Additionally, you are only allowed to receive EBB financial assistance one time per home. Interested and eligible homeowners can apply online when registration is open and submit the necessary paperwork by mail. An electronic system is used to select which homes receive funding for the year, and all applicants are updated about the progress by email.
If you are interested in EBB, it’s important to know that no retrofitting work can be started until you are accepted into the program. Therefore, you will need to plan the process with plenty of time. You can access all EBB program information at earthquakebracebolt.com.
Due to concerns over cost, resident displacement, project completion time, and more, some homeowners delay completing their earthquake retrofit.
Unfortunately, this choice jeopardizes the safety of the building and endangers the lives of all residents and close neighbors in the event of seismic activity. Since many retrofits are now required by law, there are penalties to be incurred for not adhering to the retrofit timeline.
Failure to meet specified deadlines may result in the Department of Building Inspection taking enforcement and abatement actions. Administrative action will be taken once a Notice of Violation is issued. This could lead to the building being labeled as not secure, causing many problems for the building owner.
Additionally, if you wish to take advantage of any cost recovery programs, it’s crucial that you complete your earthquake retrofit on time and fully comply with any specified timelines. Failing to meet specified requirements will result in a loss of potential savings. Overall, having a building that is not properly retrofitted is a liability waiting to happen. Starting the retrofit process by contacting a professional is the first step in protecting your property value.
We are FEMA trained and on their preferred contractors list plus have 25+ years of combined experience in retrofitting homes. Allow one of our trained professionals to assess the state of your building and explain the process needed for keeping your loved ones secure.
We’re happy to guide you through every step of the earthquake retrofit process, including savings, cost recovery programs, and obtaining eligible benefits.
We offer a complimentary home evaluation free of charge. Call today to get started on securing a safer tomorrow!
Earthquake Test Around the World Japan
This video highlights the reasons and how to have your home seismic retrofitted