Building Owners Should Care About Earthquake Retrofitting

Building owners have seven years to retrofit their wood buildings with soft story conditions, and 25 years for non-ductile concrete frame structures. The law in the City of Los Angeles allows apartment owners to split the costs of seismic retrofit work with their tenants with rent increases of up to $38 per month to cover half the costs of a retrofit.

The Structural Engineers Association of California estimates there may be as many as 100,000 buildings in Southern California facing comparable mandates as other cities and counties consider adopting retrofit laws of their own. Already, L.A. County, West Hollywood, Santa Monica and many others to the north are in the process of considering similar laws of their own.

Retrofits Can Save Lives, Reduce Liability

This should be everyone’s No. 1 reason for completing a retrofit, but the reality is that we all gamble with life and limb when it comes to forking out money for things that are uncertain. Case law has now set a precedent that puts the responsibility for death, injury or property damage in the hands of the property owner.

Even though the earthquake itself was an “Act of God,” the courts found the property owners negligent because the structure had been identified by the city as requiring seismic retrofits and that even though the deadline to do the work had not yet passed, the owners should have taken prompter action for safety’s sake. If you have a building that is susceptible to collapse and you’re aware that it requires retrofitting to withstand an earthquake, you may be liable.

Consider the following projects to help make your home more earthquake-resistant.

1. Brace cripple walls: Cripple walls rest against the foundation and support the floor and exterior walls of a home. Earthquakes can shift cripple walls, so experts recommend bracing them. Add 2-inch by 4-inch boards between the vertical studs at the top and bottom of a cripple wall. Make sure to check with your local building officials to see if you need a permit for this type of work.

2. Bolt sill plates to foundation: Foundation bolting typically means that bolts are added to improve the connections between the wooden framing members of a building and its concrete foundation. Usually this means adding bolts through the piece of wood that lies flat on top of the foundation, referred to as the sill or mudsill, into the concrete. There may be no existing bolts, or the existing bolts may be either weakened or too far apart to be strong enough for earthquake resistance.

3. Build better walls: Whether you plan to build your own home from scratch or retrofit your existing home, you have options for making the walls more earthquake-resistant. If your building plans include masonry infill walls, which tend to collapse in an earthquake, adding steel reinforcements can help avoid significant structural problems. As an alternative, you could leave space between the walls and the building frame, allowing for some drift as the building moves during a quake.

4. Install rounded windows: A building’s framework sways during an earthquake, causing a shift in window frames. As pressure increases, window corners start to crack and chip. You can likely preserve your windows by rounding out the corners.

5. Restrain computers and smaller appliances: Secure your computer and smaller appliances with hook-and-loop material such as Velcro, nylon or elastic cords such as “bungee” cords or adhesive-backed brackets. The restraints should prevent the gadgets from toppling to the floor during tremors.

6. Anchor larger equipment, appliances and furniture: Take note of larger items such as bookshelves and entertainment centers, as well as ceiling and wall hangings. Use flexible fasteners to secure these items. Also, make sure plumbers installed flexible connectors on all gas appliances. Bolt down large appliances such as the water heater and refrigerator.

To get started today or for more information, contact us today to schedule a FREE on-site inspection by our team of soft story experts or call us now at (818)287-8002.