A large number of properties, including apartment and commercial buildings, have a ‘soft story’ condition. These properties may be required to comply with the Los Angeles Soft-Story Retrofit Program. Many of us are not familiar with this term but it can be easily understood. It is a term used to describe a building with three or more stories located over a ground level and windows, large doors, commercial spaces and other openings in a place where a shear wall is typically required to provide stability.
A soft story building is typically an apartment building with rooms above carport, garage or open spaces. Such a building is not designed specifically for the transmission of shear or lateral forces between the earth and the stories above. Without necessary strengthening, such buildings are prone to structural damage during earthquake conditions. The first floor of a building is weak as it misses sufficient shear walls. Beams surrounding open parking spaces are not so strong to support the whole building during a vigorous earthquake.
The City of Los Angeles, in 2015, passed ordinances to establish mandatory standards for soft-story buildings to promote public safety and minimize structural deficiencies resulting from earthquakes. The ordinance requires retrofitting of all the pre-1978 soft-story buildings. The Department of Building Safety has compiled a list of such buildings that require a seismic retrofit and the Los Angeles Soft-Story Retrofit Program outlines that all requirements should be complied by 2022.
Any apartment constructed before 1980 is likely to be a part of the 13,500 buildings identified by the department and the people living in Hollywood, Westside and San Fernando Valley will be affected the most as these areas have older apartments in large numbers. Apartment buildings are quite common in these places but their age and design render them vulnerable to failure during seismic events. Soft story buildings built between 1950 and 1980 do not meet the modern seismic requirements and need a seismic retrofit to gain the strength to withstand shaking in earthquake.
This applies particularly to buildings built along and near fault lines. To find out if your building is affected by soft story condition and needs to undergo the Los Angeles Soft-Story Retrofit Program, you can download the inventory list created by LADBS.
Seismic Retrofit Process
To implement the ordinance, Los Angeles building officials have identified the affected structures and notified the owners to start the retrofitting process. The process can cost anywhere from $60,000 to $130,000, depending on the size of the building. Owners will have two years time, after receiving the compliance order, to submit plans of retrofitting or demolition or the proof that the building does not need retrofitting. The entire process must be completed within seven years of getting the order.
The process of Seismic Retrofit, though not difficult, requires great attention and planning. The first step is getting the engineering and architectural plans approved by the department for compliance with the new law. The construction can commence once the plans are approved. Tenants will be affected by the retrofit process and they should be notified in advance. Trenches are dug to install new steel beams in place of wooden beams to provide sufficient strength to the soft story.
The purpose of seismic retrofitting process is to counteract the main forces induced by earthquake causing damage to buildings. It involves installing engineered metal connectors and other reinforcement materials at stress points throughout the foundation of the soft story building.
These connectors convert the loosely connected parts of a building into a unified structure that stays together when affected by seismic forces which can easily tear weak buildings apart. A seismic retrofit process helps minimize damage of earthquake thereby reducing repair costs after a seismic event.
What We Offer
If your building is affected and must adhere to the Los Angeles Soft-Story Retrofit Program, you can start the process today by availing our free evaluation service that examines your building to get you a free estimate of the design and permit. Our retrofit specialists will walk through your property to analyze and assess the conditions and outline all the necessary information and detailed plan and step-by-step guide to comply with the ordinance.
We would find the most effective and ordinance compliant retrofit options for your building making sure that it causes minimum impact on the existing structure. You receive an initial proposal with an estimated cost of engineering and construction.
Our staff is specialized and trained at seismic evaluation and retrofit processes and uses an approved methodology to provide a detailed engineering analysis of the existing structure. We provide drawings for permit and all other documentation to be submitted to the Building Department for review and approval.
Our team of designers make sure that the drawings are perfect so that construction can start at the earliest. Once the plan is approved, we provide the necessary structural assistance to make sure that the construction is implemented according to the plan and meets the City requirements.
As a leading provider of seismic retrofitting of existing buildings in Los Angeles region, we focus on construction efficiency and help you identify the most cost-effective solution. We have civil, architectural and structural staffs that provide the required service to modify the floor and site plans to acquire permits.
We are committed to turning your soft-story retrofit process into an easy, quick and painless affair. Whether you have received a notice for the seismic retrofit to comply with the Los Angeles Soft-Story Retrofit Program ordinance, concerned about your apartment’s foundation or interested in seismic strengthening to ensure your safety during earthquake, you can contact us to get a free Los Angeles soft-story retrofit evaluation of your property and the most cost-effective solution.