Despite all of the information on the internet, and our blog, here at RetroFitting 360, we still get a lot of questions pertaining to earthquake retrofitting. While we are happy to answer any question you may have, we thought it might be helpful to put together a list of the most frequently asked questions, along with their answers, for you. If you still have any questions after reading this don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and give us a call.
How do I know if my building needs earthquake retrofitting?
The best way to answer this question is by asking how old is your building? Almost all of the buildings in the Los Angeles area that were constructed before 1980 will need some sort of seismic retrofit to bring them up to the current building codes. Many of the buildings constructed after 1980 could use some earthquake retrofitting to improve their stability during an earthquake.
Another simple answer to this question is to know the type of building you own. Under the new city ordinances of the Los Angeles soft-story retrofit program, all wood-framed structures and soft-story buildings are required to have a current seismic retrofit. Wood-framed buildings often crack under the strain of the earth shaking during, and after, an earthquake hits. In many cases, the initial quake will cause weakening of the structure and the resulting aftershocks will then result in a complete collapse of the building.
An earthquake retrofit will strengthen the connections between the building and the foundation creating a more stable structure. In the case of soft-story buildings more connections, extending shear walls or adding more support beams will strengthen the supporting walls. To know more about what is needed to strengthen your building you will want to schedule an inspection with a Los Angeles earthquake retrofitting company. Their qualified contractor will put together a detailed report of the work that will be needed for your building.
How much will an earthquake retrofit cost?
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. How much it will cost for an earthquake retrofit for your property depends on a number of variables. Some things to take into consideration include the building’s size, what it is used for, how old it is, and what types of materials and techniques does it need to make it more earthquake safe.
Since most people want an actual number in answer to this question, it makes it one of the most difficult to answer. On average, a seismic retrofit will run about one to three percent of the buildings original cost. Or, in simpler terms, a large building could run upwards of 100,000 thousand dollars to complete. The only way to know for sure what your cost will be is to contact a Los Angeles seismic retrofitting company to get an estimate. When they come out for the initial inspection they will create a detailed work plan for you that will include the cost for the work needed.
My building has survived a number of earthquakes already, does it still need to be retrofitted?
If your building made it through one of the many earthquakes that roll through Los Angeles, you are one of the lucky ones. But that doesn’t mean it is completely earthquake safe. While no one knows when the next earthquake will strike, they also don’t know how severe it will be. Folks in southern California have been waiting, and hearing about, the “Big One” for years now. Some scientists believe it just might be the next one.
In order to understand how earthquakes vary in strength, and not just on the Richter Scale, you would need to have a working knowledge of geology. The U.S. Geological Survey has a public information booklet that is available and includes an impressive graphic comparing shaking strength with distance from an epicenter. For everyone who does not have a degree in geology, the closer the epicenter is to a fault line, the stronger, and more destructive, the shaking damage will be. The strength of this shaking is not measured so much by the Richter Scale, as it is by the location to the closest fault line.
Other factors also affect an earthquake’s severity, like soil conditions, how well the building was constructed, how old it is, and most importantly, how close to the epicenter your building is located. The last major earthquake to hit the Los Angeles area was in 1994. It left behind millions of dollars in damage and took the lives of 60 people. Don’t take a chance with the lives of your tenants or employees by relying on the fact your building made it through previous earthquakes. Without an earthquake retrofit it will most likely not make it through the next quake.
Do I have options when it comes to the number of improvements to make?
Finally a question with a simple answer, yes. You will be given options of the types of improvements that will work for your building’s needs. You will also have options in the types of materials and even construction techniques that are used for your retrofit. While there is no such thing as an “earthquake proof” structure, you can select the options that will make your building more likely to withstand the shaking of a quake.
The engineer from the Los Angeles earthquake retrofit company you hire will put together a detailed report after making an initial inspection of your property. While there is no way for them to know for sure how severe the next earthquake will be, they will base the seismic retrofitting needs for your building based on the most severe seismic event.
The report the engineer prepares for you will also include an estimate of the cost for your retrofit. Most people have a budget they need to stick to, don’t worry, your earthquake professional can help you select the best options to improve your building that are still cost effective too. Sometimes you will have to choose between protecting the building’s structure or ensuring the safety of the people inside. Always choose the safety of your tenants and employees first.
Do I need to hire a seismic engineer to draft my earthquake retrofit plans?
You may not need an actual engineer. If you choose the right Los Angeles seismic retrofitting company, like RetroFitting 360, they have an experienced contractor who can draft the plan for you. An earthquake retrofit is not a do-it-yourself project. Before any work can begin you will need to apply for, and be issued a permit from the city. One of the documents needed with the application is a detailed plan that shows the work to be done. If this plan isn’t drawn up by a professional, it will not be approved. So do yourself a favor and let the professionals handle this for you.
What qualifies a Los Angeles Earthquake Retrofitting company to recommend earthquake improvements?
At this time there is no formal accrediting agency or certification process for seismic retrofitting, even for engineers. After the many major earthquakes in California, a number of government agencies, university research groups, and private engineers made intensive inspections of collapsed buildings and structures to identify their weaknesses. After the massive earthquake of 1994, Los Angeles city officials spent two years assessing the damage and compiling a list of the most vulnerable buildings. They wrote new building ordinances and rolled out their mandatory soft-story retrofit program to ensure the stability and safety of more buildings during the next earthquake.
Techniques used in an earthquake retrofitting of an existing building have come from all of this research. So while there are no formal certifications there are training programs available through the California Seismic Safety Commission and the International Conference of Building Officials. When choosing a Los Angeles earthquake retrofitting company check their experience in this field, how much training do their contractors have, and how long have they been in business.
Do I need to get a building permit before starting my earthquake retrofit?
Like most construction projects the answer to this question is yes, you will need a permit before beginning any work. Applying for a seismic retrofit permit requires you to put together some documentation first. You will of course need to fill out the application, have a detailed plan of the work to be done to submit, and pay the plan check fee. It typically takes up to 38 days to have your application approved. But, if the city engineer who checks your plan does not find that it meets current codes, it will be sent back to you for corrections.
You can avoid this by hiring a professional earthquake retrofit company who will have a contractor draw up the work plan for you. They will also submit all of the paperwork and deliver the permit to you once it is issued. This is one of the many benefits of not doing this yourself, a qualified contractor will know what the city building codes are and what the city officials expect, so the application will be approved the first time it is submitted.
My building’s foundation already has bolts, does it need more than that?
The most likely answer to this question is, yes it does. Just because you can see the bolts does not mean they are sufficient to keep the building stable. In most cases, bolting and bracing are needed. Without the proper support your building could easily collapse during an earthquake.
If your building was constructed before 1990, then the bolts used will not be up to the current code requirements. The standard distance for still bolts used to be at intervals of six feet, today’s standards require larger bolts placed at closer intervals. And other types of hardware, like holddowns or used now to prevent separation from the foundation during seismic activity.
And it is not just the bolt you need to worry about. After the Northgate earthquake of 1994, the newer building codes require larger, thicker, square plate washers in place of the usual round washers. The new, larger washers help to anchor the sill from the top, clamping it down, instead of just relying on the strength of the bolt to keep the building attached to its foundation. After the 1994 earthquake officials found that many of the holes for the bolts were drilled too big in diameter, the newer, square washers help compensate for this.
You will also want to have your building inspected to make sure the bolts haven’t decayed. Nothing lasts forever, even steel. Over time it degrades and loses its strength, or it can rust and thus it will no longer provide the support as it was intended. Most of the time you can’t see the decay from the outside since it tends to appear inside the concrete first.
How big of an earthquake will my retrofitted building be able to sustain?
Unfortunately, too many variables exist to give a definitive answer to this questions. The shaking that occurs during an earthquake can be mild or massive. Remember, the power of the shaking also depends on close you are to the epicenter. Two buildings standing side by side have been shown to behave quite differently in past earthquakes. One may stand with no visible damage at all while the other completely collapses.
Like some of the other answers to these questions, you have to consider the age of the building, construction materials, size and things of this nature. While there is no guarantee that an earthquake retrofit will prevent your building from collapsing during the next seismic event, it does reduce the likelihood of that happening. Think of it as risk reduction. To give you a better idea, we all know that eating healthy and exercising regularly can reduce the risk of a heart attack, but we also know that doing both of these things doesn’t guarantee that it won’t happen. Your building is less likely to sustain damage after a quake and if the earthquake is strong enough to cause damage it will be less than if you do not have the retrofit.
If it helps, inspections made after past earthquakes have shown that structures that have a seismic retrofit sustain less damage, require less time to repair, and the costs of repairs are also cheaper than those buildings that have not been retrofitted. It is always better to be prepared than to be caught off guard hoping for a good outcome.
Will my insurance premiums go down after my earthquake retrofit?
You should really ask your insurance agent this question. Practices in the industry change over time, so we would not be able to give you a definitive answer to this one. The California Earthquake Authority, which provides the earthquake insurance through most of the major companies, will reduce homeowner’s earthquake coverage by 5% after the retrofit is complete. In the case of commercial buildings it is best to call your insurance agent and check with them.
Will the retrofit increase the value of my property?
Sorry to say that like most of the answers this one also depends on a couple of variables. Two things to consider are the current market conditions and the earthquake consciousness of any potential buyer. An earthquake retrofit does add a great feature to add to the list of benefits of your property, and in southern California where earthquakes are the norm, rather than the unusual, it could make your property more appealing.
You also need to consider the type of building you own, residential versus commercial. In the case of a residential property the answer may be no, since it is hard to make back the cost of the retrofit in the selling price. In the cases of commercial buildings the opposite is true, as it is a good selling point since the new owner will not have to put out the costs to have it done. But bear in mind that the reason to have the retrofit in the first place is not to increase the value of your property, but rather to increase the safety of the building to protect what is really valuable, the people inside.
If you buy a retrofitted property it would be a good idea to have an inspection done. Since you did not oversee the project you have no way of knowing if the company who performed the job was qualified or not. Again, it is better to be safe now rather than sorry later.
How long will it take to complete the retrofit?
The amount of time needed to complete the job will depend on the size of your building and how much work needs to be done. Does it have a lot of empty spaces, like a basement or crawl spaces? Does it have a parking garage? What is the building used for? All of these factors can affect how long the actual construction phase will last.
On average, a small apartment complex of four to six units, with a parking garage, could take as few as two weeks. While larger building, with multiple floors, could take up to a month or more. Your contractor from the Los Angeles retrofitting company you hire will include a time frame in the first report he gives you along with the work plan and estimated cost.
As you have learned by now, there are a lot of variables that go into planning an earthquake retrofitting of a building. You simply cannot complete this type of job by yourself. Choosing a qualified Los Angeles seismic retrofit company can make all the difference. RetroFitting 360 has been performing these type of retrofits throughout the Los Angeles area. Our professionally trained contractors will guide you through every step of the process, from the first consultation right up to the final inspection. We take all of the guesswork and stress out of the project allowing you to continue to live your life as usual. Contact us today to speak to one of our friendly staff and schedule a consultation today.