How the Tougher 2019 Seismic Ordinances can Affect Your Soft-Story Retrofit

Recently the Structural Engineers Association of California (SEAOC) Convention took place in Palm Desert, California. The SEAOC is the leading association for professional engineers both civil and structural. This organization meets to create guidelines for engineering projects that are used by cities across the country. This year’s convention focused entirely on seismic retrofitting.

The Los Angeles soft-story retrofit program has been ongoing since it rolled out in 2015. Now in its fourth year, it appears the city ordinances may get tougher before the end of 2019. Anyone that has undergone a retrofit on their property knows it is a long process. Several people are involved in the job including structural and city engineers, general contractors, draftsmen, city clerks, and other construction workers like welders and masons.

Current Ordinances do not Provide Enough Protection

The wording of the current Los Angeles seismic ordinances do not provide the protection to most property that is needed in a major earthquake. As of now, the ordinances only require that a retrofit meet the minimum needed to prevent loss of life. While this is important, these minimal retrofits will not prevent structural damage to your building in a major earthquake. Many of the engineers at the SEAOC convention feel the ordinances should be revised in order to create higher levels of protection. 

A number of these professional engineers also did not agree with the use of cantilevered columns in soft-story retrofits.  Although these columns will absorb the force created by the earth’s shaking, they can be damaged by this force. When this happens the whole column and system need to be replaces which can cost more than the original retrofit itself. The goal should not just be to prevent loss of life but should also include preventing damage done to the building as well.

100 Resilient Cities Network

From earthquakes on the West Coast to hurricanes on the East Coast, the country is seeing more natural disasters. Currently a resiliency movement is sweeping the nation to prepare cities for these events. Los Angeles joined the 100 Resilient Cities Network in 2013. While preventing loss of life is the motivating factor behind the seismic ordinances, the secondary goal is to protect the city’s resiliency. The current ordinances are not ensuring this will happen.

While buildings may be retrofitted so they don’t collapse during an earthquake, they can still sustain enough damage that they could be red flagged. This means your tenants could be homeless and you will suffer financial loss due to lack of rent being paid. Many SEAOC structural engineers agree that a higher standard needs to be set. 

The Los Angeles Building and Safety office may be considering raising the minimum soft-story retrofit design standards. Other cities, most recently Pasadena, have also rolled out their own seismic ordinances. Many more California cities are expected to implement some form a retrofit program in 2019, and they will be drafter to a higher level of seismic resistance. The new ordinances will require retrofits to use more steel, more labor and cost more money.

Understanding the Retrofitting Process

This type of construction job has a number of steps you need to take to get it done on time. Knowing what these steps are will help you to create a plan of action and form an estimate as to how long it will take to complete. 

Step One: Initial Assessment and Engineering Inspection

The first step is to find a structural engineer to come out to your building and do an inspection. They will analyze the building and create a work plan for you. This plan will include the safest options for your building, an estimated cost of what the work will cost, and a timeline for how long it will take to complete.

Step Two: Approval and Permits

Once you have a work plan, the next step is to find a professional earthquake retrofitting company to do the job. If you do a Google search you will see there are quite a few in the Los Angeles area to choose from. Be sure to find out how long they have been in business, how much experience they have in soft-story retrofits, and look for reviews from previous customers to see what they thought of the company.

When you find the company you want to hire, they will send a contractor out to meet with you. He will submit the work plan from the engineer, and other necessary documentation, to the Building Department for approval and permits. You cannot start the work without all the proper permits in place.

Step Three: Getting the Work Completed

Now that you have your permits, the work can begin. In your first meeting with your retrofitting contractor they should have provided you with an estimated timeline for the project. Make sure this timeline falls within the one mandated by the city. When the job is completed, a city inspector will need to come out and sign off on the work.

Who We Are

We serve the greater Los Angeles area and our goal is to provide you with a softy-story retrofit that is both cost-effective and efficient. Our civil, architectural and structural staff will draw up the required plans of the modifications needed in order for the permits to be acquired.

At RetroFitting 360 we are committed to making the soft-story retrofit process as stress free as possible. We work with you every step of the way, so you and your tenant’s daily lives will remain as undisturbed as possible during the retrofit. If you received a letter to comply from the city, or you just have questions about your property and how a seismic retrofit can benefit you, contact us today for a free evaluation.