Everything You Need to Know About Earthquake Retrofitting Los Angeles

Los Angeles is the second-largest city in the US. Since it was established back in 1781, the city has accumulated a number of nicknames. Most people know the loose translation for the city’s name, City of Angels. Some of the lesser-known nicknames include the City of Sunshine and Flowers, La La Land, and Earthquake Central. This last nickname is the reason that earthquake retrofitting in Los Angeles is of the utmost importance.

According to the US Geological Survey, 10,000 quakes occur in southern California every day. Almost all of these are so small that you don’t even notice them. The last big earthquake to hit the Los Angeles area was the back-to-back quakes that hit Ridgecrest on July 4, and 5 of 2019. The first quake registered 6.4 while the second one hit 7.1 on the Richter scale.

Thankfully, these two earthquakes did not cause any major damage to property or city structures. Unlike the Northridge Earthquake of 1994. That catastrophe resulted in millions of dollars in property damage and 60 LA residents lost their lives. Since that loss, the city of Los Angeles has implemented its Seismic Retrofitting program. Here is everything you need to know about the retrofitting process.

Step 1: Hire a qualified retrofitting company.

A construction project of this size is not a DIY type of project. There a number of steps that need to be completed in order to pass the city’s final inspection. Since the seismic retrofitting Los Angeles program began, a number of companies have appeared on the scene offering retrofit services. Like any construction project, you should get a couple of bids before choosing the company you want to hire.

Before you hire any company take the time to check their qualifications, experience, and, if possible, check their client reviews. You will also want to find out just what services they offer. For example, do they help with the paperwork, is someone available to answer your questions, and do they have a structural engineer on staff? Make a short list of the companies you are considering, then give them a call to schedule an inspection of your property.

Step 2: Initial inspection

Either an engineer or a qualified contractor is needed for the initial inspection of any earthquake retrofitting project in Los Angeles. Many companies offer this first service for free, so take advantage of that to cut back on some of the costs. When they come out to your property they will look at different areas of the building to determine where the weaknesses are.

  • Roof Inspection – An important part of the inspection is the roof. The structural engineer will check the roof surface, the conditions of the gutters, looking for any leaks, etc. What is entailed with the roof inspection varies from building to building.
  • Inside and Outside – Both the interior and the exterior will be examined. Things the inspector is looking for include any areas that appear weak, unsound, or are in disrepair. Make sure they remove the inside stucco to check for any damaged areas of the building’s frame.
  • Framing – A building’s frame is usually the first place that shows signs of possible instability. The framing should line up with the building’s foundation in order to maintain structural integrity.
  • Foundation – Next to the frame, the foundation is one of the most important areas of any building. This is also the one area that usually shows the most obvious signs of seismic damage. The inspector will look for cracks, check for any movement or other visible signs of distress on the foundation.
  • Basements or Crawl Spaces – If your building includes a basement, or crawl space, the inspector will check these too. Things they are looking for could include signs of water damage that can weaken the building’s structure, the drainage or water control systems, and checking for any areas that might be prone to flooding.

Step 3: First consultation

After the inspection is completed, the engineer will write up a detailed report. This report should include a list of the areas that are at risk during an earthquake, a detailed plan of the work that needs to be done, an estimate of the cost, options for different methods to retrofit your building, and a timeframe for how long the job will last. You will receive a phone call to schedule the first consultation once all this information has been put together. During this step, you will choose whether or not you want to hire them for the job.

Step 4: Acquiring necessary permits

Before any construction can begin, you will need to be issued a building permit by the city. During this process, you will need to fill out an application and pay any necessary fees. The application needs to include a work plan so a city official can be sure the work meets the current earthquake retrofitting codes in Los Angeles. Don’t let this step overwhelm you. If you hired the right company, they will handle all of this for you.

If you are a landlord, you will also need to file the Tenant Habitability Plan with the Department of Housing. This can be done on the internet and is generally approved within five business days. The law states that you must give your tenants a 25-day notice telling them of the work that is going to be done to the building. This allows them to make other arrangements and ask any questions they may have. Your building permit will not be issued if this step is skipped.

If the work plan is not sent back by the city for modification, it usually takes about 38 days to get the permits.

Step 5: Actual work begins

How much work needs to be done, and how long it will take depends on a number of factors. These include; how much does the building weigh, how close is it located to a fault line, and the highest hypothetical magnitude that fault line can experience. These three factors will also determine what method is best for your seismic retrofit in Los Angeles.

Three basic methods are used in all retrofitting projects.

  • Shear Walls – Shear walls are used for strengthening the entire building and keep it from swaying during an earthquake. Adding shear walls is one of the most affordable solutions when it comes to retrofitting. During a seismic event, the walls will move laterally, and if the shaking force is strong enough, the building can separate from its foundation. The shear walls prevent this from happening so your building will be more likely to remain standing after an earthquake.
  • Steel Cantilever Column System – The cantilever I-beams have quickly become the most used soft-story retrofitting system. They are often more affordable than adding shear walls or special moment frames. However, they are not suitable for all buildings. Cantilever beams are best used to retrofit smaller buildings that have narrow spaces.
  • Special Moment Frames – Special Moment Frames are considered the best solution for most earthquake retrofits. They come in a variety of sizes and can be delivered flat shipped or already assembled.

Step 6: City inspection

Once all the work is completed it will need to be inspected by a city official. Again, this step should be taken care of by the retrofitting company you hire. A city engineer will come out to your property and check to make sure that the work that was done matches the work plan on file. If everything is up to code you will be issued a Certificate of Completion.

Who We Are

RetroFitting 360 is one of the leading earthquake retrofitting companies in Los Angeles. We have been in business since 2016 and have completed 100’s of retrofits throughout the Los Angeles area. One of our goals is to make the retrofitting process as stress-free as possible. We offer a free initial consultation and our professional staff will be with you every step of the way.

We handle all of the necessary paperwork for the building permits which includes the detailed work plan. We have done enough of these projects that our plans get approved the first time, which saves you time on the final project. If you have any questions or wish to schedule a consultation, give us a call today. One of our courteous staff will be happy to answer your questions and get your retrofit project underway.