While we’ve written about a variety of earthquake readiness preparations you can take, one of the most important steps a homeowner can take is to seismically upgrade their building. There are a variety of seismic upgrades that are available/possible, but this article will focus on one particular type of building: the soft story wood framed building.
What is a soft-story wood framed building? As you may have guessed, the framing is wood (as opposed to steel, for example). The soft-story refers to the ground floor configuration of the building, and it is one where at least 50% of the ground floor is open and used for things like assembly, commercial storefronts, or storage (including garages). The basic design flaw is a large open space on the ground floor below additional floors with numerous rooms (and interior walls) above.
As part of the CAPPS program (Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety), the city has implemented a voluntary seismic retrofitting ordinance that applies to soft-story buildings built prior to May 21, 1973. Currently the voluntary seismic upgrade program offers the following incentives to a building owner:
- Waiver of the “plan review” portion of the building permit fees
- Expedited processing
- 15-year exemption from seismic upgradesÂ that are a part of any mandatory ordinance
When this voluntary program was announced, it was with the expectation that mandatory retrofitting legislation would pass. As of this writing, no legislation has been passed that mandates a building upgrade. The biggest hurdle has been around trying to find ways to provide financing options for homeowners, and until that dilemma is solved I wouldn’t expect to see any legislation pass.
And why all the emphasis on this? Studies have shown that it would cost about $300 million to retrofit these buildings, which sounds expensive until you compare it to the $1.6 billion in property damage it is expected to prevent (not to mention the lives saved).