Seismic retrofit

To afford a house in Ventura with an ocean view, I bought an older home in need of many improvements. The real estate flipper who sold it to me had made only cosmetic changes and was selling it “as is,” so, as I knew following my real estate inspection, I had to put on a new roof, pay off liens, and address major electrical and plumbing issues.

I also completed a seismic retrofit, and of all the improvements I have made over the past 12 years, this was the most practical, but also the most difficult to manage. Like other local houses built before current earthquake standards, mine faced heightened risk of being shaken off foundations during the next major quake.

The seismic retrofit was so practical because of its value. Bracing and bolting my house to its foundation helped me feel safer, reduced the annual premium I pay for earthquake insurance, and probably increased the value of my home. More immediately, I received a $3,000 subsidy from the California Earthquake Authority, which covered almost half the cost of the work.

The $3,000 subsidy program is back and available through Nov. 29, 2022. The California Earthquake Authority offers an additional grant for households with incomes up to $72,080 per year, typically making this improvement free. (See www.earthquakebracebolt.com/How-Our-Program-Works/EBB-Supplemental-Grant-For-Low-Income-Homeowners.) Rather than first-come-first-served, if, as expected, the current round of the program is over-subscribed with registrations before the deadline, customers are chosen on a lottery basis.

So, although you do not need to rush in order to be first in line, you should act now if you are interested. You need sufficient information to register and to ensure you want to have the work done. The first step is to find a contractor. Although you are allowed to do the work yourself, doing so risks mistakes or oversights and reduces the amount of subsidy available. To find a contractor, first read the program rules at www.earthquakeBraceBolt.com, and choose from the program’s list of approved contractors, at Find a Contractor, Engineer or Architect Professional | EBB (earthquakebracebolt.com).

For me, the project was difficult to manage, mostly because, as with my home purchase, I sought out a bargain. Two contractors based in Ventura County each bid about $10,000 for the job, but a contractor based in Los Angeles said he would do the work for just $6,800, if I could take care of the permitting, the paperwork for the subsidy program, and the application for an insurance discount without his help. The permit was harder than expected, as it required me to separately hire an engineer, who used the contractor’s plans and his own load calculations to complete a permit application for the city of Ventura’s approval.

The project got even more complicated when, after this low-cost contractor’s crew left, I discovered they had installed retrofit foundation plates, securing the mudsill of the house to the foundation, but they had not installed the planned A35 framing angles meant to connect the top plate of the wall to the blockings of the floor system. Actually, the contractor did install some of these A35s, but only right next to the entry of the crawl space, correctly predicting an inspector would look only in that area.

Fortunately, because of my work with the engineer, I knew what the plan called for and how it should look. I called the contractor, who was shocked, shocked! that his crew would make such an omission without telling me. He checked with the crew and called me back right away with an explanation. The space available was too small to install A35s, he said, so he would discount the job by $1,500.

I called another contractor who charged just $2,000, used a special tool to install the A35s in tight spaces, and finally my project was complete.

The amount of construction and demolition debris, according to the U.S. EPA, is greater than all other materials combined. Due to state mandates and the need to conserve resources, local sorting centers separate recyclable items from properly targeted loads. However, when disaster strikes, sorting becomes a secondary concern and may be impossible, due to concerns about asbestos, lead paint and household chemicals. Don’t let your house become earthquake debris. Protect yourself and the environment with a seismic retrofit.

David Goldstein, Environmental Resource Analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at 805-658-4312 or david.goldstein@ventura.org.