How to Find a Good Earthquake Retrofit Contractor

Homeowners and contractors think a retrofit is the same as putting in bolts and nailing up plywood.   It is not that simple.  There is a book 180 pages long that explains how to retrofit a house end even it leaves some things out.

This  New York Times article as well as this CBS News Report are exposes’ on the idea that retrofits are simple.  People have paid $10,000 or more for retrofit that will not work.  This is a natural consequence of   not having a retrofit building code .

The earthquake will let you know if you hired the wrong or wrong contractor.  Do some research.  You should know as much if not more than the contractor you hire.  Do the same kind of research you would do if you were buying a new car. It is not that hard if you take the time.

Earthquake Retrofit Contractor Screening

References from non-professionals won’t  help you much.  A contractor may have been easy to deal with and clean, but that is not important.  You want to know if the retrofit will hold up in an earthquake, not how friendly the contractor was.

In contrast, professionals such as members of the American Society of Home Inspectors are a good source for referrals. They see retrofits everyday and will know which contractor does quality work.

Contractors and engineers won’t be able to retrofit your house without being  familiar with the science.  This includes metallurgy and tests done in university and government testing laboratories, to mention tests done by hardware manufacturers.  Familiarity with old building codes is a must.

One must also know how houses fail in earthquakes.  Photos can be found at the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute.  If you don’t know how houses are damaged, there is no way to know how to prevent that damage.

Asking a Contractor the Right Questions

Asking questions about the subject is probably your best test of competency.  Ask the contractor two or three of these questions and see if they know the answer.

1- Ask your contractor if he is familiar with all the extant retrofit guidelines.  If he has thoroughly studied the subject he should be familiar with the Bay Area’s Regional “Standard Plan A”, “Appendix Chapter A3”of the 2016 International Existing Building Code.  “Project Impact Retrofit Guidelines”for the City of Seattle,Los Angeles’ “Retrofit Standard 1”, “Chapter 92 of the Los Angeles Building Code”, and finally the most recent and best guideline published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the Napa earthquake “Earthquake Strengthening of Cripple Walls in Wood Frame Dwellings”.  

2- Have they read this book on home retrofitting?  “Earthquake Strengthening for Vulnerable Homes: A Practical Guide for Engineers, Contractors, Inspectors and Homeowners”– June 5, 2015

3- Does your seismic retrofit contractor familiar with the resource manual Special Design Provisions for Wind and Seismic?  This is the virtual Bible of seismic retrofit design and anyone involved in this field should be familiar with it.

4- Does your earthquake retrofit contractor know about the 4 methods used in building retrofit shear walls are? These are the “Nailed Blocking Method”, the “Stapled Blocking Method”, the “Reverse Blocking Method”, and the “Flush Cut Method.” 

5- Does your seismic retrofit contractor  know which organization is responsible for shear wall tests in Canada and the United States?  This is also very important because their tests and reports are the basis of many provisions in the building code.  The organization is called the APA (American Plywood Association)  The Engineered Wood Association.

6-   Is the contractor aware of tests regardingthe performance of old foundations?

These tests were done by the Structural Engineers Association of Southern California in 1992 and showed low quality foundations without steel reinforcing perform quite well in earthquakes.

7-Is your contractor familiar with old building code provisions that specify the strength of existing structures.If you don’t know how resistant a building  already is, you can’t know where to address the weak.  These code provisions are found in Table A4-A of the International Existing Building Code.

8- Does your seismic retrofit contractor where to find the shear wall strength tablesare?   They used to be in the California Building Code.Now they are in the Special Design Provisions for Wind and Seismic. 

9- Can they tell you what the principle of rotation is?

Of course, we hope you will also consider us!

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