Earthquake Retrofitting in Los Angeles: Considerations for Choosing the Right Contractor
Are you a homeowner who’s heard of earthquake retrofitting and may have been informed that your property needs an upgrade, but don’t know where to start? Let’s go over what a professional retrofit contractor does, how they can help you, and what to look for when hiring one.
First, a bit of context. Many Los Angeles area homes built prior to 1960 do not feature the structural reinforcement today’s standards require in order to sufficiently survive an earthquake. There are professionals out there who specialize in retroactively adding those reinforcements so that single- and multi-family homes alike can be brought up to code.
This is often referred to as seismic retrofitting, and it entails a contractor installing structural reinforcements to strengthen the building and prevent the roof from pulling apart or collapsing in an earthquake.
A structural engineer or architect will first come up with some engineering plans for the building, which will help guide the retrofit contractor in developing a plan. He or she may install:
- Continuity ties to guard against tension and compression resistance when external movement occurs.
- Roof-to-wall anchors to shore up weak connections.
- Roof nailing to repair condensation damage.
- Cord plates to fortify weak interior walls
- Exterior steel to strengthen weak outer walls.
- Drag lines for portions that extend away from the plane of the structure.
The typical cost for earthquake retrofitting in Los Angeles for a single-family home is about $5,000 if an engineer is not needed; tack on a couple thousand more if an engineer has to get involved. For a multi-family apartment building, seismic retrofit costs can range anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 depending on size and scope of the problem.
Tips for Hiring a Contractor
When looking for a professional whom you can trust for earthquake retrofitting in Los Angeles, commit yourself to research and patience. This is not like hiring a plumber to fix a leaky toilet (although you should still research that, too).
A seismic retrofit is a big job that must be followed to the letter, or the safety of your family, tenants or employees could be at risk.
Ask for proof of license and insurance: In 2015 when the seismic retrofit law went into effect, the addresses of all 13,500 soft story buildings in Los Angeles were released. Because that information is public knowledge, it stands to reason that some less-than-reputable contractors are looking to make a quick buck while cutting corners. That’s why you have to be so diligent in asking for proof of licensure and insurance. Check each name you consider at the Contractors State License Board website to be sure.
Ask for references: Just like you would any other contractor, ask if they can provide you with references from previous clients who can attest to the quality of their work. Make sure the contractor you consider has plenty of experience in this line of work, asking for at least two to three references. Follow through on those references and reach out to ask some questions like: was the project on time and on budget? Did workers leave the work site clean? Were they on time every day? Would you work with them again?
Get a break-down of costs: Cost is understandably a big factor when selecting a contractor; however, it shouldn’t be the only one. Low-ball price quotes can signal a red flag. While you don’t want to spend a fortune, the contractor should have the experience and skill to carry out the task to completion. This often costs a good deal of money. You also have to consider hiring a structural engineer, which is another line item. Also, landlords and tenants share the costs of retrofitting, with the landlord legally responsible for half the cost and tenants responsible for the other in the form of monthly rent increases over 10 years.
Find out the level of disturbance: You have a family. You have tenants. You have employees. A seismic retrofit isn’t something that can be done in an hour and then you are allowed to get back to normal. Depending on the size of the building, the project could take days, weeks, or more. First talk to your tenants and identify their concerns. Take those concerns to the contractor and get answers. How will they address those concerns? What will they do to minimize disturbance on a daily basis?
Learn the timeline for completion: In order to sufficiently address the safety risks of unstable structures in LA, the process of seismic retrofit takes time. As such, the Department of Building and Safety has come up with the following limits posed on home and business owners:
- Within two years: Submit proof of a previous retrofit or plans of retrofit or demolition.
- Within 3.5 years: Get a permit to begin construction or demolition.
- Within 7 years: Completion of retrofit on wooden apartments.
- Within 25 years: Completion of retrofit on concrete apartments.
Make sure you find a contractor who can agree to the above requirements and promise the work will be done within that timeline.
Open the lines of communication: Earthquake retrofitting in Los Angeles is a big job. It involves a lot of people, from engineers to contractors to sub-contractors. Several inspections from the Department of Building and Safety will have to take place, so ensure proper coordination of those permits and inspections is being handled. Ask who the point of contact will be and obtain their phone number so you can always get in touch with someone who makes the decisions.
It may sound daunting at first to select a reputable seismic retrofit contractor, but with a little diligence and homework, you can choose one that fits the bill. CXC Contracting is a great place to start. Call us for more information on our contractors and process at 805-300-8899. We would be happy to schedule an inspection for you.
Will Crawford has over 25 years’ experience incorporating old school methods with the newest technologies to provide a personalized, cost effective solution for earthquake retrofitting in Los Angeles. Learn more about CXC Contracting and earthquake retrofitting
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