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Determining if a Building Needs an Earthquake Retrofit

Determining if a Building Needs an Earthquake Retrofit

Ashes to ashes, we all fall down.”

While nursery rhymes may be a fun part of playtime for kids, in the world of commercial property, the concept of “build it and forget it” is downright dangerous.  The lifespan of a commercial structure is typically determined by design, materials, engineering, and the environment.  In reality, there simply is no structure built that doesn’t require some form of ongoing maintenance.

Avoiding major structural failure is entirely possible when the materials are not stressed beyond their capacity.  While building codes in California and other tremor-prone areas have improved over the last twenty years, the majority of older buildings remain vulnerable to earthquake events. Commercial properties built prior to 1987 aren’t considered to be engineered well enough to withstand the strain of earthquake activity.  When an entire community of aging buildings that have not been retrofitted is hit by the force of an earthquake, injury and devastation are bound to occur.

The reality today is that a structure that has been designed well can sustain a localized failure without the collapse of the entire structure. If the building was not originally designed to accomplish that, it must be retrofitted.  So the question is this: how can you determine if your commercial property needs to be strengthened through a retrofit process?  Both the age of the building and the type of building are typically considered when contemplating the need for an earthquake retrofit.  The following is a list of points to consider:

Time period:

  • If the commercial property was built before 1978, it will definitely need to an earthquake retrofit to strengthen the structure.
  • If the property was built in the 80’s or early 90’s, it most likely will need an earthquake retrofit.
  • If the property was built less than 20 years ago, chances are that it was designed and constructed based on more current and stricter building codes. The potential is still there for the need to retrofit the building, however it is much less than with older commercial buildings.

Type of building:

  • Concrete tilt-up and reinforced masonry buildings usually require roof-to-wall anchors, continuity ties, and sometimes even steel brace frames (depending on the shape of the building), to ensure the roof does not fall apart if the walls move during an earthquake.
  • Wall strengthening with tube steel or fiber wrapping may be necessary for un-reinforced masonry buildings. This particular type of building may also need new roof-to-wall connections and a new plywood overlay on the roof.
  • Heavy concrete buildings that are two or more stories tall may need strengthening systems to help them withstand extreme weight.
  • Buildings with an open first floor and a closed second floor do very poorly in most earthquake situations. They usually require steel framing and shear walls to prevent the first floor from rotating and collapsing during stress and movement of an earthquake.

Without being retrofitted, most commercial buildings do not qualify for earthquake insurance.  No amount of insurance, however, can cover negligence.  If you know your building requires structural work in order to be safe, it will be your responsibility to make sure the necessary work is completed.  It is important to remember that you could be held liable for injuries and damages if you knew repairs were needed and you refused to complete the necessary work.

Once the age and construction method of your building has been determined, it is important to find an experienced structural engineer or seismic contractor to thoroughly inspect the property to determine what repairs and strengthening measures are actually needed. They will understand the benefits of retrofitting and can explain any options regarding the scope of work necessary and along with the associated costs.

Don’t wait for tremors to start before taking retrofit needs seriously.

Having your building retrofitted (properly anchored and reinforced) and having the hazards removed is a primary aspect of earthquake preparation for both residential and commercial properties.  It is much more affordable and safe to retrofit a building before an earthquake hits, rather than waiting to repair expensive damages or pay for liabilities after an earthquake occurs. To get more information on how to determine if your building needs to be retrofitted or to schedule an earthquake retrofit inspection, call Saunders Seismic Commercial Retrofit today!

Southern California Office

(949) 646-0034

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