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Retrofit Your Soft Story Building Before It Is Too Late

Retrofit Your Soft Story Building Before It Is Too Late

Many people can still vividly recall the 6.7 magnitude earthquake that struck the Los Angeles neighborhood of Reseda in January, 1994.  That particular quake, known as the Northridge Earthquake, brought about the national spotlight to a fundamental structural flaw that is the curse of thousands of buildings.  Many of these buildings are located in some of America’s most earthquake-prone cities, including Los Angeles.  As that forceful temblor shook the whole city, the bottom floor of the Northridge Meadows apartment complex collapsed beneath the two floors above it.  A number of residents, all on the first floor, died as a result.  So the question is this – why did that building give way so easily when so many other commercial buildings remained standing?  The answer is simply that Northridge Meadows was a soft-story building.

Soft-story buildings, so called for having first stories much less rigid than the floors above, are especially susceptible to massive damage from an earthquake because of sizeable, unreinforced openings on their ground floors and in their typically wood-frame construction.  These openings often accommodate parking spaces, oversized windows and spacious lobbies in both residential and commercial buildings.  Without proper design and extra strengthening, this type of building structure is much less able to withstand the lateral forces (forces that move a building from side to side) that occur when the earth begins to rock and roll.  Once the first floor caves, the remaining upper floors smash down on top of it, devastating anything below.

If you own a commercial soft-story building, there are a couple of important reasons why you should consider an earthquake retrofit now, rather than later:

  1. Preventative protection.  For commercial property owners, the price tag of an earthquake retrofit may seem unnerving in today’s economy, however spending the money today to protect your building tomorrow will definitely save you money in the long run.  Research has shown that the direct cost of repair of a soft-story building after an earthquake is six times the cost of an earthquake retrofit.  Keep in mind that this figure does not even consider business interruption costs, legal costs, and lost rental income of an uninhabitable building.

  2. Lower construction costs.  Due to the overall slowdown in the construction industry, material and labor charges are significantly lower today than a few years ago.  The economy seems to be picking up, though, and as it does, you can expect that labor and material rates will rise as well.  By completing an earthquake retrofit now, you can take advantage of the current competitive construction industry, and gain the same structural advantages.

  3. Mandatory retrofits are predicted.  Many California cities may eventually require mandatory structural seismic upgrades for soft-story buildings.  The risk of a building collapse and potential loss of life is just too serious.  Local officials, as well as many citizens, are concerned about the potential hundreds of red tagged buildings and thousands of homeless folks on the streets of their cities when the next catastrophic earthquake occurs.  Many elected officials are also worried that they will be held responsible for not requiring the strengthening of certain types of buildings via the legislative process.  Although it may take several years to pass the required legislation, mandatory retrofit ordinances are inevitable throughout California and other earthquake-prone areas of the country.  By completing an earthquake retrofit now, you will certainly be ahead of the game, ensuring that your tenants, business operations and property are protected.

Deciding to retrofit a commercial property is a never an easy decision for any building owner to make.  The costs associated with an earthquake retrofit are immediate and quite obvious, while most of the benefits of retrofitting will not be seen until after an earthquake strikes.  In the long run, the advantages of retrofitting, especially a soft-story building, significantly outweigh the costs. For additional information regarding an earthquake retrofit inspection for your building, call the professional team at Saunders Commercial Earthquake Retrofit today!

Southern California Office

(949) 646-0034

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