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Retrofitting to Meet Earthquake Safe Building Codes

Retrofitting to Meet Earthquake Safe Building Codes

Up until about 35 years ago, most buildings were designed based on the general idea of build it and move on.  Based on recent seismic activity, we now know that is an extremely dangerous concept, especially in areas around the Pacific Rim.  As history has shown us, California and the entire West Coast are definitely part of the danger zone.

The lifespan of any building, residential or commercial, is largely determined by engineering and design, with attention given to the environment and specific materials used.  Based on research and new engineering technology, we now know that it is possible to avoid structural failure when the building materials are not stressed beyond their capacity.  It has only been within the last twenty to thirty years or so that building codes have been updated to stress seismic safety; older residential and commercial properties that were designed and constructed under older building codes continue to be more vulnerable to powerful seismic activity.  For the most part, buildings constructed before 1987 are not thought to be engineered well enough to remain intact throughout the earth’s movement during a mighty temblor.

After analyzing the impacts of major earthquakes, engineers now know that a structure that has been designed well can sustain a localized failure without the entire structure collapsing.  Commercial buildings now must be designed to ensure the safety of the tenants, equipment and inventory.  Any buildings that were not initially designed to accomplish that mission should be retrofitted as soon as possible.  No one knows when the next potentially devastating quake will occur.

There are two separate criteria that are usually reviewed to decide if a building needs to go through a seismic retrofit process.

      1. Type of Building

  • Buildings with an open first floor and a closed second floor above generally will not withstand most earthquake conditions.  Adequately retrofitting this type of building usually requires shear walls and steel framing to prevent the first floor from rotating and subsequently collapsing during intense seismic activity.
  • Multiple-story concrete buildings often need strengthening systems to help them withstand the pressure of extreme weight.
  • Unreinforced masonry may need wall strengthening, using tube steel or fiber wrapping, along with new roof-to-wall connections.  In addition, a new plywood overlay may be needed on the roof.
  • Concrete tilt-up and reinforced masonry often needs roof-to-wall anchors and continuity ties.  Sometimes steel brace frames are also needed to ensure that the roof does not split apart if the walls sway and move during a strong quake.

       2.  Building age:

  • Any building constructed prior to 1978 definitely needs a seismic retrofit, if it has not already been done.
  • Most buildings that were constructed during the 1980’s and early 90’s typically need a seismic retrofit.
  • Most buildings designed and constructed after the mid-90’s were built to ensure earthquake safety and structural reliability, however building owners may choose to have a thorough maintenance evaluation done to be sure there no unsafe conditions.

Building safety codes continue to change in many cities and towns throughout California.  While some towns and cities have already passed legislation regarding stricter building codes for retrofitting commercial properties, others local legislators have not yet tackled this safety issue.

Interestingly, many older buildings in California do not qualify for earthquake insurance if they have not been retrofitted to meet building code safety requirements.  Of course, no amount of insurance can cover negligence.  If you know your building requires structural work in order to be safe, it is time to schedule and complete a earthquake retrofit, before the next “BIG ONE” occurs.

Having your building retrofitted, properly anchored and reinforced, and all safety hazards removed is a primary aspect of earthquake preparation for both residential and commercial properties.   No building yet has been constructed that does not require regular, thorough inspections and maintenance over the course of time.

Saunders Commercial Seismic Retrofit serves the entire state of California, including the Los Angeles area. Our professional team understands the many benefits of retrofitting commercial properties.  When requested, we will complete a thorough building maintenance inspection to determine the building’s needs and then meet with building owners to discuss options for the range of work necessary.  It is certainly more affordable and safe to retrofit a building before an earthquake rather than to deal with business operation disruptions, repair expensive damages or pay for liabilities later.   To get more information on how to tell if a building needs to be retrofitted, call Saunders Commercial Seismic Retrofit Los Angeles today.


Southern California Office

(949) 646-0034

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