Seismic Retrofit Cost – Everything You Need To Know

California is the golden state that enjoys beautiful weather, gorgeous beaches and a bit of a seismic activity complex. Californians wake up all too often to read shocking headlines about earthquake swarms, mega-quakes and inevitable devastation. Given the state’s seismic history and the many scientific studies released over the last 3 years it is no big surprise that city agencies have started to focus on loss mitigation by way of regulation.

Cities all over the state are taking action in preparation for the next big shake-up. For example, San Francisco launched a mandatory soft-story retrofit program in 2013 and Los Angeles followed more recently in late 2015.

So the problem was identified and the regulation is put in place, but what next? Property owners of the over 18,000 soft-story buildings in Northern and Southern California are left with loads of questions and concerns.

How much will it cost to retrofit my building? 

The cost to seismically retrofit a building varies considerably based on a variety of factors. Some of these factors include the size of the property, the required retrofit solution, and the company you choose to work with.

Another reason that costs vary is simply the fact that every building is different, therefore requiring different solutions to seismically retrofit them.

Estimated seismic retrofit costs by building types in the Bay Area 

  1. For multi-family dwelling properties up to 8 units, the average construction cost was $63,500.
  2. Owners of 9-18 unit buildings paid an average of $76,875.
  3. Lastly buildings with 19 or more units paid an average of $96,140 per retrofit.

Construction Costs By Building Types

In looking at Southern California market, residents can probably expect to pay 20% less than the San Francisco’s price points.

Three main solutions used in soft story retrofits.

  1. Firstly, moment frame is estimated to run from roughly $20,000 to $25,000 per frame including labor.
    Depending on your building type you may need multiple moment frames, but this is dependent on the strength of the existing supports within your building. The more frames needed, the higher the cost of construction.
  2. Secondly, Cantilevered columns are another popular solution used in the seismic retrofitting process. The cost of a single cantilevered solution is between $15,000-$20,000 with installation, it is estimated.
  3. Finally, shear wall strengthening is a potential solution, that is generally the cheapest. However, overall shear wall strengthening cannot provide ample reinforcement as is required through the soft-story ordinances. This cost is expected to be between $5,000 and $10,000 total

Additional costs associated with the retrofit process include permitting feeds, which vary city by city. If you live in Los Angeles area, you can estimate these fees by vising this page, Building Permit Fee Estimate.

How To Choose A Reliable Engineer/ Contractor 

  1. Whatever solutions you are looking at, shop around for at least 3 quotes
  2. Ask your potential vendor about inclusions, insurance coverage, safety commitment, THP services, and price matching.
    (Have in-house engineer? or Outsource? What is your CA license number?, etc.)
  3. Make sure you find a vendor with references, a history of excellence, and cost transparency

In the end no one knows when the next big earthquake will hit. While property owners don’t have a crystal ball to tell them the future, they can take proper steps now to protect their tenants and buildings from catastrophe by doing their research and choosing a reliable and licensed contractor. Of course then when the work is done they can get back to enjoying California’s sunshine and sunsets.

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