How Much Will a Seismic Retrofit Cost?

Costs generally fall into 3 categories:

  • Engineering Fees
  • Construction Costs
  • Permitting Fees

Soft Story Seismic Retrofit


Engineering fees

These generally run from $6,000 to $10,000 per completed and approved set of plans depending on the size of the property. Usually a senior engineer will be required for 15 to 30 hours and a junior engineer or designer for 40 to 60 hours of work. Senior engineers (a P.E. – Professional Engineer) charge around $150 to $200 per hour and a junior engineer from $90 to $130 per hour. Some engineering companies may offer a single blended rate to cover all engineering (typically $110 or more). Unless the building owner can provide an “as-built”, building elevations are required and will add about 20 hours of additional site measurement, engineering and drafting.

  • The city of Los Angeles has an extensive checklist of documents and calculations including a requirement of certification from a P.E. (Professional Engineer).
  • San Francisco requires two signed sets of plans prepared by a licensed architect, civil or structural engineer that includes structural calculations.

Some construction companies may offer “Design Build” for a retrofit project and offer low, fixed pricing for engineering. The building owner should beware that most companies will aim to recover any discount on the engineering by an additional mark up on the construction, so building owners will end up paying the same when the project is complete.

Value Engineering is a key component in finding affordable construction solutions for a property. Value Engineering is the process of evaluating all compliant construction solutions for a structure with the goal of finding the best value option. Often a $15,000 solution can be as compliant as a $50,000 solution depending on the property.

Destructive Testing

It is common that some building testing will be required for the engineering. For example, an engineer will need to remove stucco to see the connections and quality of pre-existing wood beams and columns, or structural ironwork. This type of testing is termed “destructive” and will eventually need patching. Non-destructive testing with ground penetrating radar (GPR) may also be needed to scan concrete and is frequently simpler, quicker, and less expensive.

Construction Costs

In some cases, a property may have been incorrectly identified as an at-risk building. In these cases the owner needs to submit evidence to the city that the building should be excluded from the ordinance.
Common seismic retrofit solutions are:

  • Moment framing
  • Cantilevered columns, and/or
  • Shear wall strengthening

Moment Frames

Moment frames can be delivered to the jobsite either as 2 columns and a connecting beam, or fully pre-assembled into a single unit. A full frame has 2 columns at the height of the soft story floor (roughly 8’) and the beam the width of the open bay (~8’ to 14’), although there are many permutations. Moment frames can be bolted or welded in fabrication or at the jobsite. Some units are termed ‘Special’ moment frames – these are distinguished by having a ductile plate or fuse at the connection between the beam and columns. This component is designed to deform under lateral loads from a seismic event and may save the columns and beams from permanent deformation. Costs vary on the exact size and complexity of installation, but roughly $20,000 to $25,000 per installed frame can be expected.

A rough rule is that a moment frame is required for every 2 parking bays. However, this can vary depending on the strength of existing shear walls and pre-existing steel structural supports.

Cantilevered Columns

Cantilevered columns are expected to be a popular solution. First new concrete footings are laid, often with a grade beam for support. The cantilevered columns are then fastened to existing structural members to transmit the load from the footings to the second floor. A report from Applied Technology Council (ATC) for the San Francisco Soft Story program found cantilevered columns to be an effective solution, but similar in cost and performance to moment frames. One potential advantage is that cantilevered columns may be more space efficient than a moment frame with a beam fixed at the top of the columns. A single bay cantilevered solution is expected to cost around $15,000 to $20,000 fully installed.

Shear Wall Strengthening

In a few cases shear wall strengthening can be accepted by the city of Los Angeles as a potential solution and is cheaper than other construction options such as cantilevered columns or moment frames. However, in most cases, this approach will not provide sufficient strength to meet the requirements – particularly when tuck-in parking and open bays are present. Adding shear wall strength is expected to cost around $5,000 to $10,000 for labor and materials. A good engineer will evaluate whether this lower cost solution will be permitted.

Permitting Fees

Permit fees are charged directly by the city. The range in fees is based on a combination of the property specifications and cost of the retrofit.

For the Los Angeles area, plan review and construction permitting fees can be estimated using this LADBS Permit Calculator

For the San Francisco area, the cost of Construction building permitting is a percentage of construction costs per the San Francisco Building Code Section 110A.

Cost Recovery Programs

A percentage of seismic retrofit costs may be passed onto tenants for an allowable number of years.

City% of cost allowable to pass through to tenantMaximumn increase limits for tenantsAmortization period allowed
Los Angeles50%$38.00 per month10 years
San Francisco100%$30.00 or 10% of the tenant’s petition base rent annually, whichever is greater20 years

Within a limited time period after retrofit construction completion, an application must be submitted to the respective rent control/stabilization organization. Upon review of your application, the rent control/stabilization organization will determine the approved pass-through amount.

Financing Solutions

Common methods to financing seismic retrofit projects are

  • PACE assessment financing
  • Cash-out mortgage refinancing

PACE Assessment

  • Repaid through property tax payments
  • Fixed-rate
  • 20-30 year terms available
  • Stays with property, fully transferable upon sale
  • Low up-front cost
  • Easy credit approval

Cash-out Refinancing

  • Low rates
  • Cash available to make any other building improvements
  • Traditional mortgage
  • More options for various financing structures

Cost Data

San Francisco Department of Building Inspection Public Retrofit Cost Data
To view the San Francisco Soft Story Seismic Ordinance or to review additional details please visit

Haight Street4 units/3 stories$120,000.00
Mission Street4 units/3 stories$50,000.00
Stockton Street4 units/3 stories$40,000.00
Dolores Street5 units/3 stories$90,000.00
Haight Street5 units/3 stories$24,500.00
Alemany Blvd6 units/2 stories$56,000.00
Baker Street6 units/3 stories$68,000.00
Broderick Street6 units/3 stories$70,470.00
Bryant Street6 units/3 stories$51,000.00
Clementina Street6 units/3 stories$38,000.00
Clinton Park6 units/3 stories$45,000.00
Dolores Street6 units/3 stories$57,000.00
Dore Street6 units/3 stories$85,000.00
Freelon Street6 units/3 stories$35,000.00
Greenwich Street6 units/3 stories$69,000.00
Guerrero Street6 units/3 stories$86,000.00
Hoff Street6 units/3 stories$60,000.00
Langton Street6 units/3 stories$50,000.00
Lexington Street6 units/3 stories$38,000.00
Lexington Street6 units/3 stories$120,000.00
Octavia Street6 units/3 stories$100,000.00
Pearl Street6 units/3 stories$54,000.00
Russ Street6 units/3 stories$5,000.00
Shotwell Street6 units/3 stories$24,000.00
Stockton Street6 units/3 stories$48,000.00
17th Street7 units/3 Stories$106,600.00
Douglass Street7 units/3 stories$69,000.00
Pine Street7 units/3 stories$125,500.00
Powell Street7 units/3 stories$57,000.00
14th Street7 units/4 stories$39,600.00
Jackson7 units/4 stories$105,800.00
Clement Street8 units/3 stories$50,000.00
Dehon Street8 units/3 stories$67,000.00
Guerrero Street8 units/3 stories$25,000.00
Guerrero Street8 units/3 stories$100,000.00
Haight Street8 units/3 stories$40,000.00
Stockton Street8 units/3 stories$80,000.00
Dolores Street9 units/2 stories$70,000.00
Francisco Street9 units/3 stories$70,000.00
Guerrero Street9 units/3 stories$40,000.00
Haight Street9 units/3 stories$100,000.00
Lombard Street9 units/3 stories$100,000.00
Market Street9 units/3 stories$130,000.00
Divisadero Street10 units/2 stories$55,000.00
10th Avenue10 units/3 stories$60,000.00
16th Street10 units/3 stories$71,000.00
34th Avenue10 units/3 stories$94,300.00
3rd Avenue10 units/3 stories$83,000.00
Gough Street10 units/3 stories$180,000.00
17th Street11 units/3 stories$92,000.00
Divisadero Street11 units/3 stories$126,000.00
Mission Street11 units/3 stories$100,000.00
Union Street11 units/3 stories$83,580.00
Valencia Street11 units/3 stories$4,000.00
Valencia Street12 units/2 stories$12,000.00
24th Street12 units/3 stories$120,000.00
Fillmore Street12 units/3 stories$34,200.00
Fillmore Street12 units/3 stories$52,135.00
Folsom Street12 units/3 stories$67,000.00
Gough Street12 units/3 stories$80,000.00
Haight Street12 units/3 stories$100,000.00
Hoff Street12 units/3 stories$120,000.00
Jackson12 units/3 stories$45,000.00
Pacific Avenue12 units/3 stories$54,000.00
Polk Street12 units/3 stories$106,000.00
Valencia Street12 units/3 stories$50,000.00
6th Street13 units/3 stories$40,000.00
8th Street13 units/3 stories$30,000.00
Lombard Street13 units/3 stories$81,000.00
Market Street13 units/3 stories$60,000.00
Valencia Street14 units/3 stories$65,000.00
48th Avenue15 units/3 stories$135,000.00
Cervantes Blvd15 units/3 stories$105,000.00
Valencia Street15 units/3 stories$70,000.00
Hyde Street15 units/4 stories$85,000.00
15th Avenue16 units/3 stories$75,000.00
Capp Street16 units/3 stories$43,000.00
Divisadero Street16 units/3 stories$50,000.00
Pine Street17 units/2 stories$50,000.00
Beach Street18 units/3 stories$225,000.00
Broderick Street18 units/3 stories$90,000.00
Broderick Street18 units/3 stories$95,000.00
Francisco Street18 units/3 stories$28,000.00
Francisco Street18 units/3 stories$79,500.00
Mission Street18 units/3 stories$52,000.00
Chestnut Street21 units/3 stories$155,000.00
Albion Street22units/3 stories$50,000.00
Van Ness Avenue23 units/3 stories$81,000.00
20th Street24 units/3 stories$100,000.00
Chestnut Street24 units/3 stories$70,000.00
Valencia Street24 units/3 stories$137,000.00
Union Street30 units/3 stories$80,000.00
2nd Street (101 Clement)$22,000.00
Mission Street (Hotel)$64,000.00

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