It is not earthquakes themselves that are the main cause of death, rather it is the effect that earthquakes have on the structures near the epicenter that result in loss of life. This fact is evident when considering the significant differences in death toll between earthquakes of the same magnitude, but in different locations. For example, the tragic earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010 had a death toll of over 200,000 people. On the other hand, the 2010 Christchurch earthquake which was also of magnitude 7.1, resulted in zero deaths. In the case of the Haiti earthquake, nearly a quarter of the population tragically passed away while there was not a single death related to the Christchurch quake. If it was not clear already, seismically sound buildings are absolutely imperative in saving lives during an earthquake. The deaths in Haiti, a country in which over half of the population is below the poverty line, could have been greatly reduced had buildings been more structurally sound (www.worldbank.org). With this knowledge, the seismic retrofitting of buildings especially in highly populated urban areas should be taken extremely seriously. This topic is not meant to depress, but rather to inform and remind readers of the devastating impact that earthquakes can have. Seismic mandates serve the greater good in the communities that adopt them.
July 25, 2017
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. There are three main solutions used in soft story retrofits. The first, moment frames, 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. 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. 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.
These solutions can be used individually or in combination with one another. Whatever your solution it is always a good idea to shop around for at least 3 quotes. Ask your construction partner about inclusions, insurance coverage, safety commitment, THP services and price matching. Make sure to find a vendor with references, a history of excellence and most importantly transparent in managing the costs and your expectations. Additional costs associated with the retrofit process include permitting fees, which vary city by city. If you live in the Los Angeles area you can estimate these fees by visiting this page, Building Permit Fee Estimate.
Whether your solution is a single moment frame or 100 feet of shear wall, choosing to be safe and compliant by selecting a reliable construction firm to retrofit your building could save lives and that is priceless. Penhall Company’s Seismic Retrofit Services department is committed to retrofitting your building at a fair price, but not compromising on quality. Our engineers and construction team will work together to be sure that the solution in place is both safe and cost effective.
July 18, 2017
West Hollywood condo owners have been exempted from the proposed mandatory seismic retrofits in West Hollywood (www.therealdeal.com). At a meeting on June 19th, the decision was announced that condominium owners were not subject to the mandatory ordinance. West Hollywood condominium owners strongly objected to the mandatory ordinance, citing in particular that the costs to retrofit would be particularly high for them. Condo owners came together, sending e-mails and letters to West Hollywood council members, to argue against the mandate. It was argued that condos should be treated as single family homes, which are also exempt from this mandate. Another claim of West Hollywood condominium owners was that the 1994 Northridge earthquake did not cause excessive damages to their building. They reasoned that since their building withstood this quake, it should be voluntary that they retrofit their buildings (www.wehoville.com). Many condo owners cited that the retrofit would force them to move out of their homes that they had lived in for decades.
Residents of Sierra Towers, a 31 story high rise in West Hollywood, were particularly vocal and introduced a cost estimate to city council. This cost estimate stated that the cost to retrofit alone the Sierra Towers building would be nearly $31 million dollars, a cost that would be split between 145 units (roughly $213,000 per homeowner). This does not include the cost of asbestos removal, displacement, and “repairs to high-end finishes”, according to Sierra Towers resident Jim Goodrich (West Hollywood Attachment A). This cost estimate was calculated by West Hollywood residents based on a cost study that was done by the city of West Hollywood with the help of professional engineers. However, it is very difficult to estimate cost for seismic retrofits because each building is different and may require more or less reinforcement than another. Condo owners certainly seemed sympathetic to the intention of the seismic retrofit program, but were unwilling to get behind the costs to do so. Soft story apartment buildings in West Hollywood will still be required to follow the mandatory retrofit ordinance, which will go into effect in April 2018.
West Hollywood Attachment A.
July 7, 2017
At Monday’s City Council discussion of a seismic retrofit ordinance in West Hollywood, we heard discussion about a rating system for a building’s performance in the event of an earthquake. One such rating system is known as the United States Resiliency Council Building Rating System. Per the USRC website, “The USRC Building Rating System assigns one to five stars for three performance measures – Safety, Damage expressed as repair cost and Recovery expressed as time to regain basic function.”
It is the discretion of the owner to what level of resiliency they desire for their building. At minimum, the seismic retrofit ordinances aim to make buildings safe enough for tenants to exit the building safely in the event of a large earthquake. This does not guarantee that the building will be habitable after an earthquake. For other buildings that would in fact need to be in operation after a large quake, i.e. hospitals, these buildings must be kept to a higher standard of resiliency.
Every city should be concerned first and foremost about the safety of its residents, but secondly, they should want to make sure that the City would still be able to thrive after an earthquake. Would the residents be able to return to their homes and/or jobs after a quake, or will they move to an area of less seismic activity? Per www.fema.gov/building-codes, “If you live or work in retrofitted structures, you’re less likely to be injured during an earthquake. After the earthquake, you’re also more likely to have a home and a job to which you can quickly return. Businesses that use retrofitted buildings are more likely to survive damaging earthquakes and to sustain shorter business interruptions and fewer inventory losses.”
April 7, 2017