Steps for Strengthening Residential Buildings

Follow these seven steps to a safer, more earthquake-resistant home or apartment building. Click on a step to view details.

Step 1. Evaluate your home

If your home, apartment, or mobile home earned 13 or more points on the ABAG Home Health Quiz, it needs to be evaluated to see if it needs to be made stronger to keep you and your family safer, unless it has been evaluated or retrofitted in the last few years. The threat of earthquake damage to your home is based on specific design, quality of construction, and state of repair, as well as the factors covered in our questions about its particular location, when it was built, and its type of construction.

Many owners of single-family homes can determine whether or not they need to retrofit themselves, and can even do some of the work themselves. To get answers to many of your most common questions, see the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on this internet site.

Owners of condos, townhomes, and apartments will typically need to hire a structural engineer or other design professional with specific expertise in your type of building to evaluate the building. The City of San Jose has developed an Apartment Owner’s Guide to Earthquake Safety to help with evaluation of these buildings.

If you decide that you need to strengthen your home, continue to Step 2.

Step 2. Bring in the appropriate retrofit professionals and get at least 3 separate bids from contractors.

Find a contractor or engineer
Single-family home owners –

Get bids and a detailed proposal with plans from at least three contractors. The contractors should show exactly what is going to be done, referencing appropriate building codes. Ask each for two professional references (such as engineers or architects) and for two homeowner references. Don’t be surprised if each contractor has a different approach for retrofitting your home. Continue to Step 3.

Tenants and renters –

Contact the owner of your home or apartment and let them know about this quiz and website. Let them know they might have a problem. See the success stories of other home and apartment owners who have retrofitted on this internet site. You as an individual also can improve your safety by following the tips for nonstructural safety.

Apartment owners –

You probably should contact a structural engineer or other design professional. Make sure the engineer or other design professional that you choose has experience in retrofit design for the type of building that you own. After the evaluation, the engineer or other design professional should be able to explain various options for retrofitting and the costs and benefits of each solution. As an apartment owner, issues such as disruption of tenants and other factors should be considered in the plan and made clear to the engineer. Continue to Step 4.

Step 3. When it is time to select a contractor, call their references.

Ask the professional references these questions -

  • Have you ever worked with this contractor on retrofitting a home?
  • How many retrofits do you think this contractor does each year?
  • Is this contractor competent to perform a retrofit (tell them about your home)?

Ask the homeowner references these questions -

  • Did this contractor do your work in a timely manner?
  • Would you recommend this contractor?

Continue to Step 4.

Step 4. Ensure that the proposed retrofit meets or exceeds available minimum standards.

Consider calling your city or county building department regarding the plans and proposals you received.

Single-family home owners –

The State of California adopted a prescriptive retrofit standard in 2010 based on the International Existing Building Code (IEBC) Appendix Chapter A3 published by the International Code Council for retrofit of single-family homes meeting specific criteria (outlined in the document). If your home does not meet these requirements, you should contact an engineer to design your retrofit.

If your home is only one or two stories tall and has a crawl space under the floor (that is, is not on a concrete slab), you can probably use the Plan Set developed by a committee representing the East Bay and Peninsula chapters of the International Code Council and others, including ABAG. This Plan Set is a tool to help homeowners know what needs to be done. You can use the Plan Set to get bids from contractors, or, if experienced, you can do the work yourself.

Cities have a policy of not recommending individual contractors. However, consider calling your building department to see if you can take the proposed plans from the three contractors to that office. Some city and county building departments will review the plans and discuss with you which designs are consistent with the IEBC retrofitting guidelines described above. Continue to Step 5.

Apartment owners -

While most jurisdictions have not yet adopted specific requirements for seismic retrofits, owners and designers can get guidance for minimal retrofits and dealing with “soft-story” apartments published in the International Existing Building Code (IEBC) Appendix Chapter 4 by the International Code Council.

Call your building department to see if you can take the proposed plans from your engineer to that office. Some city and county building department will review the plans and discuss with you whether or not they are consistent with the general minimum standards in the IEBC. Continue to Step 5.

Step 5. Select a contractor.

Home Owners -

With information from professional and homeowner references and possible building department comments, you can select the contractor best able to do the job. Continue to Step 6.

Apartment Owners -

Your design professional may have a contractor in mind for the job. Ask him about possible contractors to use to implement his plans. If he has no suggestions please follow Steps 2, 3, and 5 of the Single-Family Home Owners part of this page. Your evaluation process will be very similar to that of a home owner, but finding a contractor capable of retrofitting a larger building may be slightly more difficult. In this case, your contractor will be following the plans drawn by your engineer so ignore references to plans submitted by the contractor. Your selected contractor should work closely with your engineer or other design professional. Ask this professional to periodically observe construction to make sure the contractor is following the plans. Continue to Step 6.

Step 6. Make sure that the contractor gets a building permit from the city or county and, at the end of the job, has the permit signed off by the city or county inspector.

The building permit is your record of the completed work. As part of the permit process, the inspector will go out to the job site in various stages and verify that the work is being done correctly. This is particularly important if you have not hired an engineer. Continue to Step 7.

Step 7. Congratulations!

Home Owners -

Invite your friends and neighbors over to help you celebrate a safer home! Being safer is a wonderful reason to celebrate!

Apartment Owners -

Enjoy your retrofit and make sure to let your current tenants and future tenants know that you now likely own the most earthquake prepared apartment in the area.

All Owners -

Make sure that you have thought about your home’s contents breaking or injuring you.

Last updated: 12.16.2016