A plan to protect your home from quakes

December 16, 2008 7:29:00 PM PST
We all know we live in earthquake country. But how many of us have tackled the seemingly overwhelming job of retrofitting our homes to make them seismically safe?

Contractors, structural engineers and local governments have developed a standardized plan to make that easier.

Dean Bradley's Oakland Hills home means everything to her. That's why she spends day after day down in the crawl space.

"My home is the only thing I have long term in terms of my retirement, the only thing. So it's very, very important," said Bradley.

She's protecting her investment by making it earthquake safe.

Bradley is using a standardized set of blueprints and drawings. It's so easy a homeowner can do it.

"For example on one of the walls it says use this thing, it's called a urp," said Bradley.

The minimum seismic strengthening standards are known as Plan Set A. They've been in development since 2000. It's a volunteer project of California builders, contractors and structural engineers.

Dean Bradley has been their guinea pig, testing the draft version and helping to refine it.

"We've improved it to a point where we think the average do it yourself homeowner or the do it yourself homeowner with a general contractor can use this set of plans and feel confident they understand them and are actually installing the right details that we know work," said structural engineer Colin Blaney.

Dean Bradley feels an extra sense of urgency to bolt down her house because she lives less than 1,000 feet from the Hayward Fault.

Having a standard, consistent retrofit plan means eliminating the engineer. That's a savings of anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000.

The Association of Bay Area Governments endorses the plan and Oakland goes all out. The city offers a low cost $250 permit fee for retrofitting.

It encourages new homeowners to get on board through a tax rebate and gives grants to low income homeowners in redevelopment areas.

Councilwoman Jean Quan sponsored those incentives, hoping to prevent what she calls a "Katrina style" catastrophe.

"Literally you're talking about the lives of 15,000 people and one-third of the housing in Oakland. it would take us so long to rebuild our economy to come back after an earthquake and it's something totally preventable," said Councilwoman Quan.

The word is beginning to spread about Plan Set A. Another home's foundation was recently completed.

Sherry Niswander was the contractor.

"It's comforting for us to be able to use it, to show to a homeowner. This actually makes the relationship pretty standardized and a much more trusting relationship," said Niswander.

Plan Set A is not one size fits all for example homes on steep hills or those that are larger than 3,000 square feet can't use the blueprints.

But the builders, contractors and engineers are already working on Plan Set B.

Related Link:

  • Set Plan A


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