Earthquake preparedness: California program grants funds to retrofit older homes

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- "Too good to be true. Perfect timing. It's something I've been wanting to do for years."

That's what San Jose homeowner Leo Hartung thinks about the state's Earthquake Brace + Bolt (EBB) program, which started accepting applications this week for its 2020 grant program.

Owners of older homes, typically built before 1980, are eligible to receive grants up to $3,000 to cover the cost of retrofits to prevent their homes from being knocked off the foundation during an earthquake.

A typical retrofit in the Bay Area can cost from $5,000 to $7,500. $13.2 million is available this year from a FEMA grant. It's estimated that there are 1.2 million vulnerable homes in California.

Retrofit work has to be done by a contractor certified for the program by the state within six months of approval.

RELATED: Some Bay Area hospital buildings pose risk of earthquake collapse

Hartung's contractor, Christopher Scola of Construction CMS in San Jose, showed us a typical half-inch bolt that was used in the 50s or 60s with a tiny washer and a little nut to secure a house to the foundation.

Scola said today the code requires "a much bigger bolt, 5/8 inch thick with a much bigger washer, and the spacing is now three to four feet apart whereas in the 60s they would be six feet apart, if that."

The work typically takes a couple of days. The goal is to retrofit 4,400 homes this year. Since the first grants were awarded in 2014, about 10,000 California homes have been retrofitted under the program.

"I have the cripple wall, which is the area between the foundation and the floor that we had to add plywood to that, and most homes don't have cripple walls," Hartung said.

"So that was just one day doing all the plywood. And then the next day then they did all the brackets."

RELATED: The Earthquake Effect: Here's what cities are doing to keep you safe

Word of mouth is a big part of this program. While we were at Hartung's Almaden Valley home, one of his neighbors called to find out why a camera crew was there.

He told them about the program, and now that neighbor is interested in applying for the Earthquake Brace+Bolt program.

To find out if you live in one of the 355 high-hazard ZIP codes eligible to apply, you can go to their website. There is also a database of FEMA-trained licensed contractors certified for the program, searchable by zip code.

RELATED: Quake expert reveals which buildings in Bay Area are at greatest risk

See more stories and videos about Building a Better Bay Area here.

Copyright © 2020 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.