If you want to ensure your home or apartment bulding’s ability to withstand the various crises that the Earth can throw your way, you might want to try retrofitting. No home is inherently protected against the elements or other aspects of nature, and the only way to properly protect your investment is to take special action to bolster the defenses that your house has to offer. Before you embark on the process of retrofitting, however, you should learn about everything that this process entails, and you should also learn all about the most telling signs that indicate that you might need to retrofit your house.

What Is Retrofitting?

Retrofitting is a process by which professional home renovators make your house more resistant to the elements. Various natural disasters can damage your house, and some serious disasters can even entirely destroy your home. To provide themselves with peace of mind and the ability to protect their investments, many homeowners decide to pursue the process of retrofitting their houses, and if you live in an area that's prone to natural disasters, you might want to follow suit. The basic definition of retrofitting is the process by which you modify an existing structure with new components, and when it comes to your home, retrofitting usually involves the addition of special equipment that makes your house more structurally sound or protects it from water damage.

What Types of Disasters Does Retrofitting Protect Against?

The three main types of disasters that retrofitting protects against are flooding, high winds, and earthquakes. Depending on where you live, your home may be susceptible to one, two, or all three of these potential disasters. Retrofitting for flooding usually entails raising your home so that it won't be harmed when water levels rise. If you live in an area where tornadoes or hurricanes or common, retrofitting may involve adding structural integrity to your walls or windows. On the other hand, if the area where you live is susceptible to earthquakes, a lot of the focus of your retrofitting job will be on your home's foundation.

What Is the Main Purpose of Retrofitting in the Los Angeles Area?

While other types of natural disasters may occur periodically in Southern California, the type of disaster that most frequently affects Los Angeles area homes is earthquake damage. Since the area surrounding Los Angeles is relatively arid, there isn't much danger of flooding in this region, and L.A. also isn't known for its high winds or tornadoes. However, Southern California is in an area known as the Ring of Fire, which is highly volcanic. Wherever there are volcanoes, there are usually also earthquakes, and the Los Angeles area is one of the most earthquake-prone regions in the world. A large percentage of home damage in Los Angeles and the surrounding area is caused by earthquakes, which makes earthquake retrofitting a big concern in this region. While many people who pursue earthquake retrofitting for their L.A. homes never find any use for it, there are many more people who avoid the costs associated with earthquake retrofitting in Los Angeles only to incur much more massive costs when their home is unexpectedly demolished by an earthquake.

What Are the Benefits of Earthquake Retrofitting?

When you retrofit your Los Angeles-area home, you make it much more resistant to the effects of earthquakes. Earthquake retrofitting is sometimes also called seismic retrofitting, and this process helps you ensure that your home won't be destroyed if a big earthquake hits your area. While losing your property due to the effects of an earthquake can be a devastating event, these natural disasters can also destroy priceless lives. Seismic retrofitting doesn't just protect the value of your property; it also helps you protect the lives of the people who matter the most to you. Just as you don't leave candles lit when you go out for the night to avoid starting a fire in your house, you should also retrofit your home if you live in an area, such as L.A., where earthquakes are common.

How Do You Know if You Need Earthquake Retrofitting?

Because every house is different, figuring out whether or not your home needs retrofitting is a complex process. Some homes are built in such a way that makes them inherently resistant to earthquakes, but some architectural styles may actually leave your home more at risk of collapse in the event of seismic activity. As a general rule of thumb, you should retrofit your Los Angeles home if it was built before 1990. In recent decades, architects have learned a lot more about the ways that earthquakes affect homes, but houses that were built more than 25 years ago may be subject to architectural flaws that could cause them to collapse easily if they are exposed to even mild seismic activity.

Homes that were built more recently are generally already equipped with modern retrofitting measures, but you may still want to have professional renovators take a look at your recently-built home to make sure that its retrofitting is up to standard. Even if your home is relatively new and it has been built with earthquake resistance in mind, it could still probably benefit from the addition of some modern retrofitting measures that are designed to shore up any home from the dangers caused by shifting tectonic plates.

If your home shows any of the telltale signs of structural issues, it is important that you seek out retrofitting services immediately. In some cases, your home may be beyond repair, but retrofitting can often shore up the infrastructure of houses that are showing their age and make it so that they can last for many years to come.

What Are the Various Methods Used to Retrofit L.A. Houses and Apartment Buildings?

When renovators arrive at your house to retrofit your home to resist seismic activity, they will deploy a variety of different tools that have been shown to be effective in improving the structural integrity of single-family residences. These various retrofitting tools and methods come in many different shapes and sizes, and we'll acquaint you with each of them to ensure that you understand the process that will occur when the day arrives to make your house as resistant to earthquakes as possible.

Foundation Bolts

Adding bolts to your foundation is one of the most critical aspects of seismic retrofitting. In essence, these bolts bolster the connections between the wooden framing of your house and your foundation, but there are many different types of bolts that can be used and a there are a variety of different ways to use them. Most home renovators will arrange a group of thick pieces of wood called mudsills, and they will drive bolts through these pieces of wood into the concrete foundation below. In some cases, these bolts may already be present, but they may have broken down or rusted to the point that they no longer fulfill their original purpose.

While bolting wood to concrete may sound simple, this process is more complicated than it may appear. Only a particular kind of bolt will be right for your exact situation, and you'll also need to take into account the load that each type of bolt can handle before you start drilling holes in your foundation. If you use the wrong type of bolt for this job, your home could become even more susceptible to the potentially disastrous effects of seismic activity. Two types of bolts are generally used to seismically retrofit homes, and there are a couple of other types of retrofitting hardware that you should know about as well:

  • Expansion foundation bolts: These types of bolts are also known as mechanical foundation anchor bolts, and they are the default type of bolt that many renovators use to retrofit homes. These types of bolts are relatively inexpensive, but they only work effectively when they are inserted into strong, solid concrete. When these bolts are inserted into a concrete foundation, their tips expand outward, which allows them to attain a solid grip within the foundation that won't be shaken loose by seismic activity. Since these bolts exert a significant degree of kinetic energy when they are deployed, they can sometimes damage older foundations.
  • Epoxy-set foundation bolts: Epoxy-set bolts are somewhat more expensive than expansion bolts, but they are more effective under certain circumstances. For instance, if the concrete in your foundation has been weakened over time, epoxy set bolts won't cause any further damage to your foundation, and they will also adhere better than expansion-type bolts. These types of bolts have a special type of glue on their surfaces, and this glue bonds with the concrete in your foundation to provide a type of connection that is especially resistant to uplift motion, which is one of the types of motion that earthquakes can cause. Since epoxy bolts are usually longer than expansion bolts, they go further into your foundation, which can sometimes provide more stability.
  • Plate washers: Special types of washers are used with foundation bolts. These washers are installed directly below the nut on foundation bolts, and only certain types of washers are recognized as being earthquake-safe. In the Los Angeles area, it is now required that these bolts be square and measure 3" x 3". After observing the effects of earthquakes over the last few decades, it was found that foundations that contained washers of this design held up better under seismic activity than foundations with different types of washers. In many houses, the round washers that were typically used in seismic retrofitting before the 1990s were found to have completely ripped through their mudsills.
  • Foundation plates: While foundation bolts and mudsills are the most commonly used types of hardware when it comes to home seismic retrofitting, there are some instances when these types of hardware can't be used effectively. In these cases, special types of retrofitting devices called foundation plates are used, and these plates serve the purpose of both mudsills and foundation bolts in one. While some renovators may prefer to use foundation plates instead of the traditional hardware types, these alternative retrofitting solutions are usually only used when there isn't enough vertical clearance to deploy other hardware.

Cripple Wall Bracing

Most homes contain cripple walls, which are short walls that are located in the crawlspace under the main walls. These walls make direct contact with the foundation, and they vary widely in terms of height. In many cases, earthquake damage in single-family residences is caused by broken lumber in cripple walls, which is why shoring up the infrastructure of these short walls is one of the top priorities of seismic retrofitters. Renovators generally make wooden devices called cripple wall braces to make cripple walls more stable, and they may install these braces at various locations along the edge of your crawlspace.

Foundation Holdown Brackets

Earthquakes often cause a lifting or rolling effects, and as the name suggests, foundation holdown brackets are designed to make sure that your walls stay connected to your foundation. Unlike cripple wall braces, which keep your walls from collapsing, holdown brackets keep your walls from coming loose from the foundation, and they consist of right-angled brackets that directly connect your walls to your foundation. These types of brackets are usually connected to your foundation with epoxy-coated bolts, and these bolts won't cause any damage to your foundation. While holdown brackets may be unnecessary in your home, they will nevertheless provide an extra layer of security in the case of seismic activity.

Alternatives to Cripple Wall Bracing

If your home doesn't have cripple walls, there are other ways that you can shore up your home's infrastructure against seismic activity. In some houses, the floor framing is directly connected to the mudsill, and in these houses, the walls and floor are usually connected to the foundation with relatively weak hardware. While there's less of a chance of a home becoming uprooted from its foundation if there is no cripple wall present, you may still want to use solutions like angled iron struts to connect your floors to your foundation if your home doesn't have a traditional crawlspace. 

How Much Does Home Retrofitting Cost?

The cost to retrofit your home against earthquake damage varies. If you buy all the materials and do all the work yourself, you may end up saving some money, but you may end up having to pay more for repairs down the line. If your home is only one story, it has a crawlspace that is in reasonably good condition, and it has wood-framed walls, the cost to retrofit your house is usually somewhere around $5,000. However, if your home has multiple stories or if there are other complications present, the cost to retrofit your house effectively enough to reasonably withstand earthquakes can be more than $10,000.

Do I Need Home Retrofitting if My House Has Survived Big Earthquakes?

If your house hasn't been damaged by some of Southern California's biggest earthquakes, you should count yourself lucky. However, just because your house hasn't been damaged by an earthquake yet doesn't mean it won't sustain damage in the future. 

Can I Pick and Choose Which Retrofitting Procedures I Want Performed?

Of course. While your renovation team may strongly recommend that you use certain types of retrofitting hardware in your home, it's ultimately up to you to decide which types of retrofitting solutions you want to end up using. Before you decide which types of hardware you want to deploy, you should take time to seriously weigh the pros and cons of each solution and make choices that will protect your home from earthquakes in the long term.

Are There Any Building Codes Regarding Retrofitting?

When you retrofit your home, you won't have to worry about whether or not your house will still conform with building codes afterward. California legislators purposefully left retrofitting out of building codes for a number of reasons. For starters, every house is unique in terms of its construction and seismic vulnerability, which makes it hard to create a uniform set of codes that apply to all California houses or even every house within a certain county or city. Also, since seismic retrofitting is voluntary, there's no reason to involve this process in building codes since these codes only govern actions that homemakers must take.

The most that you'll encounter in terms of building codes as you plan to retrofit your home are guidelines called "prescriptive plans." These plans are created by local building departments, and they cover basic procedures that these departments believe should be included in every retrofitting job. However, it is not required that you follow these plans, and if your retrofitting procedure varies from the prescriptive plans laid out by your building department, there won't be any penalties.

Is Seismic Retrofitting Disruptive?

In most cases, retrofitting won't have much of an impact on your daily routine. Most forms of retrofitting work occur in your crawlspace or your basement, which means that home renovators won't need to wander all throughout your house to get their work done. In most cases, a home seismic retrofit takes a week or less, and occasional noises from underneath your house may be one of the only signs that cause you to notice that this process is underway.

However, to ensure that you end up with the exact type of seismic retrofitting setup that you're looking for, your renovation team may ask for your assistance in a number of ways:

  • During your initial inspection visit, you will be asked to provide retrofitters with access to a variety of different areas of your home;
  • You and anyone else who has a stake in the development of your home will be asked to sit down for a presentation of the various options that are offered for your retrofitting project;
  • You will need to temporarily move any belongings that are in the way of the retrofitting process to another area until the work is completed;
  • If there are any areas in your home that aren't protected by smoke detectors, your renovation team will ask you to install these devices;
  • It will also be necessary for you or an adult who lives with you to be present during the final inspection once the retrofitting job is complete.

Why You Should Work with the Pros

As you embark on the process of retrofitting your home to ensure that it can withstand earthquakes, it's understandable to want to take care of at least some of this effort on your own. However, it's hard to learn how to effectively retrofit your house on your own, and if you make a mistake, you could actually harm your home's structural integrity. If you want to get the most out of your retrofitting efforts, this process should follow a cohesive plan from start to finish, and if you do some of the work yourself only to call in the professionals at a later date, it can be hard for retrofitters to figure out how to build off of the work you've already done.

If you decide to proceed on the retrofitting process all by yourself, you may find yourself up against a wall where you have no idea what to do next. Since the process of retrofitting is also time-consuming and labor-intensive, it's best to have professionals handle the process from start to finish.

Find Help with Retrofitting Near Me

If you're concerned about your home's ability to withstand an earthquake or you simply want to ensure the value of your house for years to come, you should work with people who know everything there is to know about making homes as earthquake-proof as possible. To get started, call Los Angeles Home Remodeling at 424-369-4765. The friendly staff at Los Angeles Home Remodeling will be able to listen to your story, examine your house, and come up with a tailor-made retrofitting plan that's sure to improve your home's ability to withstand any type of shaking that the Earth throws its way.

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