Bracing for an earthquake

0 September 15, 2015 at 3:53 pm by

collapsed porch quakeThe California Earthquake Authority (CEA) and the State of California have teamed up to create a pilot program to provide homeowners in parts of the state with a financial incentive to brace and bolt their homes to prevent them from sliding off their foundations or toppling over in the event of an earthquake. The program, currently available to homeowners in the Napa, Oakland, San Francisco, San Leandro, Los Angeles, Pasadena and Santa Monica areas, is the only one of its kind in the U.S. and, possibly, the world.

The program offers up to $3,000 to qualifying homeowners whose homes meet a specified criteria (i.e. the home has to have been: constructed before 1979, built on a level or low-slope site, constructed with a four-foot or less cripple wall under the first floor, and have a raised foundation). Older homes supported by cripple walls were selected for the pilot because they often lack proper bracing under the first floor, making them vulnerable to large, nearby earthquakes. With strong earthquake shaking, unbraced cripple walls allow the house to move, often causing it to slide or topple off the foundation. (Incidentally, this lack of bracing can also make a home vulnerable to severe wind.)


Once applicants register for the program, answer a number of questions and are deemed to qualify, participants are selected through a random drawing.

Homeowners selected to receive the incentive may opt to either hire a contractor or do the work themselves. According to program information, a typical retrofit performed by a contractor may cost between $3,000 and $7,000 depending on the location and size of the home, contractor fees, and the amount of materials and work involved. If the homeowner opts to do the work themselves, costs can come in at under $3,000.

In Canada, the only government incentive programs to mitigate the impacts of a natural hazard come in the form of municipal programs that provide partial reimbursement for the installation of sump pump systems and backwater valves. Manitoba is the only province to partner with municipalities to help finance these incentives.

It doesn’t appear that any other mitigation incentive programs exist in Canada, particularly on the earthquake side. But the California Earthquake Mitigation Program shows great innovation in the area and would appear to be something that might be considered for the provinces of British Columbia and Quebec.

The program would have to be customized for homes in earthquake zones in those two provinces (the California program is aimed at homes with low cripple walls and raised foundations with a crawl space under the home, rather than for the typical Canadian home with a basement). However, the basic elements of the program could most certainly be borrowed from and used to establish a uniquely Canadian program.

It’s this kind of innovation that is desperately needed to ensure that Canadian homes in high-risk earthquake zones are ready when the big event comes.

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