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It Is Not Too Late to Retrofit Your Soft Story Building

It Is Not Too Late to Retrofit Your Soft Story Building

Many residents throughout California can still recall the 6.7 magnitude earthquake that struck a typical Los Angeles neighborhood in January 1994.  That well-known temblor, known as the Northridge Earthquake, brought about national attention to a basic structural flaw that is the curse of many commercial buildings around our country.  Many of these buildings are located in some of America’s most earthquake-prone cities, including San Francisco and the Bay area.  As that powerful quake shook Los Angeles, the lowest floor of the Northridge Meadows apartment complex crumpled beneath the two floors above it.  As a result, many residents living on the first floor died.  Many people have wondered why that building collapsed when so many other commercial buildings in the area remained standing.  Engineers and architects say that the answer is simple: that apartment building in Northridge Meadows was a soft-story building.

Soft-story buildings are especially susceptible to massive damage from an earthquake because of large, unreinforced openings on their ground floors and typical wood-frame construction.  These openings, or open spaces, are often used for parking spaces, over-sized windows or large lobbies in apartment and office buildings.  Without appropriate design and extra strengthening, this type of building structure often does not have the strength to withstand the  lateral forces (forces that move a building from side to side) that occur when the ground begins to shake, rock and roll.  In soft story buildings, when the first floor caves, the remaining upper floors smash down on top of it, demolishing anything underneath.

If you are a commercial property owner, there are several important reasons why you should consider retrofitting your soft-story building now:

Preventative protection

While the price cost of an earthquake retrofit may seem alarming in today’s economy, spending the money today to protect your building tomorrow will definitely save you money in the long run. Research studies have determined that the direct cost of repair of a soft-story building after an earthquake is six times the cost of an earthquake retrofit.  When you consider business interruption costs, legal costs, and lost rental income of an uninhabitable building, the advantages of seismic strengthening are easy to see.

Lower construction costs

Due to a slowdown in the construction industry over the last few years, material and labor charges have been significantly lower in recent years.  The economy seems to be picking up, so you can expect that labor rates and the cost of materials will increase as well.  If you complete an earthquake retrofit now, you will still be able to take advantage of the currently competitive construction industry in order to strengthen your commercial property.

Mandatory retrofits

Many towns and cities in California will probably update building codes in the future to require mandatory structural seismic upgrades for soft-story buildings.  History shows us that the risk of a building collapse and potential loss of life is just too serious.  Many local citizens and public officials are concerned about the many red tagged buildings and thousands of homeless citizens on the streets of their cities.  What will happen to those vulnerable people and properties when the next catastrophic earthquake strikes?   Of course, many elected officials are also worried that they can and will be held responsible for not requiring the strengthening of certain types of buildings via the legislative process.  Although it may take several years to pass the required legislation, mandatory retrofit ordinances can be expected in the near future.  It is inevitable. By completing an earthquake retrofit now, you will certainly be ahead of the game, ensuring that tenants, business operations and property are well protected.

Deciding to retrofit a commercial property is never an easy decision for any building owner to make.  The expenses associated with an earthquake retrofit are immediate and quite obvious, even though most of the safety improvements and benefits of retrofitting will not be seen until after a powerful earthquake strikes.  In the long run, the benefits of retrofitting, especially a soft-story building, substantially outweigh the costs.  If you are looking for additional information regarding an earthquake retrofit inspection and estimate for your commercial property, be sure to call the professional team at Saunders Commercial Earthquake Retrofit today!

Northern California Office

(408) 267-3876

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