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August 5, 2009 > Protect your house from earthquake

Protect your house from earthquake

By Meenu Gupta

How safe is your house in an earthquake? In a major earthquake, single-family houses and duplexes, not properly attached or bolted to their foundations or with inadequately braced their crawl space walls, are likely to sustain damage or collapse when shaken violently.

Homeowners can save their properties in the event of a major earthquake. In May 2009, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) issued residential seismic retrofit plans.

"ABAG's plans have been prepared and reviewed by California building officials. Staff is comfortable adopting these for retrofits of wood-frame housing and satisfied they would meet the required engineering standards," said Union City Economic and Community Development Director Joan Malloy at the Council meeting on July 28. "Plan check fees will be waived but inspection fees will not. Inspection fees will be payable whilst the work is in progress or on completion."

A 1999 ABAG study found that less than 10 percent of pre-1960 homes had been adequately retrofitted. According to Malloy, there are vulnerable homes throughout the city.

"As we've learned through the process, there are homes built in the 70s and 80s in need of retrofit, as well as in Decoto and Alvarado," she said.

The expense and inadequacy of retrofitting can be partially solved with a regional standard. The Residential Seismic Strengthening Plan Set provides homeowners and contractors with a simple and rapid standardized procedure for obtaining a permit to bolt and/or brace a typical home's foundation. The plans can also be used by homeowners to obtain bids from different contractors. Information is available at the Building Division counter at City Hall and on the City's website.

"We should include it in our newsletters also," said Councilman Richard Valle.

"My home was built in 1980 but the seismic standards have changed. So, even though my foundation was bolted, the bolt size is now too small and back then they used ground washers. The rectangular, larger washers are recommended to withstand more forceful shaking. I recommend everybody should know about it," said Vice Mayor Carol Dutra-Vernaci, who recently finished her home's seismic retrofit.

Residential Seismic Strengthening Standard Plans were unanimously approved. Mayor Green was absent. Plan check fees are waived to encourage residents to seismically retrofit their homes.

The plan check fee for a seismic retrofit project is between $110 and $230. The Building Division typically issues less than five retrofit permits a year.

"It doesn't guarantee your home but gives you a better opportunity to save the property," said Valle.

"This will stabilize the structure and prevent many wood-frame homes, with the primitive foundation and no lateral bracing, from chipping off foundations and from tilting," Malloy agreed.

For more information, visit or the Building Division Counter, Union City Hall, 34009 Alvarado-Niles Road, Union City, CA 94587 or call 510 675 5313.

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