Unforeseen Complications of the LA Soft-Story Retrofit Program

The LA soft-story retrofit program was implanted four years ago. It seemed this program was moving along as planned, but recently many Structural Engineers (SE & PE) are wondering what is going on? Some of the unforeseen circumstances come from the wording used in the retrofit ordinances and some are due to certain retrofit companies misusing Cantilevered Column Systems (CCS). The majority of these issues are showing up in apartment retrofits.

Why CCS should not be the Retrofit Go-to

Cantilever columns were designed for soft-story buildings that have hard to retrofit areas, such as irregular or narrow spaces. During the last 12 months more companies are using them as the first solution when retrofitting LA apartments. In many of the plans that customers bring to us the majority of them focus on CCS. What these plans do not take into consideration is the weakened wood-frame parts of the existing structure.

It is not uncommon when performing an initial assessment of a building that we find many apartment complexes that have not been maintained properly. Where termite, water, or dry-rot damage has occurred, a complete retrofit of the structure will require more than just the use of cantilever columns. One of the problems we are seeing is with rent controlled properties. Some of these apartment owners just don’t want to spend a lot of money on their mandatory retrofits.

But not reinforcing or replacing the damaged wood-frames will cost more money in repairs when the next major earthquake strikes. At Retrofitting 360, our team puts a lot of time and detail into crafting the best plan for your building. We use a combination of wood-frame mounts and CCS, so your property, and your tenants, will be safer during a seismic event.

Cheaper Costs do not Equal Better Safety

With the LA soft-story retrofit program being only four years old, it is natural that some mistakes will be made. This is a fairly new industry and new retrofitting companies are appearing out of nowhere it would seem. A lot of these new companies are bringing in customers by offering them cheaper construction costs. While most property owners are looking to save money with their retrofits, you need to remember that you get what you pay for.

Established engineers and seismic retrofitting companies tend to follow the mindset of how to make the structure more earthquake resistant. Not just how to get the job done with the least amount of costs. These new companies offering cheaper costs to the owners are the ones who tend to misuse the cantilever column system. Even though these steel columns are incredibly strong, if the wood components around them are not properly reinforced, they can actually do more damage to a building in an earthquake. You need to very careful when you are hiring a contracting company for your retrofit. Just because a company quotes you a cheaper price doesn’t mean they are the best company for you to work with.

Who are the Experts?

The real experts on seismic retrofits are the members of the Structural Engineers Association of Southern California (SEAOSC). However, property and home owners do not know this. SEAOSC members should be the only engineers drafting retrofit plans but with so much competition in the field, prices have dropped considerably, so these engineers only focus on large projects. They have retrofitted buildings such as the Los Angeles City Hall and other municipal projects that require technical expertise. 

That doesn’t mean that there are no experts to help you. RetroFitting 360 has a team of specially trained engineers and contractors who perform quality soft-story retrofits throughout the Los Angeles area. They will work with you and guide you through the retrofitting process from the beginning to the end.

Who will be Affected by these Complications?

The goal of the Los Angeles soft-story retrofit program is to prevent loss of life during a seismic event by making buildings safer. Second, to increase the resilience of the city so that after an earthquake the city can quickly get back to normal. On the mandatory retrofit list are approximately 150,000 soft-story apartments. If these complexes are not reinforced property, they could collapse during a major earthquake and all of those residents will be left without a home. Plus, the owners will be out the rent money and left with huge costs in repairs.

The recent earthquakes, July 4th and 5th, have reminded everyone that this retrofit program needs to be done correctly. As most California residents know, it is just a matter of time till another major earthquake will roll through the San Fernando Valley. If these apartment complexes are not retrofitted properly, it is the residents who will be hit the hardest. 

Who will be Liable for Poorly Constructed Retrofits?

Here is a question that needs to be answered. Many of these flawed design plans are approved by the city because they meet the requirements in the ordinance wording. However, that is not to say that they meet the requirements of the existing structure. If your apartment collapses during, or after, an earthquake, don’t make the mistake of thinking the city will be liable for the damages. Nor will the cheaper design company or engineer that you hired be held responsible. In almost every case, the property owner is liable since you hired the company to perform the job. The need to hire a qualified, professional company for your LA soft-story retrofit is extremely important.

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