Retrofit blog


Soft Story Retrofit: Seismic Ordinances Might Get Tougher in 2019


Ordinances Might Get Tougher in 2019.

The entire soft-story retrofit process is long, complex, and involves several people. You’ll encounter structural engineers, draftsmen, city engineers, city clerks, general contractors, and other construction professionals. As a professional general contractor, I’ve made the commitment to give all my customers the best service in Southern California, and in order to do so I’ve attended several seminars and symposiums. This week I want to share the experience I had this summer at the Structural Engineers Association of California (SEAOC) Convention in beautiful Palm Desert, CA. SEAOC is the premiere professional association for structural and civil engineers in the country, and all the top seismic retrofit experts were in attendance. SEAOC influences and helps establish engineering guidelines that are then adopted by municipalities across the country. The state's top PE and SE engineers attended the convention and the entire event was dedicated to seismic retrofitting and I learned a lot.


Our team with Ashraf at SEAOC 2018.

Seismic Retrofit Solutions

This year our company was an exhibitor at the SEAOC Convention, part of our team manned the booth while other teammates attended the various lectures and workshops being held all week long. I talked to the majority of keynote speakers and noticed that there was some disagreement among the structural engineers, some of them do not feel confident in using a cantilevered I-Beam as a retrofit solution. For those that do not know, there are three main retrofit solutions that are widely used; they include Moment Frames, Cantilevered I-Beam Columns, and Shearing Panels (Strong Walls & Plywood Shear Walls). Cantilevered Columns are amongst the most affordable solutions available, you’ll get more bang for your buck by asking your engineer to use cantilevered columns in your soft-story retrofit solution. Unsure of what a cantilever column is? We have an article that talks about the most popular retrofit solutions … you can read our article Three Retrofit Solutions by clicking here.

Inadequate Protection

On the second day of the SEAOC show, I happened to meet one of the most published structural engineers at the convention. We sparked up a conversation and I asked for his opinion about the use of cantilevered beams as a seismic retrofit solution. He had a genuine disdain for cantilevered columns and went on to say that they do not provide adequate lateral protection. If anything, all the seismic retrofit standards should be reaised to provide a higher level of protection. The group of engineers that had gathered around us seemed to agree. He argued that a cantilevered column would absorb the blow during a substantial earthquake, saving the building, but causing irreparable damage to the column. This would mean that the entire column would need to be replaced, and the accompanying ground beam would also need to be replaced. Even if a cantilever column is an affordable option, in the wrong application, it could end up costing more in the long run. You end up paying more to replace the retrofit solution than what you originally paid for the retrofit. The fact of the matter is that the guidelines established by the seismic ordinances do not guarantee that your building will survive an earthquake without any type of damage. The seismic ordinances only require a retrofit solution that mitigates the potential “loss of life”, and not the complete structural security of a building. Structural engineers only need to design a solution that meets the bare minimum, but if you want more protection your price tag might more than double.


Can a 70-year-old building survive a major earthquake?

Resilient LA

In 2013 the city of Los Angeles joined the 100 Resilient Cities Network. The resiliency movement sweeping across the United States aims to prepare cities for natural disasters, to increase their capacity to recover quickly from disasters. Resiliency is the motivating factor for all the recent seismic retrofit ordinances being passed in Southern California, but strangely enough, the standards established by the ordinances do not prevent the structures from sustaining substantial damage. Resiliency has always been the motivating factor of the earthquake retrofit ordinance, yet the current standard does not mandate a strong enough design to prevent the building from suffering substantial damage. The structural engineers I met at SEAOC all agree that a higher standard is needed. This likely means that future ordinances will require more steel, more labor, and more money. It is safe to say that the Los Angeles Building and Safety office might be considering raising the minimum soft-story retrofit design standards. We expect several more cities to pass seismic ordinances in 2019, and they will all be considering a higher level of earthquake resistance.

Once newer, tougher ordinances are passed, we will be sure to share the details here in our blog. We have created this series of blog articles to help property owners fully understand the soft-story retrofit process. You’ll find articles about retrofit engineering plans, the plan approval process, retrofit construction methods, and most importantly how much does a soft-story retrofit cost. If you just landed on this page and are just starting to learn about soft-story retrofit, you should start with one of my earlier articles that talks about the law and what it means for you!

How to Get Started

The Los Angeles Department of Building Safety identified 13,500 buildings in Los Angeles that will require some type of seismic retrofit. The getting the process started is easier said than done, if you are looking for a good experienced contractor you'll need to do some research. The first step is to get a set of retrofit engineering plans to submit to the city, you will need to look for a professional construction company or contractor that has an engineer on staff, or else you'll need to look for a Professional Engineer independently. The second step occurs once your plans are approved and are marked as "Ready to Issue" - you'll need to find a reputable general contractor to actually build your retrofit solution. Having a hard time finding a contractor you can trust? Check out our article How to Find a Trustworthy Retrofit Contractor it is full of tips to help you avoid seedy contractors. The third step is to give your tenants notice of impending construction, you'll need to file a Tenant Habitability Plan (THP) with HCIDLA before any construction can begin. Don’t wait for the Big One to damage your building. You can get the soft story retrofit process started today. Deadlines for the Los Angeles Soft Story Retrofit are quickly approaching, don’t get fined for not being in compliance.

Want to Learn More?

If you want to learn everything there is to know about soft-story retrofits you'll want to check out our most in-depth article What is a Soft-Story Retrofit? Everything You Need to Know About Retrofits on our new website. There, you'll be able to access all of our retrofit blog articles, case studies, our retrofit gallery, short videos, and enjoy free access to our full-length soft-story webinars. Our team has developed all this content for property owners like you. It is your destination to learn all about the retrofit process. Bay Cities Construction and Soft-Story Retrofit Pros is here to help answer any questions you may have about your retrofit project. Our team has the experience to Engineer & Build a Cost-Effective Retrofit Solution for your property. Get started today by visiting our website at to schedule a free assessment.

About Us

For over 15 years Bay Cities Construction has helped hundreds of homeowners with their projects. When you hire Bay Cities Construction you don’t just hire a contractor, you hire an entire team of Pros. With several years of experience, our team has the expertise to help you Design, Engineer, and Build Your Retrofit Solution. We also represent you City Representation when submitting your plans and ensuring they are approved, and we handle all the Permit Processing so you never miss a day of work. If you think Bay Cities Construction is the right team for you, contact us today. We have the experience, knowledge, and know how to help you save time & money with a bolted moment-frame or shear-wall panel.

Ready to take the next step? We’re certain that Bay Cities Construction is the best general contractor for your project, you can Schedule an Appointment by clicking HERE. We offer a complimentary 1-hour consultation at our office, so you can meet our team and we can discuss your Soft Story Retrofit project. If you have been disappointed by other contractors, it's time to call one of the best seismic retrofitters in Los Angeles.