Retrofit blog

Jul
18
Bargain Retrofits: The Ugly Truth About Seismic Retrofits in Los Angeles

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How thousands of low-quality seismic retrofit projects are being built across Los Angeles

In the last three years, I’ve had the opportunity to work on several seismic retrofit projects with my company ‘Soft-Story Retrofit Pros’ and we’ve built numerous retrofit projects that we feel confident about. But when I take a look at other soft-story buildings being retrofitted I often notice shoddy work and lots of damage like termite damage or dry rot that is left in place, completely disregarding the need to repair all these wood-frame elements.

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Bad-quality retrofit project in West Los Angeles, CA.

When the city of Los Angeles passed ordinance 183893 it did so in an effort to avoid what occurred during the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, when several vulnerable apartment buildings collapsed. Several property owners opposed the passing of the retrofit ordinance because they did not understand its true purpose, oftentimes describing it as an ‘undue burden’. When it came time to design and build their retrofit projects, these same property owners started to look for a “deal” and hired the lowest-bidder, and just as I’ve always said “paying less means doing less”. Careless contractors will simply cut corners and will use low-quality materials to ‘save’ the customer money – but is paying for a second-rate solution really a bargain?

Deferred Maintenance

One of the most common issues I encounter when inspecting a property is ‘deferred maintenance’. Buildings that have not been maintained properly will often have waterproofing issues on the roof or along the edges of balconies that contribute to the damage in the building’s wood frame. Over time cracks form in the stucco that if not repaired correctly, can cause prolonged water exposure. Just the other day my team inspected a property in Canoga Park that had a large vertical crack that was 1.5 feet long and 2 inches wide that was carelessly repaired with some type of latex caulking, an inappropriate solution for a crack of this size. This exemplifies the condition of most apartment buildings in Los Angeles. They suffer from water damage, dry-rot, and termite damage. These conditions cannot be ignored when these properties are retrofitted but unfortunately, this is not the case, I have seen too many retrofit projects that utilize heavily damaged beams and floor joists.

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Close-Up of Termite Damage & Dry Rot

Save More=Do Less

An apartment building right next door to my West Los Angeles Retrofit Project caught my eye one day. The three-story property was built in 1959, has 10 units (23 bedrooms/19 baths), and features open tuck-in parking in the rear with covered garages in the front. Online records indicate that the building has 13,000 sq ft, the building is heavy and will experience severe seismic forces during a large earthquake. The company that was doing the retrofit work (which shall remain nameless) encountered severe termite damage on the existing wood beam to which the cantilevered columns were to be connected, instead of repairing this issue, they chose to ignore it and connected the columns to this compromised beam. At this point I expected the city inspector to raise this issue and insist that corrections be made, but to my surprise five days later the installation had been approved and the front of the building was already covered in new stucco. Issues like these matter because they can have potentially dangerous repercussions, that company did not give their customers a “good deal” instead they did them a disservice.

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Aerial-Shot of the Three-story Apartment Building.

Due to the fact that damaged wood-frame members need to be repaired or replaced, the price for a seismic retrofit project increases. But many retrofit companies that promise to save their customers money can only do so by ignoring issues like these. This can have potentially dangerous repercussions in the event of an earthquake, It could cause a failure of whichever retrofit solution is used. Several property owners I have spoken to tell me I quote them a price that is more expensive than the competition ...and I respond “That Doesn’t Surprise Me”. It doesn’t surprise me because other retrofit contractors just don’t do as much necessary repairs as my firm does, simply because repairs are not required by the retrofit ordinance. I don’t like to do the “bare minimum” and just comply with the ordinance - I like to do the best work possible and do whatever is necessary to make a building safer.

My Promise To You

When I take on a new retrofit project I promise each property owner to use the best of my abilities and collaborate with the best engineers to develop a retrofit solution that will perform as intended when it matters most - during an earthquake. There are now hundreds of retrofit contractors to choose from, but not all of them will give you the quality of work your property & tenants deserve. In closing, I want to reiterate that there are no cookie-cutter solutions when it comes to seismic retrofits - although similar, each building is unique and requires an individual solution. From the beginning, I collaborate with the best draftsmen & engineers to design and build a superior retrofit solution.

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