Earthquake Proofing Your Home

Retrofitting FAQ's

What does a retrofit cost?

Our typical project costs between 5 and 12 thousand dollars.  "Typical" is defined as a home of average size on a cast concrete foundation, either a crawl space or an unfinished basement, with no unusual structural issues.  The most common reason for a project to exceed that range is if the basement is finished and we have to remove and replace siding or interior wall coverings (sheetrock, paneling) to perform our work.  Finished basements tend to run 15 to 20 thousand dollars, sometimes more depending on the finishes.  Other complicating factors include large size, concrete block or brick foundation, lack of foundation, foundation cracks, a steep site, many windows on the lower level, a home over three stories (including basement), or an especially tall cripple (pony) wall.

Can I do the work myself?

Retrofitting is dirty, noisy, and strenuous work, but is not beyond the capabilities of a handy and adventurous homeowner.  If you decide to tackle the project yourself, we urge you to educate yourself and make sure it is done right.  A partial or improperly done retrofit may make your house MORE vulnerable to destructive twisting forces, leaving it less safe than if you had done nothing at all.  It is important to install the right bolts, bearing plates, hold downs, framing clips, and shear panels; at the right spacing; with the right methods.  Seattle and most cities require that this work be done under a building permit, and the building inspector will make sure that your work is done properly.  The city of Seattle sometimes teaches classes for homeowners on the basics of seismic retrofitting, as does the Phinney Neighborhood Association.  We have links to resources that can help ensure that you do the work properly.

How long does a retrofit take?

Most jobs take less than a week, though more complicated homes may take longer.  If we expect your project to be outside of the standard range, we will certainly let you know.

If I call now, when can you do the work?

We'll let you know what our current lead time is, but between our work load and time required for permitting/engineering, you may be waiting three months or longer for the on-site portion of the project to begin.

Where can I learn more about retrofitting?

Our web site has lots of useful information, starting with some of the basic retrofitting elements.  On the "Project Impact" page, you'll find some very informative brochures that get into more detail about retrofitting, as well as a hotline that will let you know when the next homeowners class is taking place.  Our Links page will take you to the web sites of several other agencies that focus on helping you prepare for disasters.

Can you do the work without a permit?

With few exceptions, NO.  Almost all of Western Washington's communities have followed Seattle's lead.  Seattle was part of the pilot Project Impact program, which created retrofitting standards and improved the permitting process making it easier and less expensive to secure a building permit for this work.  All this was done so that homeowners would have the work done under a permit, to ensure that building inspectors would inspect the work, to ensure that the proper elements are installed properly.  The advantages to you are numerous: disclosure implications and increased resale value should you sell your home, assurance that the work is done safely and properly, and eliminating the risk of being fined or having your job shut down.

My basement is finished - can you still retrofit it?

Yes.  Sound Seismic is part of Jackson Remodeling LLC, a full service residential remodeler.  That means that we have carpenters and trade specialists available to repair sheetrock, paneling, siding, or other elements that must be opened up to perform a retrofit.  Of course, this finish work does add some cost to the project, often about doubling it.

I want to upgrade the wiring and/or plumbing before installing shear panels - can you help?

Doing any planned upgrades to wiring or plumbing before plywood goes up is a great idea.  Let us know if you'd like us to include that work, and we will have our plumber and/or electrician quote the work.  Other things you might want to think about are whether you plan to add any future windows, insulation, etc.

I want to save some money - can I do part of the work?

Yes, but only certain parts.  To eliminate confusion, delays, and disagreements, we limit owners' self-performed work to tasks that stand alone and do not affect our schedule.  Some tasks that homeowners take on themselves to save money are demolition and hauling debris; finish work like drywall, siding, or trim; and painting.

Will this earthquake-proof my house?

While this work will make your house much less likely to suffer serious damage in an earthquake, if "the big one" is big enough, all bets are off.  Even if an earthquake damages your home, this work may make the difference between your family living in the home while repairs are performed, or living in a FEMA trailer.

What magnitude earthquake will this protect my house from?

There are far too many variables for any engineer to predict what effect a particular magnitude of earthquake may have...  What are the soils like under your home?  Are they prone to liquefaction?  How near is the epicenter?  How deep is the quake?  What is the lateral acceleration?  We do know that retrofitting works.  The standards for methods and materials were derived from analysis of previous destructive earthquakes - what made the difference between houses that survived the quake and houses that didn't?  The results are proven to work, but the results are anecdotal rather than predictable.  See our "Does It Work?" page for a powerful example.

Is the work dirty, noisy, and disruptive?

Retrofitting certainly can be dirty and noisy.  We can't do a lot about the noise, but we can promise that we will work as efficiently as possible to minimize the duration of the job, and that we will take care to protect your home by using dust barriers, drop cloths, fans, vacuums, etc.  We clean up after, and often during, each work day.  We will do our best to minimize the disruption.

Do I need to retrofit in order to get earthquake insurance?

You'll need to ask your insurance agent to be sure, but more and more we are asked to retrofit homes because it is required for earthquake coverage.  When we are done, you will have a signed off building permit, plans indicating the work that was done, and a Sound Seismic certificate stating that your home has been retrofitted to Project Impact standards or a structural engineer's specifications.  This satisfies insurance requirements.

I have earthquake insurance - do I still need to retrofit my home?

That's like asking, "I have car insurance - do I still need to have my brakes fixed?"  Most earthquake rider deductibles are very large - from 10 to 20 percent of the home's value.  That means if you have a $400,000 home, you have to pay for $40,000 to $80,000 of damage before you collect a nickle of insurance money.  And think about it - if there is a major earthquake and your home is damaged, it's probably not the only one.  Contractors will be inundated with repair calls and may take months to get to them all.  What will you do if your home is not habitable until you settle the insurance claim and find someone to get the repairs done?

Can I get references?

Absolutely.  We have hundreds of satisfied clients dating back to 1999.  Once your work is done, we may ask to include you on that list.

How do I know you are qualified to retrofit my home?

Great question!  We strongly urge every homeowner to check out any contractor they are considering hiring, especially for this highly technical work.  First, ask if the company owner and technicians have completed the UW course Home Retrofitting for Contractors.  Everybody in our company has, and we are happy to provide proof.  Second, check the list of trained contractors at the Seattle's Emergency Management web site.  We're listed under Jackson Remodeling / Sound Seismic.  Also, check with the Better Business Bureau.  There you can find out if a contractor or any other business has a history of unresolved complaints.  We're not a member, but you'll find that our record is spotless.  Finally, visit Washington State Department of Labor and Industries' web site to check that your contractor is registered and bonded, carries liability insurance, and is current with workmen's compensation insurance on any employees.  All of those are required to operate as a contractor in the state of Washington.  If you want review of companies straight from other unbiased homeowners, sign up with Angie's List.

I don't live in Seattle - do you work in my area?

With demand as high as it is, we have chosen to limit our work to Seattle city limits, with very few exceptions.  While we would like to help everybody, we fear that our service would suffer if we spread ourselves too thin.  Sorry.  

How do I get the process started with Sound Seismic?

Call us or send an email.  Leif will talk to you about your home and what it might take to retrofit it.  If you invite him to your home, he will assess whether your home is a candidate for a retrofit.  If it is, he will provide a rough estimate of cost.  It's OK to thank him for the information and tell him "no" at that time, or you may ask him to prepare a fixed-price proposal.

Do you charge for estimates?

With crawl spaces or unfinished basements, sually not.  We generally charge a $200 fee to assess a home with a finished basement.  Some homes have complicating conditions that require some structural engineering to be done before we can narrow down the price range.  In that case, we would prepare an engineering agreement, where for a limited investment, you hire us to measure your home and have our engineer prescribe a solution so we can provide you with a fixed price proposal for the full retrofit.

A retrofit is a retrofit- can't I just have my handyman do the work?

This work is technical and should be performed by a contractor who has completed the contractor's training.

I'm considering adding a 2nd floor at some point in the future- does that affect the retrofit?

Yes.  Let us know if you have plans to enlarge or alter your home.  We can ask our engineer to accomodate the addition when specifying the elements we will incorporate into your retrofit.  An additional floor may require more and larger bolts, and may require us to treat a larger percentage of the perimeter wall.  This will involve a modest increase in cost, but is much less onerous than re-doing our work at a later date.

We can also design the retrofit around future windows or doors in the basement.  Just let us know where you imagine them, and we will see if we can achieve the required engineering values without treating that area.

Will this save me money on my EQ insurance?

More likely, this work will make the difference between qualifying for earthquake insurance or not.  If your insurance company does not require that homes be retrofitted before issuing earthquake insurance, they may well offer a discount if your home is retrofitted.  Ask your agent.

Will this add value to my house?

Many homeowners and potential buyers understand the importance of home safety, and are willing to pay more for a retrofitted home.  Given the relatively modest investment required for most homes, it seems likely that the cost could be recouped when the home is sold.

I have a block foundation. Can I still get my house retrofitted?

When we began retrofitting, all methods required a cast concrete foundation to bolt to.  Back then, a block foundation would require substantial reinforcement to allow us to secure a house to it.

The past few years have produced new hardware and techniques that allow us to secure homes to block foundations for close to the same cost as for homes on concrete foundations.  Ask our estimator to explain this technology!

I am considering having my basement finished after the retrofit. What should I think about?

First of all, good job planning the retrofit first.  You'd be surprised how many people call and say they just finished their basement and now they want to retrofit.  We can do it, but it's less expensive if the retrofit is performed first.

Things to consider include:

  • Wiring - do you want any wiring in the exterior wall?  It may need to be installed before we install our shear panels.
  • Plumbing - Are your water pipes galvanized steel?  If so, it might make sense to repipe before the retrofit.  Furthermore, having a plan for the future of the basement can help locate plumbing.
  • Windows - Bedrooms require windows that meet special egress requirements for fire safety.  We need to know where any future windows will be located so we can work around those areas.

Why is it important to have the work performed by a certified EQ retrofit technician?

Our certification ensures that we have an understanding of the engineering involved, as well as specific training on installing the various elements of a retrofit.  As important as the training is, experience is perhaps even more valuable.  Our estimator evaluates houses every week, and our technicians perform retrofitting work every day of the week.  Our experience allows us to come up with the best solution for those inevitable problems, and to do it fast so it doesn't prolong our work on your home.

I hear code is changing in the near future. What do you know about that?

Codes have already changed.  The bolts we use now are different than those allowed in the past.  Extra framing anchors are specified by today's requirements.  In addition, building departments are allowing certain new methods to be used on a case-by-case basis.

Make sure your retrofitter specializes in this work.  Just because a contractor took the course several years ago, just because they retrofitted a home in 2005, doesn't mean they are up on today's requirements.

Who is going to be supervising my job?

You will have the same lead technician supervising your job from start to finish.  This is a specialist who does retrofits almost exclusively.  He or she will be your primary point of contact, although the structural manager will be available by phone should the need arise.

Do you do ongoing training to learn about new tools, techniques and installation procedures?

We attend major industry trade shows and ask about the newest hardware and tools.  We arrange individual retrofit training for our crew through Simpson Strongtie USA, the industry's leading manufacturer and developer of retrofitting hardware.  We are in the various building departments on a weekly basis, staying current on their latest requirements.  It's safe to say that Sound Seismic is the best trained residential retrofitting contractor in Western Washington!

Who will do the work? Are they subcontractors? How are they paid? Do they have benefits?

We will assign a dedicated retrofitting crew to your project.  These are full-time, permanent employees of Sound Seismic.  We pay all of our team members a fair living wage, and offer full benefits.  We think our crew is the most professional in the business, largely because of the stability and security provided by a retirement plan, paid vacations and holidays, and medical/dental/vision insurance.  Could we offer a lower price if we used day laborers to perform the work?  Probably, but that is not how we choose to do business.

Do you do free estimates?

Sometimes.  We always start with a telephone call.  We will ask you for your contact information and will look up records and photos of your home.  We can usually help you understand what work is likely to be needed and give a "ballpark" estimate, as well as information about timing (job duration and Sound Seismic's backlog).  Often this is enough information for homeowners.  If more information is desired, we will tell you what the next step should be.  If your house is a candidate for a retrofit, and if you let us know the ballpark is reasonable, we will let you know if an estimate requires a fee or not.  Sometimes the next step is a referral to a professional who might be better positioned to help you with your home.

For a Professional Evaluation

 

206-352-5644

1-877-We-Bolt-U

 

Sound Seismic7543 15th Avenue NW, Seattle, WA 98117

Mary Ellen and I are both extremely pleased with the work that Matt and Richard did.  Please pass on my personal "thank you" to each of them. 

We were pleased with the amount of clean-up that was done at the end of each day. 

Even with your discovery of unforeseen conditions that necessitated additional framing, it was still done within a very reasonable time-frame.  My overall experience with Sound Seismic has been very positive and we will recommend your services to our circle of friends and family.

Again, thank you for a very "enjoyable" experience!

Mark and Mary Ellen Whitesell, Ballard, Seattle

 

 

I wish to praise SOUND SEISMIC for the earthquake retrofit they completed on my home. From the estimate to the finished job, Leif and his crew were professional, hard working, pleasant and exceptionally CLEAN. They handled the permit and inspections seamlessly. Office support from Elizabeth was equally professional, reliable and fast. I can't describe everything so I'll just say the whole experience was great.

Kristin Hill, Wallingford, Seattle

 

 

Sound Seismic was professional and they came when they said they were going to come. They came early and they called me to ask if it was okay to start the work earlier. They explained everything to me. It seemed like a reasonable price for the work because I had read other people’s descriptions on retrofitting on Angies list. The price seemed right in line with what I was expecting.
 
Sarah Morken, Tacoma
 
 
 

 

We recently had Sound Seismic do our earthquake retrofit. I cannot compliment enough the very professional job they did. Leif Jackson, the owner, sat with us for two hours answering questions and explaining how earthquakes work. He was completely above board, not promising more than he could deliver. He left interesting reading material so that we could evaluate and decide for ourselves. The most compelling was from FEMA warning people in the Puget Sound area to do everything they could to protect their homes because of our earthquake risk.

Once we were in contract, Leif sent our information to a structural engineer who drew up the plans. The bid was fair and complete. The crew showed up on the date the job started and completely it quickly. It looks great. Our new pony walls are gorgeous and the bolts and clamps very reassuring. City inspections were completed for the bolting and then for the finished job. This company is certified and high quality. Our house will be sticking around on the foundation. I encourage you to get over gambling about retrofitting and hire these guys. They are great.

Emily Elliott, Queen Anne

 

The crew kept me informed of their progress and plans all the time.  They told me what their plans were, and delivered every time.  Very satisfying knowing I could count on them doing what they promised - when they promised it!

Martin Muller, Olympic Manor, Seattle

 

 

My experience with Sound Seismic was very good. They were upfront about the work that needed to be done, about the cost and about the specific changes that would be required. In general, they had a high level of professionalism. They were on schedule, did a good job and cleaned up afterwards. They actually returned calls, which seems to be rare with contractors. I haven’t had other work of this sort done before. They did a really good job overall. They were very good about scheduling and estimates, and did quality work. They were one of the few providers in the area who would do the work - I thought the price was reasonable. I would use them again in the future.
 
Karl Bystrom, Bellevue
 
 
 

 

Sound Seismic was the most professional group of contractors/employees I have ever dealt with. They were knowledgable, dependable, and skilled. The project lead was obviously well trained and knew what he was doing, was able to effectively manage and direct his crew and subcontractors. A quality job. Discovered an area behind my walls were my house was not up to code. Worked well will me to correct the problem and professional and reasonable about the change order.
 
Grateful homeowner, Mercer Island
 
 

The Sound Seismic crew arrived on time and got started on this structurally engineered and contracted job. It was estimated to take approximately one week to complete this work. The job was completed in 4 days with great professionalism and dedication to the work completed. The work passed a city inspection with no additional work required. The quality of work is excellent with great attention to detail.

Leon Young, Issaquah

 

Based in Ballard, the 2 man crew of Sound Seismic did a very clean, professional job of installing the earthquake retrofit. I was very happy with quality of the work and the way the crew kept the site clean and organized every day. They stick to a firm 8-hour work day for their employees and offer health benefits, a rarity in the contract world, it would seem. So their bid was not the lowest, however was comparable to a number of other firms, within 5-10%. Very punctual and professional in all coordination and in handling the 2 inspections reqd. by the city. No surprises or additional costs. I would recommend this contractor overall.

Jennifer Dovey, Broadview, Seattle

 

 

Sound Seismic did such a thorough job. Looking at their work lets me sleep better at night knowing my house is now very unlikely to shift off its foundations in an earthquake.

P. Kiraly, Madrona, Seattle

 

 

We thank you for the very professional work done by all of your people that we have had contact with.  The crew working here were outstanding, and we were charmed by your lead carpenter, Matt. 

Our basement has not been this clean in 70 years (the house is 70 years old)!

Thanks again,

the Pearsons

Bryant neighborhood, Seattle

 

 

We had a wonderful experience with Sound Seismic.  After the devastating earthquake in Japan my husband and I were quite worried about our 3 story brick home and decided to retrofit our basement as a way to ease our anxiety and protect our family.  

Sound Seismic's estimate was more reasonable than any of the others we got and we felt very confident knowing that Leif and his team have done many retrofits, including our friend's basement.  Leif was able to explain the process to me, answer my questions, and gave me the estimate within an hour of coming to the house.  

The hardest part of the process was moving our furniture and boxes out of the way to prepare the basement - after that things just moved along smoothly.  I had been expecting huge holes in the walls and dust everywhere but the work was really tidy and not nearly as disruptive as I had feared.  My kids and I were able to stay in the house the whole time, only playing out in the backyard a couple times when the banging was loud.  The baby was even able to take naps in the midst of the demolition!  

Matt was very professional and friendly, he always arrived on time and he communicated well, checking in with us at the end of each day to show us the progress of the work.  He was able to finish the work a half-day sooner than planned and there were no hidden costs or extra changes when the invoice arrived.  

I would highly recommend Sound Seismic to anyone -- they were fantastic!

Rachel Opel, Ballard, Seattle

 

 

"Leif

Thanks for the great work on the house - you've done an outstanding job of prompt, low-impact work - and leaving the job site in excellent shape. Appreciate the attention to detail."

 

Wayne Dodge, Ravenna, Seattle

 

"I wanted to follow up and thank you for your good communication, strong planning and flexibility.

Matt was great. Very professional, low key, friendly and efficient."

 

Urs Koenig, Madrona, Seattle

They did an excellent job. The whole experience from start to finish was excellent. When they came out they told us what would need to be done, how it would be done and how much it would cost. We set a date and they came. They did the work exactly as they said they would. There were no surprises. The communication with the contractor throughout the process was excellent. The crewmember that came out to do the work did a fantastic job of cleanup afterwards. It was just excellent from start to finish. Because of the work they did we were able to get earthquake insurance, which we had not been able to qualify for previously. We would use them again and we would recommend them to any of our friends.
 
George Murphy, Northgate, Seattle
 
 
 

Sound Seismic gave a very competitive bid, clearly explained everything they were going to do, accomodated my schedule, and produced a very high quality outcome.  I highly recommend them.

Gary Johnson, Wallingford, Seattle

 

 

Dear Leif,

Matt and Richard did a great job!  It was a pleasure to meet them. And as soon as I met Matt, I knew that everything would be done 'right.' 

They took extra care at every level: and left everything better than ever.  They were able to remove the siding without cutting it, which is great, too.

I am glad that I got to see how substantial the anchors, fasteners, etc. are - and how robustly the plywood panels are nailed in. ( It was hard for me to tell from the blueprints alone.)

I am very happy with all aspects of the plan and the work, Leif.  

 

David Rosenbaum, Sand Point, Seattle

 

 

All in all, we felt the project went extremely well.  Given the number of earthquakes worldwide of late, we are pleased to have had the work done.  We’d rather not have it tested, but we know we are in as good a position as possible if the ground starts shaking!

Barbara E., Capital Hill, Seattle

 

 

I wanted to let you know what a great job that your crew did on our earthquake retrofit.  They were very knowledgeable about the whole process and answered any questions we had without hesitation. Their work was excellent and they finished the job quickly.  I have done my share of remodeling in the past and I can say that they cleaned up after each day’s work more thoroughly than anyone I’ve ever encountered.  They took obvious pride in the retrofit work they did but also in the cleanup. They saw that as an integral part of the Sound Seismic service.  All in all, it was a fast and painless experience.

 

Thanks for assigning those fine young men to our job.

 

Paul Gustie, Fremont

 

 

Sound Seismic performed an engineered retrofit on our house built in 1928.  I've never had a better experience working with a contractor - thoroughly professional (truly experienced and knowledgeable in their craft), they were also excellent communicators throughout the engagement.  And the cleanup afterwards was amazing.  I would recommend them without reservation!

George Murphy, Northgate, Seattle

 

 

I wanted to thank you for the wonderful job you did retrofitting my home in South Seattle. I was aware that it would be a challenge and it proved to offer more problems than we expected. You met them all and did a great job correcting the rot and damage that happened over the years since 1927, when the house was built.

 

When I arrived home yesterday the basement was clean and organized. It was the first time I did not have to spend hours cleaning up after a contractor. Your lead carpenter and his assistant were a great team. Thanks for all your efforts.

 

Regards,

Patrick Murphy, Mount Baker

 

 

I can't think of a single way you could improve the service of your company.  Yours is one of the VERY best companies I've worked with on this home.

Jeannie Macri, West Seattle

 

 

Sound Seismic completed a earthquake retrofit on our house. Their explanation about what to expect and what we'd get was clear and straightforward; the work was completed as described, as scheduled and exactly on time; clean-up: spotless.

 

Harriet B., Ballard

 

 

"The experience with Sound Seismic was possibly the finest I have had in my dealings with any of my trade contractors. Your crew was knowledgable, well informed, hard working, tidy, as well as a pleasure to have on my job."

Jesse Lee Honor, Project Manager, Northwest Homecrafters

 

 

Thank you very much for your excellent work on retrofitting our house.  We appreciated your careful oversight of the project, ongoing contact with the engineering firm, attention to detail, and clean and timely work.  You really rose to the challenges presented by "this old house."

Mike E., Capital Hill, Seattle

 

 

Sound Seismic exhibited a great combination of skill, hard work, and professionalism.  You treated our home and our project as though you were doing it on your own house.

Linda and Rick T. Kirkland, WA

 

 

Everything looks good. Thanks for the all the work your guys did, very professional.

Cheers,

Stuart Jamieson, Montlake

 

 

Sound Seismic did an excellent job of the seismic retrofit on my two-story house, which entailed quite a lot of siding work as I don't have a basement. The workmen were punctual, neat and meticulous. I feel safer because of their work.

Pippa Kiraly., Madrona

 

 

Just wanted to send you a note to express how pleased we are with the work your firm recently completed.  You did exactly what you said you would and the quality of the work is first rate.  Also, please tell Matt how much we enjoyed him.  Thanks,

Gary Johnson, Wallingford

 

 

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Sound Seismic Retrofit Technician at work