A seismic retrofit can help protect homes during earthquakes - Newcastle News

Jun 6, 2011

A seismic retrofit can help protect homes during earthquakes

May 6, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Strengthening a residence through a home earthquake retrofit is as simple as ABC: anchor, brace and connect.

Most homes built in the past 30 years or so do not need a retrofit to hold steady in earthquakes, but older homes may need some foundation tune-ups. If the foundation is not secured to the rest of the structure, major damage can result from the ground shaking.

The earthquake in Japan — plus major temblors in New Zealand, Chile and Haiti in the past year — has renewed the focus on seismic safety at home.

 

“When the earth starts shaking sideways, the foundation moves with the earth,” Sound Seismic co-owner Leif Jackson said. “This big, massive object is not going to immediately move with the foundation. It’s going to kind of lag behind, and it’s going to lag behind when that foundation oscillates back in the opposite direction. So, the house and the foundation get out of synch, and it can get jolted off of the foundation.”

Though most homeowners can take some small steps to reduce earthquake risks, older homes make for the likeliest candidates for a seismic retrofit, due to the adoption of modern building codes from the mid-1970s onward.

Jackson and brother Erik started the Seattle-based company in 1999, before the 2001 Nisqually earthquake reminded people about the risk in the region. Sound Seismic conducts retrofits throughout Western Washington each year, including a handful in Issaquah.

In a seismic retrofit, contractors brace the cripple wall, a short stud wall extending from the top of the foundation upward to support the floor. Because the cripple wall is constructed to support weight from above, the side-to-side movement in earthquakes can cause the wall to topple. Sound Seismic and other retrofit contractors brace the cripple wall.

Now, back to the ABCs.

Contractors attach the floor of a house to the braced cripple wall, use plywood to brace the cripple wall and then bolt, or connect, the braced cripple wall to the foundation.

“Certainly, homes built in the ’50s or earlier, they won’t have plywood, they won’t have anchor bolts, they won’t have anything, so they are absolutely candidates for a retrofit,” Jackson said.

 

Disaster serves as stark reminder

The scenes of destruction from Japan — and the inherent seismic risk in the Pacific Northwest — caused calls to Sound Seismic to increase tenfold since the March 11 disaster.

The most common question from potential customers is about cost. The price tag varies based on the home, although the project is less expensive to conduct in crawlspaces (about to $4,000 to $6,000) and unfinished basements (about to $5,000 to $8,000) than finished basements (about $8,000 to $15,000).

In Newcastle and unincorporated King County, earthquake retrofits require building permits.

Chimneys also merit special attention during a seismic retrofit. Many chimneys failed in the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, though numerous collapses left a mess rather than destruction.

“Most of them, fortunately, fell away from houses and landed in the yards instead of on and going through the roof,” Jackson said.

Homebuilders in the Pacific Northwest also use materials designed to ride out tremors.

“Our wood-framed houses are probably the No. 1 best-performing structure in earthquakes,” Jackson said. “The wood has a lot of give. It will bend before it breaks, and all those nails and all that wood fiber just gives it some flexibility. What that means is, your house is probably not going to come down in a heap.”

The seismic risk in East King County is real. Newcastle rests near the Seattle Fault, a shallow seismic zone stretched along the interstate from Puget Sound and east through lakes Washington and Sammamish.

Many seismic-retrofit practices and techniques come from earthquake-prone California.

“Everything we do — all of the methods that we use, and the science and engineering — we borrowed from building codes and requirements in California, because they’ve been kind enough to be guinea pigs for us,” Jackson said. “They’ve done the work and they’ve had it tested, and they’ve figured out how to improve it and had that tested. We just get to reap all of the rewards.”

 

Seismic safety tips

Inside a home, many injuries from earthquakes result from people running around as the ground shakes. They fall down, run into furniture, step on broken glass or take hits from falling objects. In and near older buildings especially, a much higher likelihood of broken windows, falling bricks and other dangerous debris exists.

The local American Red Cross chapter offers simple tips for residents to prepare for earthquakes:

  • Bolt and brace water heaters and gas appliances to wall studs. Bolt bookcases, china cabinets and other tall pieces of furniture to wall studs. Brace overhead light fixtures.
  • Hang heavy items, such as pictures and mirrors, away from beds, couches and anywhere people sleep or sit.
  • Install strong latches or bolts on cabinets. Place large or heavy items in cabinets closest to the floor.
  • Learn how to shut off the gas valves in your home, and keep a wrench handy for use.
  • Learn about your area’s seismic building standards and land-use codes before you start construction.

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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