GREEN SCENE

Be ready for ‘the big one’: Retrofit incentive ends next month


BRACED FOR IT—A subsidy program from the California Earthquake Authority can help homeowners with the cost of retrofitting their houses to current earthquake standards. Registration for the subsidy is open through Nov. 29. Information is available at earthquakebracebolt.com.

BRACED FOR IT—A subsidy program from the California Earthquake Authority can help homeowners with the cost of retrofitting their houses to current earthquake standards. Registration for the subsidy is open through Nov. 29. Information is available at earthquakebracebolt.com.

COMMENTARY /// Eye on the Environment

Because houses in Ventura County are so expensive and interest rates are so high, many people are doing what I did when I bought my house—buying an older home in need of many improvements.

A real estate flipper had made only cosmetic changes and sold it to me “as is,” so I had to put on a new roof, pay off liens and address major electrical and plumbing issues.

I also completed a seismic retrofit, and of all the improvements I have made over the past 12 years, this was the most practical but also the most difficult to manage.

Like other local houses built before current earthquake standards, mine faced heightened risk of being shaken off foundations during the next major quake.

The seismic retrofit was so practical because of its value. Bracing and bolting my house to its foundation helped me feel safer, reduced the annual premium I pay for earthquake insurance and probably increased the value of my home.

More immediately, I received a $3,000 subsidy from the California Earthquake Authority, which covered almost half the cost of the work.

The $3,000 subsidy program is back and available through Nov. 29. The California Earthquake Authority offers an additional grant for households with incomes up to $72,080 per year, typically making this improvement free.

The program is not first-come first-served. If, as expected, it is over-subscribed with registrations before the deadline, customers will be chosen in a lottery.

So, although you do not need to rush to be first in line, you should act now if you are interested. You need sufficient information to register and to ensure that you want to have the work done.

The first step is to find a contractor. Although you are allowed to do the work yourself, doing so risks mistakes or oversights and reduces the amount of subsidy available. To find a contractor, first read the program rules at www.earthquakebracebolt.com, and choose from the program’s list of approved contractors, which can be found from the Homeowner Resources tab in the drop-down menu.

For me, the project was difficult to manage, mostly because, as with my home purchase, I sought out a bargain.

Two contractors based in Ventura County each bid about $10,000 for the job, but a contractor based in Los Angeles said he would do the work for $6,800 if I could take care of the permitting, the paperwork for the subsidy program and the application for an insurance discount without his help.

The permit was harder than expected, as it required me to separately hire an engineer, who used the contractor’s plans and his own load calculations to complete a permit application for approval by the City of Ventura.

The project got even more complicated when, after this low-cost contractor’s crew left, I discovered they had installed retrofit foundation plates, securing the mudsill of the house to the foundation, but they had not installed the planned A35 framing angles meant to connect the top plate of the wall to the blockings of the floor system.

Actually, the contractor did install some of these angles, but only right next to the entry of the crawl space, correctly predicting an inspector would look only in that area.

Fortunately, because of my work with the engineer, I knew what the plan called for and how it should look. I called the contractor, who said he was shocked that his crew would make such an omission without telling me.

He checked with the crew and called me back right away with an explanation. The space available was too small to install A35s, he said, so he would discount the job by $1,500.

I called another contractor, who charged $2,000 and used a special tool to install the A35s in tight spaces, and finally my project was complete.

The amount of construction and demolition debris, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is greater than all other municipal solid waste combined. Due to state mandates and the need to conserve resources, local sorting centers separate recyclable items from loads of waste.

However, when disaster strikes, sorting becomes a secondary concern and may be impossible due to concerns about asbestos, lead paint and household chemicals.

Don’t let your house become earthquake debris. Protect yourself and the environment with a seismic retrofit.

David Goldstein, environmental resource analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at (805) 658-4312 or david.goldstein@ventura.org.