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California has two-thirds of the nation's earthquake risk. Some 2,000 known faults crisscross the state, producing an average of 102 earthquakes a day – more than 37,000 a year. Certain structures that lack adequate bolting and bracing are more vulnerable to earthquake damage. Older houses are often not bolted to their foundations and lack bracing on the wood framed exterior walls enclosing the crawl space. Houses without adequate bolting and bracing are prone to sliding or toppling off their foundation during an earthquake. This type of serious damage can be prevented with proper seismic retrofit of the crawl space.
Interactive hazard maps are available from the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services ("Cal OES") on its 'My Hazards Awareness Map' website. Go to http://myhazards.calema.ca.gov/ and click on the Earthquake tab. This website provides general information on earthquake hazards. By entering your address into the map search field at the top of the page and hitting 'Map Search,' a screen will appear with your address located on a map showing your local earthquake hazard. The page will also include a written description of earthquake hazards in your area.
There is no such thing as an earthquake-proof structure. There are measures that can be taken that will likely reduce the potential for or severity of earthquake damage. The California Existing Building Code states that the retrofit provisions of the code are "minimum standards intended to improve the seismic performance of residential buildings; however, they will not necessarily prevent earthquake damage."
A cripple wall is a less-than-full-heights wall between the house foundation and the base of the first floor of the house.
A building site with a natural slope of 10 percent or less, if a house is supported by columns or beams, it's likely that the house is on a slope greater than 10 percent.
The framing of the first floor of the house is composed of beams and cross-breams made of wood. You should be able to see this by looking under the house to see if the first floor is supported by wood framing.
A continuous perimeter foundation is typically concrete and continuous under the exterior walls of a dwelling. Partial perimeter foundations or unreinforced masonry need to be evaluated by a design professional.
A slab-on-grade foundation means no basement and no basement wall – just one slab of concrete on which your house is constructed.
Typical San Francisco single-family row houses (often referred to as soft-story structures) do not qualify without an engineered design because of two conditions:
The CEA BB program relies on adherence to the California Building Code, Chapter A3. This requires that retrofits be completed with a permit, signed by your local enforcing agency (building official), that states the work was completed in accordance with the California Building Code, Chapter A3. Chapter A3 sets prescriptive standards for strengthening that may be approved by the building official without requiring plans or calculations prepared by a registered design professional (architect or engineer).
In order to use the prescriptive standards in Chapter A3 without plans prepared by an engineer the house must meet certain requirements that include:
The prescriptive provisions in A3 also require that the house has a minimum amount of wall at each of the perimeter bearing walls that can be sheathed with plywood (or OSB). These minimums vary depending on the number of stories of the house. They are summarized in the table below:
As an example, a one-story house with wood or asphalt shingles and exterior wood siding the cripple walls must have at least one sheathed wall at each end and the total length of sheathed wall must be at least 40% of the total length of the wall. For a forty foot wall with a large garage door opening, Chapter A3 requires one 8 foot long wall either side of door opening. This number increases to 50% for a two-story house and to 80% for a three story house (Two 10 foot walls either side of the garage door). These values increase if the house has more than one story and heavy roofing or exterior finishes.
1. Cripple wall - A less than full height wood stud wall extending from the top of the foundation to the underside of the lowest floor framing
CEA Brace + Bolt (CEA BB) is an official program of the California Earthquake Authority, a public instrumentality of the State of California and your earthquake-insurance provider.
It provides a cash grant of up to $3,000 as an incentive to qualifying CEA policyholders to retrofit their houses. CEA developed this program to help homeowners reduce the risk of damage to their older house during an earthquake with a “code-compliant” brace and bolt retrofit. As part of the program, once the retrofit is complete, policyholders will qualify for a 20-percent discount on their CEA earthquake insurance premium.
CEA BB is in its initial pilot-program phase. It is modeled after a CEA retrofit program currently operating successfully in more than 18 California cities.
On average, a typical retrofit costs between $3,000 and $5,000.
In 2019, CEA BB expanded to include 202 California ZIP Codes in high seismic risk areas. CEA hopes to expand the program to more policyholders in more ZIP Codes in the future.
The cost of a retrofit depends on the size of the cripple wall (height, length, width) and the cost of materials and labor. The cost also depends on whether there is any damage or rot in the existing wood-frame members of the house or if the foundation needs repair. On average, a typical retrofit costs between $3,000 and $5,000.
For CEA BB, qualifying policyholders:
CEA BB actually makes sense for both the policyholder and for the CEA. For the policyholder, the cost of a retrofit is reduced, the house is made stronger and more resistant to earthquake damage and occupants are safer. For the CEA, making houses safer in high-risk areas makes financial sense, since a stronger, safer house means CEA’s costs to insure that house are reduced
CEA BB provides grants only for a specific “building-code-compliant” seismic retrofit, to ensure the retrofit will perform as designed and keep the house on its foundation.
Although new-house construction in California has benefitted from seismic building codes for many years, the availability of a seismic-retrofit building code for existing houses is actually quite recent.
The 2010 adoption of Chapter A3 into the California Building Code provided the first uniform guidelines for a quality, science-based retrofit for existing houses. CEA BB relies on
Chapter A3 as its guidepost, offering cash grants for only these code-compliant seismic retrofits.
No. CEA BB does not cover any work done on chimneys; however, you may find some helpful information in this document from FEMA, which addresses how to repair damaged chimneys and what to do to minimize future damage and risk.
You must be invited by CEA to participate. Qualifying policyholders: have a valid CEA policy for the qualifying house for at least the last three consecutive years; own a pre-1940 house in one of the selected ZIP Codes; and have a house whose characteristics qualify for a brace-and-bolt retrofit.
Policyholders invited into the program must ensure their house qualifies for a Chapter A3 retrofit. While our data shows your property has house characteristics that would qualify for the code-compliant retrofit, we need to verify your information. Simply select “Register” and then “Homeowner” to begin the process, using the Policy Number and Module Number provided in your invitation letter.
You will be asked to confirm information and answer specific questions about your house characteristics. Accurately answering the CEA BB qualification questions is extremely important to make sure your house qualifies for the specific type of retrofit the program allows under Appendix Chapter A3 (learn more about the retrofit). Also, we highly recommend that you authorize CEA BB to send text alerts when important email communications are sent. We added this feature to ensure CEA BB information reaches policyholders and doesn't get lost in "junk" folders.
If your house qualifies, you will receive an immediate notification. You will also receive a Policyholder Packet in the mail with all program details.
Homeowners will be notified by email if they qualify to participate in the program.
Houses that meet the requirements of the program are those that satisfy the requirements of the 2010 California Existing Building Code, Chapter A3 (Chapter A3).
Houses that typically meet, but are not guaranteed to meet, the requirements of the program are:
Owners of buildings of four or fewer units with a raised foundation and a cripple wall of four feet or less, may be eligible for the program. The local building official has final say as to which structures qualify for retrofit using Chapter A3 and the standard plan sets (Plan Set A and the Los Angeles Standard Plan Set). Check with your local building official before starting the retrofit project.
This program offers incentives to homeowners who have not yet completed a seismic retrofit. Retrofitting work done previously is not eligible for this program.
CEA BB is not currently requiring initial inspections for the program. To find out if your house qualifies you can contact one of the contractors on the Contractor Directory. The contractors on the list have taken the FEMA training for seismic rehabilitation of single family dwellings. Contractors typically provide this service for free as part of an estimate for the project.
Homeowners who complete all the necessary work and turn in all required documentation will receive a check of up to $3,000 to pay covered expenses.
Anything over $3,000 is the responsibility of the homeowner.
CEA BB will fund actual expenses, as allowed under the program, up to $3,000. If the retrofit costs $1,500 to complete, then the program will fund up to $1,500 for actual expenses, as allowed under the program.
In order to qualify for the incentive payment you must submit the following:
In order to receive payment you must submit the following receipts:
Please note that the amount of reimbursement is limited and not all of your expenses incurred in performing retrofit work on your home may be covered or reimbursed.
All photos should be taken with sufficient natural light or light from the flash to show sufficient detail of the structure or work. Include clear photos of the following:
Digital photos and receipts should be uploaded on the homeowner dashboard. Only electronic uploads through the policyholder dashboard will be accepted. Only documents in JPG or PNG formats can be accepted.
Reimbursement checks will only be processed once your application is complete, all documentation and requested information has been provided, and your application has been approved. Once approved, it will take approximately three weeks for you to receive your reimbursement payment.
Unfortunately, the CEA BB grant is subject to federal (but not California) income tax. It is important for you to know that, although California does not tax CEA retrofit grants as income, the grants are subject to federal income tax. You will need to submit a W-9 prior to reimbursement.
Participating Policyholders are advised to review local County Assessor’s or State Board of Equalization’s website regarding any pre-construction requirements concerning the seismic retrofitting construction exclusion from assessment provided by section 74.5 of the California Revenue and Taxation Code.
Yes, a building permit is required and with specific language in the scope of work that references the specific building code, Chapter A3, or a standard plan set.
In the scope of work or project description your building permit MUST reference "in accordance with”
Building departments typically will allow a homeowner or their contractor to take out a permit. Homeowners who intend to act as an owner-builder should check with their building department for specific requirements.
Your local building department may be managed by your city, town or county. For a list of building departments, see the California Contractors State License Board website. Contact your local building department prior to starting work to verify all local requirements.
Permit costs vary. Check with your local building department for costs and other requirements. The cost of the permit is a reimbursable expense (please note that there is a limit on the retrofit incentive payment).
You will need to identify the local building department that is responsible for issuing permits in your location. We recommend that you contact the building department in your jurisdiction for specific building permit requirements prior to commencing with any retrofit work. For a list of building departments, see the California Contractors State License Board website.
The type and number of inspections required by the building code official may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The building department will provide information about required inspections when the permit is issued. It is the responsibility of the owner-builder or contractor to schedule inspections with the building department and provide access for the inspector to review the work.
You should verify the requirements for sign off on the building permit with your building code official. Typically the work described in Chapter A3 requires one or more inspections by the building official. Verify the inspection requirements prior to starting the work.
Make sure the building permit includes the following language under proposed scope of work."In accordance with:”
Some of the retrofit provisions in Chapter A3 may be approved by a building code official without requiring plans or calculations prepared by a design professional (architect or engineer). Homeowners, contractors and design professionals should check with the local building code official to verify local requirements.
If you are going to hire a contractor instead of doing the retrofit work yourself, you must select one listed in the Contractor Directory on the CEA BB website. In selecting a contractor, the California State License Board recommends that you make sure the contractor has a license, get at least three written bids on the project, ask for personal recommendations, verify the contractor's business location and telephone number, and verify the contractor's workers compensation and commercial general liability insurance coverage.
The California State License Board provides online services that allow homeowners to verify information about contractors, including their license number and business name.
The seismic retrofit work outlined in Chapter A3 can likely be completed by a homeowner with Do-It-Yourself skills. When you undertake work on your home without a licensed contractor you act as an owner-builder. Information about the requirements and risks of acting as an owner-builder may be found on the California State License Board website.
Check with your building department to verify what construction documents (drawings and other specifications) are required to obtain a permit. Some building departments may require a plan showing overall building dimensions and notes indicating where work will be performed. Chapter A3 includes retrofit details that may be referenced on the plan. Some building departments may have standard plan sets that the owner-builder or contractor can use. Please note that any modifications to the details in Chapter A3 must be designed by a registered design professional (architect or engineer).
There are a few "plan sets" available to homeowners and contractors for use as the construction documents for the seismic retrofit of wood frame dwellings. The plan sets include specifications, details, and instructions for the installation of foundation anchors and cripple wall bracing (for walls shorter than 4'-0" tall). These plan sets are intended for use without the services of a design professional (architect or engineer).
You should check with your local building department to see if they have adopted a standard plan set. If so, confirm that your local building department will accept the use of the plan set for a retrofit in accordance with the CEBC Appendix Chapter A3.
"Plan Set A" is available for download on the Association of Bay Area Government (ABAG) website. If your local building department has not adopted their own plan set, check with them to see if they will allow use of Plan Set A.
Resources for strapping and bracing your water heater include: Earthquake Country Alliance
Chapter A3 contains specific requirements regarding the condition of the cripple wall wood framing. You or your contractor should inspect wood framing members and check with your local building official to determine if repair or replacement is needed, and if so, whether the assistance of an architect or engineer is required. When preparing your budget or seeking bids from contractors, architects or engineers, be sure to include any repairs or replacements to damaged wood framing members in your retrofits.
Chapter A3 contains specific requirements regarding the condition and strength of your foundation. You or your contractor should inspect if there are cracks in the concrete or masonry foundation and check with your local building official to determine if repair or replacement is needed, and if so, whether the assistance of an architect or engineer is required. When preparing your budget or seeking bids from contractors, architects or engineers, be sure to include any repairs or replacement of concrete or masonry foundation in your retrofits.
Often it is difficult to see the original nails used to connect the first floor to the supporting cripple wall. This is something a design professional or contractor may be able to assist with. If the nails are not visible, consider installation of new framing clips between the top plate of the cripple wall and the blocking or rim joist at the first floor. Chapter A3 includes the required size and spacing for these framing clips.
The requirements of Chapter A3 have some flexibility to accommodate existing conditions. The owner-builder or contractor should verify the length of wall available, and indicate that length for plywood sheathing and bolting on the construction document turned in for the building permit. The building code official is responsible for accepting the final length of sheathing or bolting.
Typically, building inspectors issue a written documentation of items that do not pass inspection. It is the responsibility of the owner-builder or contractor to make revisions and have those revisions re-inspected by the building department. Please note that many building departments charge for re-inspections. Review inspection requirements and fees with your building department prior to starting construction.