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Seeking To Be Sustainable In An Earthquake

May 25th, 2009 by Alison · 26 Comments · sustainability, work

My friend and whiz-kid web designer Hanmi Meyer is all over earthquake safety, among many other things. “It’s not a matter of if we’ll have a major earthquake here in Oregon. It’s a matter of when we’ll have one,” she stated matter-of-factly as she returned from one of her neighborhood association meetings that works on emergency preparedness.

All of us on the West Coast live in earthquake territory. How would we sustain ourselves in the wake of a 7.0? Well, off the top of my head, it would be great if the house didn’t cave in when it happened. Like many homes here in Southeast Portland, ours is about 70 years old, built prior to earthquake construction codes being developed. I tried to buy earthquake insurance and couldn’t, due to the age of our house.

So! I’m looking for some skilled construction-type person Thor and I can hire who will bolt our home to its foundation, and/or do other things that would help our house survive an earthquake. I don’t know how much this ought to cost, but I trust that people interested in doing it will educate me about that. It’d also be great to hear from anyone who’s had this done, or is knowledgeable or experienced about preparing for an earthquake. Please comment or apply  here.

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26 Comments so far ↓

  • darin noble

    I have 20 + years experince in all fields of construction and can do any thing i set my mind to do. i have many questions and would perfer to meet you as well as the project so i can get an idea of what this is going to entail. I am not licenced so I would have to be employed buy you during this project

  • Jamie Prock

    I would imagine you are going to need an actual engineer to draw up specific plans for earthquake strapping and brackets if you want your insurance to approve your coverage.

    they will want it engineered and certified by a professional company or contractor who has in house architects.

    your looking at a major overhaul and demolition within your house to gain access to its internal skeletal structure of framing.

    its more than just anchoring your house to the foundation, the seal plate that you anchor to the foundation needs to also have its studs that are connected to it to be connected with hardware, from the stud to the top plate, along with strapping for the span of one floor to the next.
    these are usually all tied in together with the idea of having your sheer walls as set of anchor points to help stabilize the “web” created by all the strapping and hardware.
    this continuous on up into the rafter essentially connecting the entire house together.

    i can only give you basic non specific generalization description of all that is involved to make this happen.
    your sheet rock
    (or lath n plaster) will need to be removed to gain access to the studs, plates, floor joists, rafters.
    siding will have to be removed to gain access for strapping and hardware.

    while trying to look up some specific information to help describe this i came across this web page

    i am a just a carpenter who has moved here from Seattle and trying to establish myself as handyman.
    reading over their web page i think they would be the clear choice to obtain not only the needed legal structural engineering, but the man power to take care of this in a timely manner.
    I hope everything works out for the best, and hopefully we don’t see a earthquake any time soon.

    sincerely Jamie

  • qualico const

    My name is kris Lustig with qualico constrution we have installed earthquake straps and bolts to older houses this can be very east or very hard I would be interested in talking with u more about your concerns and see if I can help u out I have to be honest even if u secure the house to the foundation there are no gaurantees that problem if the foundation is really old too as concrete gets brittle call me if u have any questions or would like to have us come look at it 503.360.8416 thanks kris qualico const

  • TJ Robinson ccb185953

    I am writing with interest in your project. I have experience of performing seismic upgrades. Though they may not be as fun as a cosmetic change, it does add value to a house and is a smart act in general.
    I am shy to post my clients names and numbers in such a public forum. I will be happy to give them to you if you contact me. My number is 503-265-9678 my email is [email protected]
    Best of luck
    TJ Robinson

  • Tom Heaton

    You are looking for a seismic upgrade. For a residential home to meet insurance standards. You would need either the as built plans for your home. Obtainable through the city. Or a design of your structure true to dimensional lumber used. Spans,point loads and shear(nail patterns for exterior wall and roof sheathing.) There are many points in a home other than exterior wall to foundation connection. A layman such as myself could inspect home take dimensions and notes. Over all an engineer would have to calculate lateral and vertical lift. Incorporating shear and positive connection. They are a combined strength. Neither independently would suffice.I am a highly skilled tradesman working for a residential remodeling company. Capable of addressing your needs. Please contact me at my e-mail address or call 503)995-5402 Sincerely Tom Heaton.

  • ron kelly

    do yourself a big favor and hire a Engineer that is familiar with seismic upgrades to residential foundations. I am a certified welder and have previous experience as an ironworker downtown los angeles with earthquake proofing. My wife, Andria is a licensed bonded contractor in oregon and washington. I have 30 plus years in concrete and structural work. I have performed numerous jobs in my past dealing with understructures. We would be more than glad to give you a bid or an hourly rate. MENGUCCI KELLY CCB OR 181991 & WA # MENGUK*919D4. 541-441-7257 (Ron) & 503-930-9078 (Andria).

  • Carl Tebbe

    I work for Bender Industrial
    Group, and we do a lot of residential remodels. Many times these remodels involve updating and retrofitting existing foundations to beef things up structurally. We are currently working on a 100-year old house in Southeast Portland that required some new plywood and hardware to strengthen it. Fortunately, the areas where this was needed were areas we were tearing up for the new remodel. Seismic retrofits without tearing into walls can be tough, but not impossible, depending on crawl-space access, or a basement area. We have a lot of experience with this and we do most of the designs ourselves, let me know if we can help.

  • ed

    This can be $$. Is the sill plate rotting?
    Do have a basement? or crawl space?
    Well the easy/fastest one I did was a $1000.00
    Labor. Full basement, well built house, no rot.

  • Bobby Brady

    you are an idiot…. everyone here is just interested in taking your money… it is appointed to man once to die… then the judgement… quit living in fear and thinking you have some great effect on the earth or in some way have control over whether you die in an earthquake or whether your house survives… you will be better off just to rebuild for what the cost will be… I have a thousand bucks says you never do anything … or if you do it will be half-assed by some idiot you happen to like and told you what you wanted to hear on this web site….write up a freekin proposal… submit it to a half dozen contruction companies and then stare at their proposal with those stupid bambi eyes and do nothing

  • Tom Heaton

    I am pushing myself back to the top of the list. you are in a great market. supply and demand. A small need for work and a great market of skilled workers. Be careful to find the honest hard workers.
    Tom Heaton. (already posted)

  • Ryan Vaughn


    I am interested in this project. I would like to send you a copy of my resume w/ references. I am a licensed general contractor. I am confident that you will value and appreciate the quality and the pride that I put into my work.

    I look forward to meeting you and discussing how we can accomplish your objectives with this project. Of course, I have several questions I’d like to ask you so please contact me via your craigslist posting.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Best regards,

    Ryan Vaughn

    President: Vaughn Construction, Inc.
    CCB# 151861

  • Anonymous Joe

    You should pay particular attention to the folks that have advised you to hire an engineer. I am a structural engineer. I am not offering my services, just a little good advice. I don’t want to be your consultant, but I don’t want you to throw away good money either. The short answer is that, without a complete engineering analysis you cannot be certain that any work performed will fulfill your requirement for an earthquake resistant structure. You may sleep better at night having spent some amount of money on the installation of bolts and other hardware, but will they really perform when the big one hits?

    No carpenter can determine what your house requires, and no reputable contractor will perform the work without an engineer’s specifications and periodic observation. Don’t hire anyone to do anything before your consult with a registered engineer and obtain a building permit.

  • Kurt Rankin

    Hi, I lifted a victorian 627 NE Sumner, I had to poor a concrete and rebar foundation as I bought it without one. All you need is a permit, tell the planning department that you want to up grade it with bolts. Then you bolt it down, they inspect it. Then your done. I’m probably not going to do it, because I’m in Sacramento, but I got a buddy up there that can hire some skilled people and do it for cheap. I completed my entire foundation including lifting house and paying for concrete for less than $5K
    That was 2005 I sold it 2 months later for 40k profit. I believe my permits are public record, so you can peak at my hand drawn blue prints I turned in for inspection by building engineers. Chances are you won’t need any blueprints because you just tell them you want to add bolts ever 18″ or whatever code is and pay for your permit and your done with the permit process.

    Any questions ask me, I’m free, and I respect your inquisitive nature.



  • Jim

    It seems that you have had a good responce to your add. I am a taveling high end home builder, my sister lives in Newberg and was on cl and saw your add. If you need advise it seems that it is in many of the responces that you got. My thought here after working behind a so called good architect and engineer is that you must first find a builder, a good builder, an honest builder. If you would like to talk, then lets get in contact. I am not offering my services but good advise to get you started in the right direction. If we build a good relation then we can see about the work.. I am presently fixing the “my buddy the contractor” and “my buddy the architects” work right now in newberg. You should stop by and see how bad some one that is suppose to be good can screw up your house. There are many good ones out there aswell. I have to tell you that you should do good research on the people first. Check all refs. and get a contract. There are many people looking for work, both good and bad. Please for your own good do some research on them. Make sure! If you would like to get in contact you have my email. I have been a custom home builder for 15+ yrs. small jobs to 25mil. From a small town in the upper penninsula of Michigan. I want to see you get off on the right foot and stay headed in the right direction. I am not asking for the work, maybe if it turns out that way. I want a person to have a good experience when there house is getting fixed. If it doesn’t get done right the first time it will be expensive and a waiste of time and precious resources. I hope you find good people. I am in the middle of a ” my buddy” job right now. What a mess this Divo the architect and his contractor Jon. The waisted time materials. Watch some holmes on homes for some good advise. Don’t be in a rush on either end, yours or the contractor/architect. Get a contract with details and pay sched. Good luck with your project.

  • Paul Battram

    Hallo ,
    I have done a seismic upgrade to a house in n.Portland , It is not rocket science, all the info and straps and bolts are available at Home Depot,
    You just need a couple of guys with a whooping great drill and who enjoy working in cramped awkward conditions all the info is available for free,
    I was suprised myself at how straightforward the job is and at how many business blown it up into unintelligable pro speak ,just to charge a lot more money , its is after all just bolting the house to the foundations, Happy to help , feel free to get in touch ,

  • dwight spacek

    ccb#172128 Read other posts,good advise. Would pull permit and inspect to certify work by city.

  • Alison Wiley

    Wow. I’d call that a good variety of perspectives. I’m following up with a few people via email and phone (not via this comments section). Thanks.

  • West Pac

    Would like to offer our services of in house engineering threw self performing installations. Will pull a permit so your insurance can upgrade your insurance and ads to resale value.

  • charles barton

    Love to have the job. I have personaly built homes in four western states. All with varying degrees of siesmic protection. I joined the carpenters union in 1978 and spent 10 years with them building custom homes smack on top of the San Andreas fault (Portola Valley Ca.) Steep property, huge foundations. Mostly pier and grade beam design. It was not uncommon to see the piers down 40 feet before the engineer would sign off. 2 pairs of #5 bar continuous with corner details (more steel) and plenty of vertical bars as well. Loads of J bolts on varied oc spaceings. This was before sstb type holddown bolts were used. Back when pneumatic nailers were illegal on union jobs.The Lake Tahoe region seemed less worried about earthquakes and more concerned with snow loads. Big foundations, big framing. Loads of hardware. Before I left we’re seeing big hds and 4×6-8 mudsills. Hd 20′s clear to the roof. In Reno, Nev. the problem is not so much with snow loads or siesmic, they build to protect from windshear. Modest foundations, but intense shear walls. This is were we learned you can’t stagger 10d common nails on a 2″ oc spaceing without cleaveing your 2×6. This is when we began doubling the studs on all panels edges. Then on to 4×6 on your 4 foot centers. When I overbuilt everything in Oregon in the early 90′s. I was embarassed in front of my peers. I thought the lazy contractors (engineers) were asleep at the wheel. One new home in Portland, Ore. does not make me an expert on new constuction in this region. Many remodels,though, lent me good insight on building practices up here over the years. Finally I checked out Wa. I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your neighborhood down. (probably could) Not mine though. Only floating homes and log cabins here so what do I know! (Don’t bring a level to a floating job sight) How to bolt that house down? I have done many siesmic upgrades (Loma Prieta, I think it was) I have installed complete foundations under existing homes no less than 4 times. 1 of those needed an 8 foot lift. I would urge you to consider looking at your foundation closely, it may need to be replaced. When we were mostly not bolting our homes down on their foundations was a fair time ago. Or the builder that wet set a sill plate (mudsill) with no bolts then built a house on it maybe was not concerned about the foundation either. If your access makes your plan expensive then mayhaps you need a bid for a new foundation and apply the money there. All the best. If you need another qoute we are licensed in Oregon.

  • charles barton

    It just occured to me you might want to consider a Aseroid shelter. I have built 2 both in Ca. No joke! One was actually built in light of Y2K. One was more of a 12-20-2012 kind of thing. This is not a joke. 650)996-2998 Charlie

  • bill ruddick

    a carpenter with 40 years in the trades, seismic upgrades involve a lot of work, ie; stripping exterior siding, adding studs per engineered plans, drilling into foundation and epoxying threaded bolts into place to install hold down
    brackets, shear wall construction, straps at the
    belly band if more than 1 story and then reinstallation of siding and trim, all of this needs to be done with city inspections and testing labs inspections. good luck

  • Jubal Prevatte

    Everything you need to consider and more has already been pointed out so I won’t waste your time doing it again. I would like to let you know that I am available to meet and see exactly what your needs are and how they can be met in a timely, cost conscience and earth friendly way.

    I have been in the remodeling trades for 25 years and gained valuable experience in seismic upgrades in the S. F. Bay area. In PDX I have done both commercial T.I. work and residential additions and improvements. My ccb is active and I have an informal team of subs with skills and certifications in structural steel work and other relevant areas.

  • Steven Gibson

    My name is Steven Gibson, owner of Steven Gibson Construction. Our family owned business has been established for 28+ years and we are fully licensed, bonded, and insured.

    If you are still interested in having your home become earthquake friendly, please give me a call at (503) 320-0347.

    Take care.

  • Paul Graham

    I will not give you much more advice about “seismic
    upgrading” your home as some good advise has been given by “experts” who are surely more qualified than I. However, I would like to add,as
    a guitar and stringed instrument repairman and builder of almost 28 yrs.with forays into other
    fine working trades like fine furniture building
    and cabinetmaking,that often times the addition
    of metal bolts/screws actually weakens many wood joints and it is usually where a screw or bolt enters a piece of wood is where it usually cracks from.This is caused by the much different
    expansion/contraction characteristics of steel and wood and reaction to temparature and humidity changes.While working as a furniture repairperson I also saw many failed joints caused
    by some wood-be repairperson attempting to repair a failed joint or natural expansion or stress crack with metal fasteners of some kind.
    It is interesting to note that in Japan where there are wooden temples that have lasted many hundreds of years through many,many earth quakes of various severity,all the connections
    are wood to wood with no plates,bolts, nails or screws. Even well into modern times metal connections are generally avoided in large wooden structures in Japan and many of these structures have survived earthquakes of greater magnitude than what we have experienced here. Japanese carpenters have devised some extremely sophisticated all wood joints to accomidate multiple beams/joists/studs as in the corners of a wooden house. There is an excellent book called “Japanese Joinery” that details some of these.These survive quakes!
    I have a friend in the Marysville,WA. area
    that reportedly had a japanese carpenter come
    visit him who was both amazed and horrified at how fast American homes were completed and some of the methods that were used.
    In this country fabulous old-growth wood is
    largely viewed as fairly prolific and a resource to
    be used up quickly for a quick profit,even in the
    fine woodworking trades lamentably, so unfortunately, no one is going to spend much time doing things the optimum way or hold the
    materials they are working with in high regard
    or make the project they are working on last
    for hundreds or even a hundred years,quite the
    contrary,so trying to make your house survive a
    hundred year earth quake may not be a logical objective, even if you were to find the “right”
    engineer/architect/contractor. In addition to
    being a daunting task to find such people,you
    have the added burden to weed out the dishonest
    ones from the honest ones. While working on a very high end finish carpentry job on NW 23rd
    for a highly regarded and paid finish carpentry
    crew boss,I was very surprised while discussing
    the relative honesty of car mechanics with him,to hear him say that general contractors are
    typically much less honest, and that often when
    attempting to buy/sell (flip) a house the success
    of the undertaking very often fails because of the
    dishonesty of the contractor!
    But having said this ,there ARE honest ones out there but I fear they are few and far between.
    A few clues to weed out those dishonest ones,
    would be any one who advises you to go ahead without a very thorough inspection and evaluation of the foundation is either dishonest
    or an idiot,because during a large earthquake the
    foundation will probably crack,as it is brittle and
    doesn’t want to flex with the movement of the earth, (unless specifically designed to do so)
    Unless it is designed to flex with steel re-bar reinforcement it would be my guess that no matter how earthquake proof the rest of the house was retrofitted with bolts,straps,etc. you would still have a house like many others (that
    spent far less $ on “seismic upgrades” ) with a
    cracked or in the worse case, a crumbled foundation. Since it is very unlikely that your
    old SE Portland house has a steel re-bar reinforced concrete foundation this would mean you would need to have a new foundation laid
    as a bare minimum. Whereas properly constucted wood homes flex with the motion of the earth concrete does not.However steel will.
    Bottom line ,all the bolting sill plate to the foundation,straps,etc.will not do you much good
    if the foundation crumbles. So I personally would not go with anyone who advises you not to replace your existing foundation,other than that I can not give much advise as I am not an engineer or house builder.However when I see
    how houses are often built in America I wonder
    if many of these folks understand the material
    they work with. Contraction and expansion is a real big issue with wood and this is why a bolted
    joint is very often not as strong as it looks. I see
    many woodworkers using metal fasteners with no or little regard for this characterisic of wood.
    Very often what LOOKS like strong is not and
    what DOES NOT look as strong is actually stronger in wood. For example, a glued on mortise and tenon joint in a guitar or wooden chair is MUCH stonger that a bolted or screwed
    on neck or chair leg,but from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know wood joints quite the
    opposite would appear to be true.
    The guitar or wooden chair that receives a hard shock or blow or steady erosion over time
    will distribute that force or blow over a larger area evenly over both similar surfaces whereas
    a bolted,screwed type of joint will transfer those
    stresses or loads over a very small area where the screw or bolt will stress the wood unevenly
    causing the wood to crack,break or otherwise
    fail. In addition metal contracts and expands differently than wood,causing gradual erosion.
    Unless the contractor you plan to hire goes (to absurd by American standards of faster is better) precautions like drilling the bolt holes
    in plates and straps and sills to accomidate the contraction of wood which can be considerable in a wet climate like Portlands,OVERSIZE and
    a whole bunch of other precautions like sealing
    the drilled holes against moisture absorbtion,etc.
    you could very well end up with a weaker house
    or one with rot issues. This is a very complicated issue,strengthening an existing structure against
    motion,done unwisely could actually damage your house. A nailed wood joint house is actually
    fairly earthquake resistant to begin with because
    the wood will flex quite a bit before breaking and
    the nails will “creak” or slide back and forth in the joint so you have this fact on your side.
    Brick houses are more dangerous because they don’t flex. Houses with large concrete basements/foundations more likely to fail than
    a much simpler pier block/crawl space wooden structure in my opinion.
    Bottom line is: a poorly engineered and executed “seismic retrofit” would in the worst
    case actually make your home less safe and more succeptable to rot ,and a really well thought out and executed one is almost impossible to imagine given the poor understanding of wood joints and/or wood joints
    reinforced with various metal plates,straps and
    fasteners,etc. by the vast majority of contractors
    and carpenters out there. It is possible to have a house reinforced against an earthquake but one should keep in mind that 1) a nailed wood house
    is already fairly flexible and that the foundation should be of primary concern and 2)bolting sill
    plates and strapping together joints is only much
    stronger and better for the house if engineered
    and carried out in a very detailed and thoughtful ,knowlegeable way,a skill that is very much lacking in our disposable,get it done right away society,and will by neccessity be very expensive or else not much good in my opinion (time consuming as all heck)

    I hope this is of some help,I believe your situation just screams out “buyer beware”

    Paul Graham, consultant to the stringed musical instrument and repair industry.

  • Lisanne Pearcy

    You’ve had plenty of advice from engineering types. I am a geologist. I just wanted to tell you that our worries are not a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. That would not cause major damage to most houses. I survived the Loma Prieta and so did my (older) house. No problems.

    The predicted “Big One” here in Oregon could be a magnitude 9.0 or thereabouts. Yes, it’s not “if” but “when” we get another big quake in Oregon (last one being in the year 1700). However, it’s one geologist’s guess over another if we are “overdue” or not. The media tends to thrive on sensationalism and that is probably where you got the idea of “overdue.” If you actually look at the reconstructed record of large subduction zone earthquakes here over the last few thousand years, it is obvious they dont’ come like clockwork. It could be many hundreds of years (i.e. many generations) before the “Big One” hits Oregon. Good to be prepared, but not panicked.


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