Archive for August, 2011

Earthquake Retrofits and Berkeley’s Seismic Rebate

by David.

A lot of cities offer incentives for homeowners to do seismic retrofits and it’s for good reason. A seismic retrofit of your building is the most effective thing you could do to make your home or building more safe in case of an earthquake. In many cases, it’s not that expensive either. Most people know that the Hayward and San Andreas fault are both active faults capable of producing major earthquakes. What they may not know is how easy it is to perform a seismic retrofit.

During an earthquake, the forces generated by the ground motion send seismic energy through a building. In a properly designed building, the seismic forces will transfer through the structure and back down into the ground, leaving the building in tact. The key here is in properly connecting the building elements to have a continuous load path and in connecting the wood structure to the foundation.

A seismic retrofit is any modification of an existing structure that would make it more resistant to an earthquake. Here’s a list of qualifying seismic retrofit work from the City of Berkeley’s program to give you an idea of what a retrofit might entail:


  • Replacement/Repair of foundation
  • Replacement/repair of rotted mudsills
  • Bracing of basement pony walls
  • Bolting of mudsills to foundation
  • Installing plywood shearwalls on particularly weak walls of the house
  • Securing of chimneys
  • Anchoring water heaters

The City of Berkeley has a particularly rewarding seismic program where they will refund a portion of the city transfer tax from the property’s sale as incentive for you to do seismic work. Here’s the wording:

“A property transfer tax of 1.5 % is imposed on all transfers by deeds, instruments, writings or any other document by which any lands, tenements, or other interests in real property are sold, located in the City of Berkeley… The Seismic Retrofit Refund Program allows for up to 1/3 of the City of Berkeley transfer tax to be refunded for voluntary seismic upgrades to residential property.”

So for a $750,000 sale price, there’s a potential $3750 rebate waiting for you to make your home more safe.

Property owners have 1-year after the sale was recorded to complete the work and file for the refund. The City recommends that you call or visit the Building and Safety Division in advance to make sure the improvements are eligible. The city does also grant extensions on a case-by-case basis for serious illness or unforeseen circumstance. Take a look at their seismic retrofit program and refund guidelines form for the refund process and extension possibilities.


1) Structures used exclusively for residential purposes or any mixed use structure that contains two or more dwellings

2) Properties that have already been retrofitted are still eligible, but would need to do different qualifying seismic work

3) If the seismic work was performed prior to October 17, 1989, then it is not eligible for this refund.

There is no such thing as an earthquake proof structure. But, there are significant and often very simple improvements that can be made to an existing structure to enhance its performance in an earthquake.

I’ve listed some resources below on the City’s website. If you need help with this process, I am familiar with their program and can help you complete the refund process. Regardless of how you do it, take advantage of this incentive and the opportunity to make sure your structure is as safe as it can be.


Here is the page on Berkeley’s Seismic Retrofit refund where you will be able to find the application and program guidelines.

Earthquake Resources and Links

by David.

Homeowner’s guide to earthquake safety

Learn more about earthquakes:

Earthquake resources and how to prepare:

Bay Area specific Earthquake and hazard info

City of Berkeley Geological Hazards Zones (earthquake faults and landslides)

Property owners’ guide to earthquake safety

Oakland seismic rebate program

by David.

The City of Oakland has an established retrofit incentive that enables homeowners to pay a flat permit fee of $250 for doing voluntary seismic work. The very active Hayward fault runs through Oakland and the vast majority of Oakland’s residential building stock was built before modern earthquake codes were adopted (and not many of them have been strengthened since). Therefore the city wanted to provide easier permitting for retrofits. They also noticed that many homeowners were avoiding the permit process altogether in doing their retrofits, creating more sub-par retrofits than weren’t being inspected. More info on Oakland’s permitting process can be found here.

For owner-occupied, low-income households, the City “provides matching grants… for the completion of seismic retrofit repairs.” This is a matching grant of up to $5,000 for completing the work. Applications can be found here.

See article on Berkeley’s seismic rebate program or the FAQ on retrofits for more info on retrofits.