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California budget will fund 1,000 single-family home retrofits

A home in Napa after suffering earthquake damage.

A home in Napa after suffering earthquake damage.

(Evan Wagstaff / Los Angeles Times)

The budget signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this week pencils in money to retrofit 1,000 homes across California with a common earthquake flaw.

The problem involves homes built before 1979 with a handful of steps above the ground. The heavy house can rest atop a flimsy wood-frame perimeter that isn’t bolted to the foundation, and when a quake comes, the house snaps off.

The flaw brought extensive damage again to many homes during last year’s Napa earthquake. The $3 million in funding won’t do much to address the approximately 1.2 million homes across California with this flaw, but officials hope the grants of up to $3,000 to fix the problem will raise awareness of the issue.

“There is a huge need to retrofit older homes, especially in high hazard areas. This action will boost our efforts to make financial assistance available to homeowners as we continue to grow the Earthquake Brace and Bolt program,” said California Earthquake Authority CEO Glenn Pomeroy.

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Before this week’s budget was approved, the California Residential Mitigation Program, which administers the grants, already had a program that is set to fund 650 retrofits for 2015 in 28 ZIP codes. But there are many homeowners on the wait list – the last time applications were accepted, there were more than 2,000 requests for the grants.

Officials hope to expand the program to 100 ZIP codes across California in the neighborhoods with the highest concentration of these homes.

Unbolted homes can suffer damage as high as $400,000 in an earthquake, while the cost of a retrofit is usually between $2,000 and $10,000, and an average of $5,000.

The solution is generally simple: add metal rods to attach the wooden house to the concrete foundation, and plywood “to add stiffness and strength to keep the house on its foundation,” she said.

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Officials hope to accept more applications for the program later this fall.

City governments have not required homeowners to make seismic retrofits to single-family homes. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Los Angeles city building officials briefly considered requiring 50,000 single-family homes to be retrofitted, but the idea was rejected.

State legislation that would have required wood-frame homes to be bolted to their foundations at the time they were sold was never approved.

The $3 million in extra funding for the retrofit grant program came at the request of Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian (D-Sherman Oaks).

Follow me on Twitter: @ronlin


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