Don’t Cut Corners on Engineering Solutions for your Seismic Retrofit

Don’t Cut Corners on Engineering Solutions for your Seismic Retrofit

By | 2018-01-26T20:15:30+00:00 June 1st, 2016|Seismic Retrofit|

optimum seismic retrofit engineeringEver since the first notifications were sent out by the City of L.A., property owners have been contacting us seeking answers to various questions regarding the earthquake retrofit process.

The most frequently asked question has been, “Where do I start?”

A couple of owners shared with us their frustration over contradictory information they received from different contractors regarding the scope of work needed for their retrofit. Two cases in particular involved proposals and scopes of work from other construction companies that were not derived from the detailed measurement of existing building elements. Because the reports lacked the measurements specific to those buildings, any attempts to do a proper analysis and to meet the code’s required scope of compliance would be and should be called into question.

Asked by the property owners to review the plans, the only way I could be sure if the information given to those owners was accurate was to perform our normal process of building study.  Optimum Seismic went out to perform surveys on each building, take precise measurements and complete engineering analysis specific to each of those buildings.

In our study, which was performed according to City of Los Angeles ordinance requirements, we discovered that scope of work given to those two property owners was incomplete.
Having an incomplete scope of work can be problematic in a number of ways.

  • It creates confusion about the best way to move forward.
  • It creates unwanted complications in the retrofit process, should deficiencies in the plan be discovered during the permitting or construction process.
  • It could potentially expose property owners and contractors to legal liability in the event of possible injuries and damages resulting from a major quake.

A thorough and precise engineering study is the strongest defense against structural damage from an earthquake. It is also the surest way to avoid permitting delays, inspection mishaps and change orders during construction.

The Importance of Value Engineering
Engineering surveys and analysis are required by the city because they determine the most efficient and effective means to retrofit a building. Once these processes are complete, owners will be informed of the retrofit options available for their building together with associated costs. Once the plans are approved by Building & Safety, property owners can select a contractor based on the specifics drawn up in the plan. This gives owners the advantage of seeking out the most qualified contractor by getting accurate bids form reliable and experienced contractors.

Here is the exact wording from the city’s website:
The property owner must hire an engineer or architect licensed in the state of California to evaluate the strength of the building. The engineer or architect must then develop plans for the building’s seismic strengthening in compliance with this program.
Documents needed for a permit application include:

  • Structural Analysis/Calculation Package
  • Architectural Plans
  • Structural Plans

Won’t the City Catch any Errors on my Application?
Some may think they can rely on city plan-checkers and inspectors to catch possible mistakes and make sure engineering plans and construction are performed properly.

Don’t chance it.

Remember that there are an estimated 13,500 buildings needing retrofits in the City of L.A.
True, city plan-checkers will review all plans, but with so many applications coming in, the possibility increases for something to slip by unnoticed.

In addition, by the time the city gets involved, it’s too late: Your job has already gone to the wrong person and you have to deal with consequences of that decision.

It’s also important to note that city approval does not release the engineer or the building owner of his or her ultimate liability if after damage or injury in a quake the plans prove to have been improperly prepared.

The Building Department is normally exempt from liability, which means that you should be prepared to have your work stand on its own to prove that you did your due diligence in getting your retrofit work done.

Code compliant engineering drawings will help to serve as a defense in the unfortunate event that the work performed on your building is challenged in litigation after a major earthquake. When done right, engineering plans will help to negate accusations of neglect.

Do your Homework before Entering into any Contract
As the Preferred Supplier of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, Optimum Seismic has been working with the organization to help inform members about the new ordinance and to educate them on the steps they need to take to comply with the law. We have been attending community workshops coordinated through AAGLA, spoke recently at the association’s annual Expo, and attended Mayor Eric Garcetti’s 2016 Seismic Retrofit Fair at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Seismic retrofits are sizable projects and the risks of not doing them right can be great.
We recommend that everyone follow the steps as outlined by the city to ensure the work is done properly.

Don’t skimp on a project when it comes to the safety of your building and its tenants. Cutting corners in construction could lead to disaster.

About the Author:

Ali Sahabi has been a licensed General Engineering Contractor (GEC) since 1993, and is a principal at Optimum Seismic, Inc. He has completed hundreds of seismic retrofitting and adaptive reuse projects for multifamily residential, commercial, and industrial buildings throughout California.

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