The primary purpose of an earthquake retrofit is to make a building safer in the event of an earthquake.

But there are many other important considerations as well – issues that could affect the functionality and operations of a building for both the short- and long-term.

Guard Against Lost Parking Spaces

Parking, and the possibility of losing spaces due to construction are of major concern to most apartment owners because every space adds to the overall value of a property.

Each space also represents accessibility and convenience to tenants. Soft-story buildings, characterized by a large, open ground floor area typically used for parking, are at risk for significant damage from an earthquake because the bottom floor is the most vulnerable part of the building.

As the earth shakes, it can cause a soft-story structure to sway and collapse. Seismic retrofits can significantly improve and stabilize the structure in an event of seismic event.

Because most retrofit work occurs in the parking areas of soft-story buildings, the design of the seismic retrofit and how the work is done is important to ensure that the impact to parking spaces is kept to a minimum.

Soft-story buildings already have very tight parking spaces. In a retrofit design, it’s typical to have new columns placed in the parking area – and in many instances, they are wider than existing posts.

The size of the new columns and where they are placed are an essential part of the engineering design and a key factor in determining whether parking spaces are reduced in size or number. A good engineering design will minimize reduction of parking spaces beyond the city’s allowed minimums.

That’s one very compelling reason to make certain that your plan is prepared by a licensed and experienced structural engineer who can draw from both knowledge and experience in deciding the best approach for your building.

This helps to ensure that the work done makes sense in terms of earthquake safety and functionality.

Avoid Having to Relocate Tenants

Another constraint is the possible relocation of tenants, which frequently hinges on the quality of a project’s overall engineering design.

Many cities have enacted tenant habitability programs that require landlords and/or apartment owners to ensure that their tenants can remain in place and not be inconvenienced during construction. Otherwise, they may need to temporarily relocate their tenants to alternate housing arrangements during the course of construction.

The thought of having to relocate tenants – at a cost of thousands of dollars or more – can be daunting. But in most circumstances, the right design approach can result in an equally effective retrofit plan without the need to displace the people who live there.

Comply with Tenant Habitability Needs

Finally, it’s important to find a contractor who can complete a retrofit with a minimal impact on your tenants. Be sure to ask about the potential for disruption, and what levels of success the company has had in developing Tenant Habitability Plans for their projects.

Some potential questions to ask include:

  • What is the overall time frame of the project?
  • What hours do you intend to work?
  • What is your plan for accommodating tenants during construction?
  • Will my tenants be able to park in their usual spots at night while construction is going on?

Optimum Seismic has developed a process that keeps the parking areas operational before and after regular business hours and during weekends. We make sure that trenches are covered with material strong enough to drive on. All work areas are cleaned daily and tools and other potentially hazardous materials and items are stored safely out of harm’s way.

Space is frequently very limited on sites where retrofit work is being done. In general, it’s important for contractors to be organized in their operations to minimize the impact their work has on the people who live there. This includes not only parking spaces, but the storage of construction equipment and debris.

All these are reasons why value engineering is so important. An experienced engineer and contractor will take all potential restrictions into consideration when coming up with a retrofit design and approach.

Insist on that level of quality when evaluating engineers and contractors to do your retrofit work.