Archive for September, 2010

Over the years, I’ve inspected countless thousands of foundations and one of the most frequently asked questions I’ve heard from homeowners’ is this: “Do you think I should bolt the house?”  Well now being a foundation contractor, any answer from me could certainly be viewed as being biased by virtue of what would seem to be a distinct “conflict of interest” on my part, as seismic retrofitting (house bolting) is a service we offer!  It can present itself as somewhat of a “Catch-22” in that if I answer that “Yes, it is a good idea”, I look biased. If I answer that “No, it is not needed”, I may be doing them a great disservice in that there may be things that the house needs to better prepare it seismically. With that dilemma in mind, I have evolved a simple analogy that educates them such that they can then participate in the decision process. Quite simply, the most logical analogy I’ve found and the one that resonates with the majority of homeowners is simply this: house bolting is similar to putting on a seatbelt when you’re in a car; in the event that the car is in an accident, the chances of injury are much less than if one were not wearing a seatbelt and yet even a seatbelt cannot ensure that one will walk away injury-free. Well house bolting is essentially the same thing; a house that has had proper seismic retrofitting done to it has a much better chance of performing well during an earthquake, but also does not fully eliminate the potential of damage to the home.

The other key factor to consider, holding to the analogy above, is that technology evolves. The safety features in say a 1960’s car versus the safety features in a new car have very little in common; the “lap belt” has been replaced with shoulder restraints, air-bags, side impact protection, anti-lock brakes, crumple zones, etc, etc, etc.  As that relates to house bolting, the same is true of how well an older structure is secured versus a newer one.  Cars from the teens, 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s primarily had nearly nothing that we have today in terms of safety!  Seismic retrofitting has been on a similar evolutionary journey, with the latest technology offering the most benefit.

It is most often true that the older the home, the more it will benefit from seismic retrofitting.  The only real reason to have house bolting done to a house is to prepare it for an earthquake; no earthquake, no house bolting needed. No car wreck, no safety features needed…  Though it is a personal decision, most people realize that just as driving around without contemporary safety features is not ideal, neither is hoping that their house is able to withstand the forces of Mother Nature should the time ever come.