An earthquake might feel like no more than a tremor that rattles your glassware. Or it can be a major event that knocks old homes off their foundation. You can’t know for certain which type the next earthquake will be, so how do you protect your home effectively?
Homeowners in high-risk areas for earthquakes need to weigh the tradeoff between insurance costs, retrofitting expenses, and how secure they feel in their home. If you don't have earthquake insurance but worry you should, we’ll help you consider major and minor protections to help you earthquake-proof your home and provide peace of mind for your family.
How Vulnerable Is Your Home to Earthquakes?
Learning just how earthquake-prone your home is starts with assessing your area. If you live in Florida, for example, hurricanes are part of life, but earthquakes are rare and likely to be minor when they do happen. For West Coasters, earthquakes are much more frequent, and more likely to leave damage in their wake.
Fortunately, your location doesn’t doom you to earthquake damage. You can take steps to strengthen your home to withstand even a sizable earthquake.
Start by reviewing your home documentation. Earthquake building codes have gone through multiple updates, often after a major quake proved that existing standards were insufficient. If your home was built earlier than 1990, there’s a good chance that the initial construction followed codes that are now outdated. Home inspection and seller’s disclosure paperwork from when you bought your home can include specific vulnerabilities on your property. For a few hundred dollars, a structural engineer can come by to do an in-depth assessment and identify possible weak spots.
If your own investigation or a professional engineer’s assessment reveals weaknesses, one option to consider is a seismic retrofit, which reinforces older homes to help them withstand earthquakes.
What Is Retrofitting?
Retrofitting usually involves work to help a building weather the different kinds of force an earthquake can bring. Some older homes are reinforced to withstand strong front-to-back force, but they’re weaker when it comes to the lateral shaking quakes can cause. Retrofitting can also add these protections:
- Anchor mudsill to foundation: A home can slide across the foundation in an earthquake, weakening walls and rupturing utility lines. Retrofitting anchors your home more securely to the foundation.
- Brace cripple walls: Cripple walls are short walls on the foundation that support the floor and exterior walls. They need to be reinforced for side-to-side as well as front-to-back forces.
- Brace and possibly replace foundation: A brick foundation may crumble under earthquake forces. A concrete foundation is your most secure option.
Many retrofit estimates suggest earthquake retrofitting costs $3,000-7,000 on average nationwide. Homeowners on the West Coast should expect to pay toward the upper end, because they’re like to need higher levels of protection. Large older homes or more difficult projects may increase prices above $10,000. The best way to get an accurate sense of what retrofitting would cost for your home is to ask a few local contractors for an estimate. It's also worth searching for local grant programs that may help reduce your out-of-pocket costs, such as California's Earthquake Brace and Bolt Program.