Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Building for Earthquakes and Hurricanes

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

No building codes anywhere mandate doing what I did on my own house when I framed it out. Namely, all components are tied to each other with metal and the rafters are not held down by mere hurricane straps which are small but are attached over the top and under the bottom of the top plate and the rafter.

When high winds hit and we were narrowly missed by two catagory two tornadoes, the house doesn't even creak. The windows will flex and groan but the house doesn't move at all. We have had 90 mph winds strike us and the silence is astonishing. After living ten years in a tent, it is refreshing.

Some readers here think California has really good earthquake standards for building. I know that if one is an anal-retentive sort like myself, can build a very good house that can survive a hurricane or earthquake but since all this stuff costs a lot of time and money and is invisible, the chances of the average person or building appealing to them, doing this is around zero.

If they do have codes, they always are minimal. This is normal for governments because if it is greater, property developers complain bitterly since it ups the costs while producing nothing tangible (except on doom's day!). I went around looking for examples of the building codes but to read them, you have to pay over $25 so I thought, well, let's see what other writers have to say about all this.


Official California US Goverment site:
Homeowner’s and renter’s insurance policies do not cover losses related to earthquakes.
A separate earthquake insurance policy is one way to help protect your home, in addition to seismic retrofitting.
Earthquake insurance also helps with additional living expenses in the days and weeks after earthquakes.
A staggering 86% of California homeowners do not yet have earthquake insurance.
I do suggest anyone in earthquake territory to visit this site. Fascinating pictures. About the 86% of California without insurance: guess what! If we get clobbered again, Uncle Sam won't be able to do anything at all unless the Japanese decide to take even more of America. Sitting around, goofing off, bidding up the price of each other's possibly doomed housing is total insanity.

Banks bankrolling this insanity are criminal. I know that if you get a mortgage out in my neck of the woods, they require various forms of insurance. Yet in California, with a 100% chance that a house will be hit by an earthquake sometime in the next 50 years, having no insurance on the most expensive housing outside of Midtown Manhattan is just asking for a country to collapse.

Talking about collapsing, here are some schematic drawings of how I put my house together:

Note the diagonal cross studding and the middle pieces. This reinforces all corners including where interior walls join the outside framework. Unlike mere metal strapping, this prevents listing or shifting. I looked into some of the California building codes and laughed my head off, what little I could find.

What they consider to be a great way to strengthen the walls is to put up 1/2" sheets of plywood and then nail the hell out of it! Hahaha. I could die laughing. I used 3/4" plywood on my own house! 1/2" is significantly weaker. I can prove this by having my small draft horse walk on a sheet of that vs the heavier stuff. 1/2" will flex and break.

I couldn't find the standards for strapping but I did note that the government web sites had many references to water damage and other hazards but no big boxes with red earthquake information! It was really eerie. I went through the websites of various cities and towns and gave up. It shows how la-la people are in California.

I have lived through earthquakes there. A sister barely survived the Northridge quake. I had to rebuild my parent's house after the Pasadena quake. So I am not naive about all this.

Here is an interesting site that happens to agree with me that California isn't taking earthquakes very seriously. From Drworld:
The California Building Code offers only minimal protection from seismic damage, i.e., a structure should not be damaged in a minor earthquake, damaged beyond repair in a moderate earthquake, nor collapse in a major earthquake. However new technologies, such as seismic isolation, can mitigate both structural and building contents damage and are becoming available to government and industry. There is a need for design professionals, building officials, planners, and building owners to become aware of these new technologies, the criteria for their use, and how to incorporate them into practice.
As I said earlier, the pressure to have the government allow builders to take the cheap-o way out always trumps doing things right.

The fact that virtually no one in California has insurance after allowing builders to erect stuff that really isn't suitable is a crime because they will want us to rescue them all when tragedy hits and this irresponsibility coupled with sneering about how rich they all are thanks to bidding up the price of these uninsured structures...steams the hell out of me!

Here is another issue inhibiting builders from advertising or using interesting technologies:
Government may also set an example. The state must facilitate the use of new earthquake hazard mitigating technologies by using them in state buildings and creating a positive environment for these new strategies in the private sector.
one incentive would be liability protection for professionals who incorporate new designs into projects. In a highly litigious society, architects and engineers are now caught between two legal mandates in building design. On the one hand, any deviation from codified practices using earthquake mitigation technologies could result in a lawsuit. On the other hand, a design professional can be sued for not using new technology superior to code requirements. Most design professionals prefer to adhere to the code.
Building owners must be convinced that insurance will not indemnify all losses due to earthquakes, and that the best insurance is prevention of damage through design.
In other words, if one claims a building is better in earthquakes, then one can be sued if, say, an 8.2 quake hits and the building fails! This is why the still bare minimal building codes are such a disaster. All seems well until the Big One hits. Then all is definitely not well. Remember, the codes are not to keep the housing intact but to prevent death. Habitability is a whole different issue.

California could do the nation a favor by requiring banks loaning money to buy housing to not close the deal until the buyers get insurance that covers the loan. This would have kept the housing market sane since tacking on the extra $100 a month for insurance ($500 a month if the liability is over $500,000!) would have kept the market down and discouraged speculators. And if an earthquake happens, the government won't be asked to fork over $600 billion to the over-extended, over built, over the top California realestate market.

This coming earthquake is going to cost us dearly.
Previous Similar Articles
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Wishful Thinking About Mother Nature
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