California Cities requiring Seismic Retrofitting of "Soft Story" Buildings!

Moment Frame

Multi-family ‘soft story’ buildings are a common sight in many California metropolitan areas. These buildings are mostly constructed with a parking area on the ground level and two or more floors of housing above. The ‘soft story’ refers to the parking level because the upper levels are only supported on very narrow walls, or posts. This allows for a wide opening for cars to enter and exit. These walls were designed to support the vertical loads, or the weight of the upper levels, however; they fail when a lateral load is applied. Take a tabletop on wobbly legs as an example. When weight is applied to the tabletop it is supported, until it is moved or shaken from side to side. This motion causes the legs to buckle and the table to collapse. The effects of an earthquake to a ‘soft story’ structure are very similar, causing the building to collapse.


After many studies and several years of consideration, California code officials have adopted an ordinance that will require ‘soft story’ buildings to have seismic retrofitting. Currently, this ordinance is for the San Fransisco Bay area and Los Angeles, but will soon be extended to other major metropolitan areas in California. The ordinance has been set up to provide additional structural integrity to buildings, to mitigate a possible building collapse, prevent loss of life and to prevent inhabitants from being displaced if the building should become condemned after a natural disaster. Currently, the local ordinance has identified well over 18,000 wood-framed building that will require retrofitting, an estimated 13,500 of those buildings identified are in Los Angeles alone. Under the ordinance, all of these building must be retrofitted with code-approved seismic structural solutions. There is a time requirement for this to take place as well. In L.A., building owners have seven years to complete the retrofit requirements. In the city of San Fransisco, the completion date depends on the building type. Buildings containing educational, assembly, or residential care facilities are listed as Type I buildings and must meet the requirements of retrofitting by September 2017. Any buildings containing ground floor commercial use or Type IV building, have until September 2018 to submit a permit application and completion of the work must be by September 2020.

Softstory Danger

The acceptable solutions for these requirements are widely available. There is not just one single solution for all buildings. Dalinghaus Construction in conjunction with Licensed Professional Engineers can assist you with your retrofitting needs. There are several soft-story retrofit products including moment-frames and shear wall solutions available for installation. Moment Frames are designed for retrofitting large openings, such as garages, using I-beam like components that are bolted together on site. Companies Such as Simpson Strong-Tie, have the Strong Frame which uses a patented Yield-Link structural “fuse,” which is “designed to bear the brunt of seismic forces, thereby reducing the risk of collapse and isolating damage for a less labor-intensive and more rapid post-earthquake repair.” this company states. To learn more, visit

Softstory Damage

The following is a link to the Brace and Bolt program for homeowners in California. This program provides funds for homeowners at various times and within a selected zip code. Dalinghaus Construction is a registered contractor for this program.

Dalinghaus Construction also has financing assistance for all projects not only retrofitting visit to learn more about our financing options.

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