Quake-Proof Your Home

Earthquake Brace and Bolt Program Offers California Homeowners Money to Retrofit Their Houses

Earthquakes can shake older homes loose from their foundations; a new state program helps homeowners stabilize them. | Credit: J.K. Nakata, U.S. Geological Survey, 1989

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Twenty million dollars is available to California homeowners from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in an Earthquake Brace and Bolt program intended to keep houses from falling down or sliding off their foundation during a temblor. Through program funding of up to $3,000, homeowners of wood-frame houses built before 1980 can brace a cripple wall (the walls in a crawl space below the first floor) with plywood and bolt the frame to a raised concrete foundation, as well as strap and brace water heaters. The cost for such work is generally $3,000-$7,000, with the higher amount for the architectural or engineering plans required for cripple walls of four to seven feet. The one-month program application period opens February 19 and could encompass as many as 4,400 homes.

Qualifying properties must be within the zip codes listed by the U.S. Geological Survey on an earthquake hazard map. In the Santa Barbara area, those zip codes all fall in South County: 93101, 93103, 93105, 93108, 93109, 93110, and 93117. Since the program opened to Santa Barbara County in 2017, 328 applications were filed and 127 homeowners are in the process of strengthening their home against earthquake.

To qualify, homes must be a primary residence occupied by the homeowner and can be as many as four units on a “continuous raised perimeter foundation.” The program now allows homes on the National Register of Historic Places.

The retrofit rules follow California Building Code Chapter A3, which covers earthquake protection for existing residential buildings. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has put $20 million into the grant, with the California Earthquake Authority — which sells earthquake insurance to homeowners — contributes its administrative work. This is the first year FEMA has funded the program so extensively, said Annde Ewertsen, managing director of the program. Previously, FEMA had given as much as $300,000 to the Brace and Bolt program, which started in 2013 with nine applicants, she said.

The application period runs February 19-March 19. Applicants will be selected at random and can have received no prior incentives from the program, with FEMA vetting applications. Grant recipients should learn their status in about two to six weeks, and the work needs to be completed within six months of notification. The application and further details are at the Earthquake Brace and Bolt program.

Correction: The original version of this story stated $33 million was available in the program; CEA clarified that $13.3 million of that was in-kind contributions from CEA and funding by homeowners of taller cripple walls. Also, the program now accepts homes on the National Register of Historic Places.

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