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How Paige Oliver learned first-hand about the importance of seismic retrofitting

December 22, 2022

Oliver and her 10-year-old daughter live in one of more than 18,000 older California homes that have been retrofitted over the last few years with the financial support of a seismic retrofit grant from the Earthquake Brace + Bolt (EBB) grant program. Oliver said the additional level of protection resulting from the recent retrofitting of her home provides peace of mind for her family. As someone who vividly recalls the destruction to homes, buildings and bridges caused by previous California earthquakes, Oliver said that her decision to invest in a seismic retrofit was inspired by wanting to help protect her daughter if they and their new home were to experience a major quake.

Paige Oliver’s 84-year-old, Retrofitted Home in Burbank with EBB Grant
Paige Oliver’s 84-year-old Retrofitted Home in Burbank

Why did Oliver want to get her home seismically retrofitted?

Having spent time in both Southern California and Northern California, Oliver had a good idea of what she was looking for in a place she and her daughter could call home. A one-story, well maintained, older home in a quiet, leafy neighborhood in Burbank, just outside Los Angeles, fit the bill.

Oliver was negotiating to buy the house during the pandemic when inventory was at its lowest and prices were at their highest. The house had been updated inside, but there was not an opportunity to negotiate any additional upgrades, Oliver recalled.

After congratulating Oliver on the purchase of her “new” 84-year-old home, Oliver’s realtor suggested that after she moved in, she consider a seismic retrofit to help strengthen her investment in the event of a major earthquake.

Having witnessed the aftermath and extensive damage caused by two damaging earthquakes - the Loma Prieta earthquake in the Bay Area in 1989, and then, five years later, the San Fernando Valley’s Northridge earthquake - Oliver said a seismic retrofit was something that had crossed her mind. But as a new homeowner, she did not think she could afford it.

Her realtor, Tim Benoit, took his retrofitting suggestion a step further by making Oliver aware of an earthquake retrofit program called Earthquake Brace + Bolt, which makes earthquake retrofit grants of up to $3,000 available to the owners of eligible, older houses (typically homes built before 1980) in high seismic risk ZIP Codes. Benoit strongly encouraged Oliver to register for the program, since her home met the program’s eligibility requirements. Oliver applied and, as luck would have it, her name was selected by EBB in early 2022, making her eligible for an Earthquake Brace + Bolt grant.

But Benoit did not stop there. He went a step further and connected Oliver with licensed contractor Greg Sylvis. Sylvis, who is experienced in retrofit techniques, has completed more than 1,000 EBB seismic retrofits. He helped Oliver navigate the required construction permitting process, the uploading of before and after photographs, and other EBB program requirements to ensure her home would be properly retrofitted.

Oliver, who was working from home at the time, said she thought the actual construction work would be loud and distracting for her and her daughter.

“It turns out that it was hard to tell when Greg was even beneath the house working,” said Oliver. “I was pleasantly surprised when it only took him about five hours from starting the construction work to finishing the job. The three-way partnership with Tim and Greg is something I will never forget. I hope that realtors and the EBB program will work together in the future. It’s a ‘value-add’ for realtors.”

Earthquake Brace + Bolt EBB partners Licensed Contractor Greg Sylvis, Burbank Homeowner Paige Oliver and Realtor Tim Benoit
EBB partners Licensed Contractor Greg Sylvis, Burbank Homeowner Paige Oliver and Realtor Tim Benoit

How long did Oliver’s seismic retrofit take?

Oliver had some concern that once the retrofitting process began, it would take weeks to complete and would be very intrusive. But she was pleased when the work was completed in just one day. Furthermore, since all the work was done in the crawl space under the home, there was minimal intrusion. As was the case in Oliver’s retrofit, it is not unusual for a contractor to start and finish a foundation bolting project involving the bracing and bolting of a home’s frame to its concrete foundation in as little as one day.

A Typical Brace and Bolt Seismic Retrofit in a Home’s Underneath Crawl Space Shown Above
A Typical Brace and Bolt Retrofit in a Home’s Underneath Crawl Space Shown Above

Was Oliver’s earthquake retrofit process disruptive?

In many cases the actual construction work of a seismic retrofit often takes only one to three days. For Oliver, the noise from the construction work beneath the house was a bit loud at times, but she was able to get her own work done by simply moving from room to room. As a result, there was little disruption overall. It was a quick, non-intrusive process, she said.

Oliver’s EBB grant covered much of the total cost of her home’s earthquake retrofit

When the construction dust had settled and the seismic retrofit was finished, it was time to pay the contractor. Oliver was ecstatic to learn that the $3,000 earthquake retrofit grant from EBB covered nearly 70 percent of the total cost. Oliver notified her homeowners insurance company that the retrofit was completed, and she received a premium discount on her California Earthquake Insurance (CEA) policy.

Looking back on her retrofitting experience, Oliver said the investment was well worth it from a family protection standpoint, with a bonus of making her home more desirable to a future buyer. And, she said, you cannot put a price tag on the peace of mind it provides when the earth begins to shake.     

“I compare investing in a retrofit to investing in a 401K for retirement or investing in a college fund for my daughter,” Oliver said. “When you consider home values in California, it makes no sense to not invest a couple thousand dollars to help protect one of your most valuable assets."  

A study from the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research (PEER) Center shows that strengthening a home against earthquake shaking may potentially save a homeowner between $10,000 and $200,000 in damage repair costs resulting from a devastating quake.

Homeowner Paige Oliver and State Senator Anthony Portantino (in the center) surrounded by CEA executives, CRMP board members and local officials at the 2022 Earthquake Brace + Bolt EBB Registration Launch in Burbank
Homeowner Paige Oliver and State Senator Anthony Portantino (in the center) surrounded by CEA executives, CRMP board members and local officials at the 2022 EBB Registration Launch in Burbank

Why has Oliver become such a passionate advocate for seismic retrofitting?

“I know first-hand the damage that earthquakes can cause. I made this (retrofitting) investment with my daughter in mind. I could never forgive myself if a major earthquake occurred and my daughter was inside, and my house was not retrofitted,” said Oliver. “If you live in California and own an older home, you should make it a New Year’s resolution to get it retrofitted.” 

With her daughter as her inspiration, Oliver has become a passionate advocate for encouraging others to strengthen their older homes against earthquake damage.

As an unofficial seismic retrofit ambassador, Oliver is spreading the word to all her relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and others that they should determine if their homes need retrofitting and, if so, take action.

She has used social media as her megaphone and she even went as far as to offer her own retrofitted home as a backdrop for the recent media launch/announcement of the fall 2022 EBB program registration, which closed on November 29th.  

Participating in the EBB launch at Oliver’s home were CEA CEO Glenn Pomeroy, CRMP CEO Janiele Maffei, California State Senator Anthony Portantino, other local officials and, of course, Oliver’s realtor, Benoit, and her contractor, Sylvis. As a result of Oliver’s efforts and the efforts of many others, a record-high of nearly 20,000 California homeowners registered for the EBB program in 2022.

While the EBB registration period for 2022 has closed, you can still visit www.earthquakebracebolt.com to learn more about the EBB program and be prepared to register when the program reopens in 2023.

You can also learn about a new EBB supplemental grant program for eligible low-income homeowners that is aimed at paying the entire cost of a retrofit.

In the meantime, take Oliver’s advice today and top off your list of New Year’s resolutions by educating yourself about how you can strengthen your older home to help make it better able to withstand earthquake shaking.    



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