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Next Steps: Retrofit Process

Image: Next Steps in Retrofitting ProcessOnce you’ve identified your house type and its vulnerabilities and you know the type of retrofit that is needed, it’s time for you to make a plan to carry out the retrofit.

This includes hiring a contractor (or deciding to do the retrofit yourself), deciding how you’ll pay for the retrofit, and scheduling out the timeline for completion.

Find the right contractor for you

You may decide that you want to shop around and get some estimates from several contractors before you make your final decision. The California Contractor State License Board (CSLB) recommends obtaining more than one bid.

You can access our list of contractors who have received training on how to do a brace and bolt retrofit, or you may want to conduct your own search depending on your home’s needs.

To help you get started, here 10 questions to ask a contractor before you make your selection:

Image: Finding the right contractor for retrofitting
  1. Are you a licensed contractor? The contractor must be licensed to perform this specific type of retrofit work.
  2. What level of retrofit does my house require? You will want to know the work that is being recommended for your home to make sure you are comfortable with the alterations.
  3. What will the estimated cost be for my house’s retrofit? You should know the costs up front and ensure you are on the same page with both the cost and payment process.
  4. How many years have you been in business? This will help you understand your contractor’s experience level.
  5. How many house retrofits have you or has your business completed? This will show that the contractor has experience doing this specific retrofit work.
  6. Do you have references? You can speak to prior customers to make sure they were satisfied with the work and see if there are any red flags.
  7. Are your employees experienced in the jobs they perform? You may want to make sure that the people hired to do the work have also performed retrofits in the past.
  8. Do you or does your company have insurance? How does this insurance protect me from liability? Your contractor or their business should have both workers compensation and liability insurance. You have the right to see this documentation before hiring your contractor.
  9. How will you obtain permits for the work? Your contractor should know what permits are needed and should be willing to pull them for you. This would be included in your bill. 
  10. How long will the retrofit take to be completed? Brace and bolt retrofits often only take a few days, but sometimes the process can take longer. You’ll want an estimate for how long it will take for the work to be completed.

Do Your Due Diligence 

Once you’ve asked your questions, you should confirm that your contractor is licensed and insured, and call their references.

Perform a background check

This part is simple. The California Contractors State License Board has a public database of all licensed and insured contractors. Simply look up your contractor to make sure their license is current.

Check References

Once your contractor has provided you with a list of references, take some time to call them up and ask about their experience. You can ask former clients questions like:

  • Are you satisfied with the work that was performed?
  • Were the final retrofit costs close to the estimate?
  • Were the workers respectful of your property?
  • Was the work done efficiently? If not, why not?
  • Was the contractor responsive to you if you had questions?

The references might even be able to email you “before” and “after” pictures of the retrofit so you can see what the final result looks like.

Review Their Coverage and History

As stated above, your contractor should have insurance that covers liability and worker’s compensation. This insurance protects you and your property in the event that something doesn’t go according to plan. You can also check on the contractor’s workers’ compensation history while you’re checking their license.

Once you have found your contractor in the public database of all licensed and insured contractors, you can scroll down and click on “Workers’ Compensation History."

Move Forward with Confidence

Once you’ve asked your questions, completed your research, and selected your contractor, it’s time to get going on your house’s retrofit! The last question to ask yourself is: “How do I want to pay for it?”

Find funding resources for your retrofit

Image: Discussing RetrofittingCalifornia is earthquake country, and strengthening your home against quake damage is one of the best steps you can take toward resilience.

You may have the savings to pay for this work out of pocket, but it's worth doing research to find other resources. CRMP provides grants, and many cities offer incentives and rebates to help you fund your seismic retrofit. 


Retrofit Costs, Grants and Tax Assistance

Q: How much does retrofitting my house cost?

A: There isn't a standard cost for earthquake retrofitting a home. The retrofitting repair range for a brace and bolt type of retrofit runs from $3,000 to $7,000. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) estimated the typical home retrofit that does not require an engineer costs about $4,500.

Larger homes, those built on hillsides, and those with basements or rooms over garages will typically cost more to retrofit. But many houses may require only bolting cost of about $3,000.

Q: Do I get a tax break when I retrofit?
A: In 2014, when a moderate earthquake hit Napa, California, it cost individual homeowners as much as $300,000 to repair their homes. Most were older structures that were unable to stand up to the moderate magnitude 6.0 quake. Generally, the cost of earthquake repairs comes out of homeowner savings. In some cases, you may be able to report damages as deductible casualty loss on your tax return.
  • The Earthquake Mitigation Incentive and Tax Parity Act was introduced in 2019 and would change the federal tax code. It would exempt from federal tax liability the funds from state programs that help homeowners protect their homes from earthquakes.
  • Under California law (Revenue and Tax Code, Section 74.5), a homeowner can implement seismic-strengthening measures without a property tax reassessment. To receive the exclusion, you must have the work approved by the local building department and file a claim form with your county tax assessor.
  • If you live in Berkeley or El Cerrito, the cities offer a transfer tax rebate if you retrofit your home within a year of buying it. You can also borrow money to make the repairs without paying any upfront costs. Homeowners or contractors must file a Seismic Retrofit Verification & Refund Application after the seismic work is completed.
  • If you participate in an Earthquake Brace + Bolt grant program that is FEMA funded, that grant would not be taxable. 
  • Check with your local city/county to find out if similar assistance is available in your area.
Q: How do you pay for retrofitting your house?
A: More than 1.2 million homes in California are in high-seismic-hazard areas and are vulnerable to earthquake shaking damage.
  • The California Earthquake Authority (CEA) provides policyholder eligibility for the CEA Brace + Bolt program. This program offers grants of up to $3,000 to help for a seismic retrofit.
  • The state Office of Emergency Services and CEA oversee the Earthquake Brace + Bolt program. ZIP Codes chosen for program participation are selected by the following criteria:
    • Earthquake Hazard: Hazard was identified using the United States Geological Survey (USGS) earthquake hazard map for California.
    • Earthquake Vulnerability: Vulnerability was represented by identifying the percentage of pre-1940 houses in ZIP Codes in California (US Census Data). Older houses are more likely to require earthquake bracing and bolting.
  • Check out other local government seismic assistance programs listed through the California State Treasurer’s Office.
  • Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, offered in cities such as Berkeley, which allows property owners to borrow money to pay seismic retrofits and spread the cost of the upgrade over a period of time through a special assessment on their property tax bill.
  • Low-income and fixed income residents of the San Francisco Bay Area may be eligible for grants specifically designated for home earthquake strengthening through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's block grant program. For more information, call (510) 577-6004. 
  • City of Oakland: low income homeowners in the redevelopment zone may qualify for a grant for 50% of the cost of the work (up to $5,000) matched with a low interest loan for the remaining 50% of the cost. Retrofit permit fees for all residents are fixed at $250.
  • For recently-purchased homes, there are transfer tax Rebates: The cities of Berkeley and El Cerrito offer rebates or refunds on a percentage of your home’s transfer tax if you complete a voluntary seismic retrofit of your residential property.

Visit our Resources page to learn more about strengthening your property and other steps you can take for personal and family safety and preparedness.

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