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There is a little known aid to homeowners who want to make their homes safer in a devastating earthquake. But hang in here, because it’s a loooonnnggggg explanation.
One of the safest places in an earthquake is your own wooden, one-story house. There is very little chance that somebody in a single family wooden home will be killed in an earthquake. The reason is that these types of homes are pretty flexible. They move but regain their shape, more or less, after an earthquake. Older houses are built on concrete footings with concrete walls, (so called stem walls) and the wooden structure – beginning with the first wooden member the so called “mud sill” or today’s technical term, the “sill plate” – sits on top of this concrete. The term “mud sill” comes from the old way of building this particular member. In the old days concrete contractors called concrete “mud” and laid the first horizontal 2×6 wooden member, the sill, into the wet “mud” where it made a very strong bond by penetrating into the wood while the concrete cured. They did not connect this “mud sill” at all to the concrete footing with any type of steel hardware. The result is that these types of homes have been excessively damaged in earthquakes as early as the San Francisco quake in 1906, as well as subsequent earthquakes.

I personally inspected the damages from the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Scores of these homes jumped off of their foundations causing enormous economic damage for homeowners. In 1994 the majority of home insurance policies offered earthquake coverage, which has been scaled back by the insurance companies as a result of that loss.
So what to do? Preventing damage in these homes is not that costly, versus the cost repairing them after a quake. A typical retrofitting of a wooden home with a crawl space amounts to about $4-5K. It consists of drilling and epoxying new anchor bolts thru the sill plate into the concrete footing and nailing plywood to the mostly exposed “cripple” (short) studs on the inside. Conversely, repairing a house that has jumped off of its foundation could cost tens of thousands of dollars. Of course, if the house moves so severally that gas lines break, causing the entire house to burn down, there’d be nothing left to repair.
Is help available? Thanks for hanging in here, the answer is yes. There is a little known program — the so called “California Residential Mitigation Program” (CRMP), offering grants up to $3,000.00 for residents living in certain areas in California to retrofit their homes. It has funds that will carry it over many years to help several thousands of families, and will hopefully be extended further as time goes on. For information please contact:

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