How Much Does it Cost to Retrofit a Soft-Story in Los Angeles?

Enhancing Seismic Safety: Retrofit a Soft-Story to Earthquake-Proof Your Property

To retrofit a soft-story involves strengthening the lower floors of a building that are less rigid (or “soft”) than the floors above, such as those with large openings for storefronts or garages.

This type of retrofitting is crucial for buildings that are vulnerable to seismic activity, as it significantly enhances their ability to withstand earthquakes. In earthquake-prone areas like Los Angeles, retrofitting is not just a safety measure; it’s an investment in the longevity and resilience of a property.

Los Angeles is no stranger to the devastating effects of earthquakes. The city sits atop several fault lines, making it susceptible to frequent seismic events. The 1994 Northridge earthquake, for example, highlighted the vulnerability of soft-story buildings, leading to increased awareness and legislation mandating retrofitting for certain structures.

The soft-story of a four story building about to be retrofitted

Retrofitting these buildings is essential to protect lives, reduce property damage, and ensure that the city’s housing stock remains intact after a seismic event. It’s a critical step that property owners must consider to safeguard their tenants and investments against the inevitable shakes and tremors of the Earth.

The cost of a soft story retrofitting being calculated.

Cost Factors for Soft-Story Retrofit In Los Angeles

The cost of retrofitting a soft-story building in Los Angeles can be influenced by a myriad of factors, making it a complex investment to estimate without a thorough inspection.

These factors include the size and age of the building, the existing structural conditions, the complexity of the retrofitting design, local construction costs, and the specific requirements set by the city’s retrofitting ordinances.

One of the primary reasons for the wide range in costs, from as low as $10,000 to upwards of $80,000, is the variability in building designs and the extent of retrofitting needed to meet current safety standards.

A smaller, relatively new building may require minimal reinforcement, leading to lower costs. Conversely, an older, larger building with more significant structural weaknesses could necessitate a more extensive—and thus more expensive—retrofit.

The retrofitting process may involve the installation of steel frames, shear walls, and moment frames to reinforce the soft-story condition. The materials chosen, the labor required to install them, and the engineering services needed to design the retrofit all contribute to the final cost. Additionally, the retrofit may uncover hidden issues within the building, such as outdated electrical systems or corroded plumbing, which could further increase expenses.

It’s also important to note that retrofitting costs can be affected by the local real estate market and the availability of construction professionals skilled in this type of work. In a high-demand area like Los Angeles, where skilled labor is at a premium, costs may be higher than in other regions.

Understanding these factors is crucial for property owners as they budget for a soft-story retrofit. This is where we come in and can help you minimize your costs without affecting quality.  By recognizing the potential range of costs and the variables that impact them, owners can make informed decisions and plan their finances accordingly. 

Cost Estimates for Retrofitting Based on Building Size in Los Angeles

The cost of retrofitting a soft-story building in Los Angeles can vary significantly based on the size and complexity of the structure. To give property owners a clearer idea of what to expect, we’ve broken down the approximate cost ranges by building size:

  • Small Apartment Building (4-8 Units): Owners of smaller apartment buildings can anticipate retrofitting costs to range from $20,000 to $44,000. These buildings typically require fewer materials and labor, which contributes to the lower end of the cost spectrum. However, the final price can be influenced by the specific retrofitting methods needed and the building’s existing condition.
  • Medium-Size Building (10-15 Units): For medium-sized buildings, the cost of retrofitting can range from $45,000 to $80,000. The increase in cost compared to smaller buildings is due to the larger scope of work, including more extensive structural reinforcements and potentially greater design complexity.
  • Small Apartment Complex (20-30 Units): Retrofitting a small apartment complex with 20 to 30 units can cost between $82,000 and $120,000. The higher costs reflect the need for more substantial retrofitting solutions to ensure the safety and stability of a larger number of residential units.
  • Large Apartment Complex (35+ Units): Owners of large apartment complexes with 35 or more units should be prepared for retrofitting costs ranging from $250,000 to $350,000. These extensive projects often require significant structural overhauls, custom engineering solutions, and a considerable amount of construction work, all of which contribute to the higher cost bracket.

It’s important to note that these figures are estimates and can vary based on the factors discussed in the previous section. Contact us for a free quote for your specific property.

 Additionally, the unique characteristics of each building, such as the number of stories, the presence of tuck-under parking, and the layout of the units, can also affect the total cost.

Beyond the Basics: Additional Costs in Retrofitting LA Buildings

While the initial estimates for retrofitting a soft-story building in Los Angeles provide a general idea of the expected expenses, property owners should also be aware of potential additional costs that can arise during the retrofitting process.

These costs can be significant and may impact the overall budget for the project.

One common additional cost is related to the relocation of existing utilities. During a retrofit, it may be necessary to move plumbing, electrical, and gas lines to accommodate the new structural elements. This can be a complex task, especially in older buildings where the systems may not be up to current codes and standards.

The cost of updating these utilities to comply with current regulations can add to the overall expense of the retrofit.

Retrofit of a soft story of a 4 story building in progress.

Another potential cost is the need to reinforce or replace major infrastructure components, such as foundations or load-bearing walls, which were not initially designed to withstand seismic forces. If these elements are found to be inadequate during the retrofitting process, they will need to be upgraded, which can be a costly endeavor.

Additionally, there may be costs associated with temporary relocation of tenants if the retrofitting work is extensive enough to require vacating the building. Property owners may need to provide alternative accommodations or compensate tenants during this period, which can add to the project’s financial burden.

Permitting fees and the cost of hiring architects or engineers to design the retrofit plan and oversee the project should also be factored into the budget. These professional services are essential for ensuring that the retrofit meets all local building codes and safety standards but can represent a significant portion of the overall cost.

It is crucial for property owners to have a contingency budget in place to cover these additional expenses. A well-planned budget that accounts for both the estimated retrofitting costs and potential unforeseen expenses will help ensure that the project can be completed without financial strain. 

The Importance of Choosing a Licensed Retrofit Contractor

Choosing the right contractor for a soft-story retrofit can greatly influence the success and cost-effectiveness of the project. Property owners in Los Angeles must prioritize choosing a licensed contractor with experience in seismic retrofitting to ensure the work is done correctly and in compliance with all relevant building codes and safety regulations.

A licensed contractor brings a wealth of benefits, including a thorough understanding of the structural requirements for earthquake resilience, familiarity with the permitting process, and access to a network of skilled subcontractors and suppliers. They also carry the necessary insurance to protect property owners from liability in the event of accidents or damage during construction.

Conversely, the risks of choosing an unlicensed contractor can be substantial. Unlicensed contractors may offer lower bids, but they often lack the proper qualifications, insurance, and bonds that protect property owners. This can lead to subpar work that may not pass inspections, additional costs for repairs or fines, and even legal issues if workers are injured on the job without proper insurance coverage.

When selecting a contractor, property owners should conduct thorough research, including checking the contractor’s license status with the California State License Board, reviewing their portfolio of completed retrofit projects, and asking for references from past clients. It’s also advisable to obtain multiple bids to compare costs, timelines, and the scope of work proposed by different contractors.

Additionally, property owners should ensure that the contractor they choose is well-versed in the specific requirements of Los Angeles’ Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Program if their building falls under its jurisdiction. This program outlines the standards and timelines for retrofitting vulnerable buildings, and compliance is non-negotiable.

In Conclusion: The Price of Earthquake Safety in LA’s Soft-Story Buildings

The importance of retrofitting soft-story buildings in Los Angeles is a matter of public safety and responsibility for property owners. Earthquakes are an inevitable part of life in this region, and taking proactive steps to strengthen vulnerable structures can mean the difference between minor damages and catastrophic failure in the event of seismic activity.

We’ve seen that costs can range widely, influenced by factors such as building complexity, age, and the extent of required upgrades. It’s clear that while retrofitting represents a significant investment, the cost is justified by the enhanced safety and resilience it provides to both the occupants and the building itself.

Choosing the right contractor is a crucial component of the retrofitting process. The risks associated with cutting corners or opting for unlicensed contractors are simply too great to ignore.

Reach out for a free quote. Don’t wait for the next big quake to remind you of the necessity of retrofitting—take action today for a safer tomorrow.