Berkeley residents can apply until Feb. 27 for rebates of up to $3,000 to help pay for seismic upgrades to their home’s foundation in order to mitigate the risk of earthquake damage to their homes.
Applications are administered by the state-funded California Earthquake Brace and Bolt program, which allows homeowners with single-family and small multi-family buildings to apply for seismic upgrades. Last year, the program accepted 119 homeowners for rebates, which amounted to a sum of more than $355,000.
“We live in an area where we should expect earthquakes are reality. And whatever we can do to increase our safety, we should do to prepare,” said city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. “We hope people apply to this program or take advantage of other resources to improve the safety of their homes.”
One neighborhood in Berkeley with a high risk of earthquake damage is District 5, which is located directly on the Hayward Fault, said City Councilmember Sophie Hahn, who oversees District 5.
“The exposure to earthquake hazard is extremely high in District 5,” Hahn said. “I do know that there has been a strong movement for people to do seismic upgrades on their homes for decades. So I think that there is a high level of awareness, but it could always be higher.”
Prior to 1979, houses were often built on crawl spaces located between the first floor and the foundation of the house, which is surrounded by wooden cripple walls. Retrofitting a house involves placing bolts in the crawl space and adding plywood braces to the cripple walls, which strengthens the connection between the house and the foundation.
“Bracing and bolting will do a lot to prevent this very, very catastrophic damage where the house can actually slide or topple off of the foundation,” said Janiele Maffei, executive director of EBB.
Even a retrofitted house, however, can be damaged during an earthquake, according to Maffei. In those cases, families have to move out and might not be able to move in until one or two years after the earthquake.
“It’s very expensive and very disturbing damage to the residents,” Maffei said.
The average cost of a retrofit in the San Francisco Bay Area is between $5,000 and $8,000, according to Maffei. District 7 City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said homeowners could combine the $3,000 rebate with financing through a Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, program, where homeowners can obtain a loan to pay for the upgrade with no upfront costs while paying back the loan over time.
After being accepted for the rebate, homeowners will have eight weeks to find a contractor and obtain a building permit with another six months to do the upgrade, Maffei said. An upgrade will typically take a contractor 2 to 3 days to complete, while homeowners who want to do the work themselves will need a little longer, Maffei said.
In addition to EBB, there are several other programs in place that can help Berkeley residents pay for seismic upgrades. Through the Seismic Retrofit Refund Program, homeowners who have just purchased a house can receive a rebate of up to one-third of the property transfer tax on a seismic upgrade that is made within a year after the purchase, Hahn said. Owners of larger, seismically vulnerable buildings with five or more units can apply for retrofit grants by the city of Berkeley, and commercial property owners may be eligible to financing through a PACE program.
The amount of money that will be distributed to homeowners this year will not be determined until after the application deadline, based on how many people in each city apply, according to Maffei.