Seismic upgrades: It’s not as hard as you think

Erickson Brandon


Perceived seismic upgrade construction costs are typically the largest obstacle to implementing a building seismic upgrade. However, these costs can often be reduced by proactively incorporating phased, partial seismic upgrades into pre-planned building renovations, repairs and maintenance projects. Rather than initiate a construction project solely to install seismic upgrades for the entire building, portions of the building’s seismic deficiencies can be addressed as opportunities are presented via other projects. Over time your building will become more seismically resilient while only modestly increasing construction costs.

Opportunities abound

Common non-seismic upgrade projects that can create opportunities for incorporating partial phased seismic upgrades include:

  • Roof replacement or repairs: With roofing temporarily removed, access is provided to strengthen the structural connections between the roof structure and the exterior walls, a common seismic upgrade need, especially for brick buildings.
  • Interior remodels: Modifications to interior wall, ceiling and floor finishes provide an opportunity to access and strengthen hidden structural framing and connections.
  • Additions: A building enlargement may trigger some mandatory seismic upgrades, but can also create cost effective opportunities for other voluntary seismic upgrades.
  • Mechanical and electrical modifications: Non-structural building systems, typically vulnerable to earthquake shaking, can be upgraded during modification projects.
  • Maintenance and repairs: These projects represent great opportunities to systematically improve the seismic performance of your building.
  • Landscaping changes: Occasionally the foundations of a building are modified as part of a seismic upgrade; this work can be completed more cost effectively when the landscaping is already disturbed.


Incentives to seismically upgrade your building in a phased approach include:

  • Cost effectiveness: Patience and careful planning can lower construction costs when compared to traditional approaches.
  • Continued occupancy: Buildings can often remain occupied during a phased, partial seismic upgrade project.
  • Improved seismic performance: Some upgrades are better than none, and your building will be better prepared for an earthquake after your first phased project.
  • Marketability: A more seismically resilient building will appeal to a wider range of tenants and prospective buyers.
  • Insurance coverage: Earthquake insurance is difficult to obtain, and can be expensive. Upgrading your building can mean the difference between coverage availability and, if obtained, lower premiums.
  • Risk reduction: There’s no such thing as an “earthquake proof” building, but seismically upgrading your building can reduce building and content damage, improve your post-earthquake recovery prospects and reduce downtime.
  • Life Safety: Above all else, a seismically upgraded building will lower the risk to life safety for its occupants.

Where to start?

The path to a safer, more seismically resilient building begins with a seismic evaluation of your building conducted by an experienced structural engineer. The resulting report serves as a road map for your building upgrade projects. Consult with that report and your structural engineer before undertaking a project that may provide an opportunity for phased, partial seismic upgrades. Scrutinize your building maintenance, repair and renovation plans, giving each project the chance to include seismic upgrades. As phased upgrades are designed and installed, develop a record keeping system to track your progress.

Brandon Erickson is the principal of Erickson Structural Consulting Engineers PC, in Vancouver.  He can be reached at and at 360-571-5577

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