Better Engineering for Stronger, Longer-Lasting Bridges and Wastewater Infrastructure

Eighty-one years ago this May, traffic opened on a newly constructed bridge span between Marin County, California, and the city of San Francisco. At 4,200 feet long and with towers 746 feet high, the steel suspension bridge was the longest and tallest bridge of its time. Built at a cost of $35 million, held together with 1.2 million rivets, and painted international orange from end to end, the Golden Gate Bridge was an instant symbol not just of California idealism, but of American engineering and construction might.

While the Golden Gate is no longer the longest or tallest bridge in the world, its iconic status has endured. Named one of the seven wonders of the modern world by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Golden Gate enjoys regular special attention from 13 ironworkers and 28 painters who replace corroding steel and rivets with high-strength steel bolts and constantly touch up the span with paint to prevent corrosion.
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Staying Put, Riding Out the Storm and Surviving the Odds by Sheltering in Place

Disaster strikes. It’s inevitable, given enough time. Regardless of where you live, there are natural disasters waiting to happen, be they earthquakes, floods, tornadoes or hurricanes.  Meteorologists and emergency service providers can often provide advance notice of weather-related disasters like hurricanes, but seismic events, tornadoes and flash floods can often occur with little or no warning.

In the wake of recent catastrophic events such as Superstorm Sandy (233 deaths, $75 billion in damages), the 2011 Joplin tornado (158 deaths, $2.8 billion in damages), and Hurricane Katrina (1,245 deaths, $108 billion in damages), emergency management experts are increasingly evaluating the benefits of sheltering in place as opposed to evacuation. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), sheltering in place is generally advisable when it may be dangerous to leave your home or place of employment.
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Earthquake Brace and Bolt Helps California Homeowners Retrofit

When you live in earthquake country, you know it’s not “if” there will be a big quake, it’s “when.” You may have an earthquake emergency kit ready, but there are also steps you can take now to strengthen your home to make it more resistant to earthquake damage. And if you live in California, there’s a program called the Earthquake Brace + Bolt (EBB) that provides up to $3,000 for seismic retrofit grants to homeowners residing in more than 150 California zip codes. If you’ve checked it before and your zip code wasn’t listed, be sure to check it again because the list has been expanded. Continue reading “Earthquake Brace and Bolt Helps California Homeowners Retrofit”

Protecting Your Home from Earthquakes

On a Sunday morning in late August 2014, a 6.0 magnitude earthquake surprised Napa, California residents and caused structural damage to many homes and businesses in the area. One of the most powerful earthquakes in Napa’s history, local news outlet KQED reported $300 million in damage to homes and commercial properties.

Napa is right in our backyard, about 60 miles north of Pleasanton. Many Simpson Strong-Tie employees felt the quake, but fortunately no one was injured. If you’ve ever been in a large earthquake, you would probably agree that it’s a frightening and unsettling experience. And unlike other natural disasters, there’s no warning. Here is one woman’s story about the Napa earthquake:
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Retrofitting Your Home for High Wind — 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

Nearly all parts of the country are subject to high winds. It’s important that your house is designed to withstand a high wind storm. Knowing whether your house is storm ready requires a few simple steps.

One of the first things to consider is where you live. Coastal areas, for example, are more susceptible to powerful winds such as hurricanes. Local building codes for these areas typically require homes to resist much higher wind speeds than inland homes. You’ll want to check with your local building department to learn about the codes that govern your area.

Another indicator of a storm-ready house is when it was built. Older homes may not have been built to resist high winds. In Florida, for example, the building codes became much stricter after Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992 and caused severe damage to thousands of homes. A study showed that Florida homes built after 1996 suffered significantly less damage from Hurricane Charley in 2004 than did homes built before 1996.

In addition, to knowing your location’s climate challenges, the local building codes, and the age of your home, answering these five questions can help inform you in determining whether you need to retrofit your home.

1. Have you inspected your home?

 

Building inspector checking for proper retrofitting.
Building inspector checking for proper retrofitting.

This may seem like an unusual question, but in order to determine if your home should be retrofitted, you need to look at some of the critical areas of your home, such as how your roof, walls and foundation are attached, as well as window and garage door protection. These are key to protecting your home from wind damage. Unless you have experience with home construction, we recommend hiring a qualified, licensed home inspector or structural engineer to perform an inspection and point out for you any areas that needed to be retrofitted. The following (#2–5) are the things they should look for.

2. Is your roof properly secured?

You may have seen homes that have lost their roofs after a storm. The reason? Typically, these roofs were only nailed to the home’s walls instead of being attached with metal connectors. Nails can pull out, especially during a powerful wind storm. If you have an attic that you can access, look at the area where the roof framing meets the wall and see if you have metal connectors attaching your roof to the wall framing. If you don’t have an attic or can’t access that area, see whether you can remove some of your soffit (the underside of your roof overhang) and look at the connection from the outside of your house. If you don’t see any metal hardware, you’ll want to add it. This can help ensure that your roof stays attached during a wind event.

In addition to looking at the inside of your roof, you’ll want to look at the roofing material on the outside of your house. Your roofing material, whether it consists of shingles or tiles, should be properly fastened to the roof decking. You’ll want to make sure shingles are each nailed with six nails if you’re in a high-wind area, and concrete or clay tiles are fastened with screws or fully set in mortar or adhesive. Roofing materials held in place with “pads” of mortar or a couple of nails are less likely to withstand high winds and can become destructive, projectile objects during a storm.

3. Are your windows storm ready?

 

Measuring For Storm Shutters
A carpenter measuring a window for hurricane shutters.

Windows in older homes or in homes outside of coastal areas are not likely to be wind or impact rated and are therefore more susceptible to breakage from wind. There are many windows on the market today that can provide wind protection. First, you want to make sure your windows are rated for the pressure of the wind in your area. There should be a sticker on the window frame with a “DP” (Design Pressure) rating. The higher the DP rating, the more resistant it is to wind. Then you want to ensure your windows are designed to resist objects that may be picked up by the wind and turned into flying projectiles during a storm. Options include the use of impact-resistant windows or hurricane shutters that can be installed when storms are threatening. This applies to any glass in the home, especially sliding glass doors.

 4. Are your garage doors secure?

Because of their size, garage doors — especially two-car garage doors — are more susceptible to wind damage than other exterior doors. Garage doors need to be properly attached to the frame of the house. You’ll want to install additional bracing, heavier-gauge tracking, and other necessary hardware to help keep the doors in place during extreme winds. You may also want to consider replacing your garage door with one specially rated for wind resistance. These doors are designed for high-wind events, keeping the wind out where it belongs. As an alternative to a new door, there are also bracing systems available that can retrofit older doors.

 5. Is your house properly attached to the foundation?

Wind will find the weak link in your house, which is why you want to make sure all the key connections within your home are properly fastened. If you have a crawl space underneath your house or an unfinished basement, you can determine whether you should reinforce your foundation connection. The lower story of your house should be bolted to the foundation. In older homes, this typically is not the case, so when a storm comes through your house can slide or rotate off the foundation. You’ll want to add bolts and connectors if they’re missing, as well as repair any cracks in your foundation.

If you live in a two- or multiple-story house, you’ll also want to ensure your walls are properly connected from floor to floor using metal straps. This, of course, is not the easiest thing to determine — you have to look behind your drywall. However, if you’re tackling a remodel or addition, it’s a good time to check how your floors are connected and to add the appropriate hardware if needed.

Once you’ve determined the areas in your home that need retrofitting, we recommend working with a qualified, licensed contractor to make the upgrades. It’s important that local building code requirements are always followed when tackling a home retrofit project.