Are older homes more prone to damage by earthquakes?

Asked by Missyfiona, Lakewood, OH Wed Sep 18, 2013

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John Arendsen’s answer
John Arendsen, Agent, Leucadia, CA
Thu Sep 19, 2013
Once again I must caution you not to pay too much attention to over reaching RE professionals who think their Earthquake engineers or seismologists. Just because homes built circa 1900's are still standing does not by any means mean they're safe.

I have a very short fuse when it comes to people giving advice when it come to safety and I can tell you first hand that homes built circa 1950 and earlier stand a good chance of not being bolted to the foundation or shear paneled if they are on a cripple wall.

The average home inspector for the most part does not even know where or how to begin to perform a study on where and how to properly protect your home against structural failure in a significant seismic event. In fact not many home inspectors are nor ever have been a licensed contractor let alone a knowledgeable "EARTHQUAKE RETROFIT SPECIALIST".

It sounds like you may be interested in an older home and there's nothing wrong with that. But just go the extra distance and hire an inspector that is an experienced earthquake retrofitter and not just any home inspector.
1 vote
Right. Get an independent opinion from someone not trying to sell a house. The typical inspector covers very basic things, and is not qualified to assess for earthquake resistance.
Flag Mon Jun 8, 2015
John Arendsen, Agent, Leucadia, CA
Thu Sep 19, 2013
The link that Steve Ornellas gave to you is excellent. I actually submitted some of the photos for it as well as another very informative site, We've been disaster response general and manufactured home contractors since 1986 and have worked with FEMA and/or independently in the after math of every major EQ during that period.

But I'll focus on the January 17, 1994, 6.7 magnitude Northridge earthquake just to cut to the chase. Some of the most vulnerable homes in that event were built circa '50's and before; Especially homes built circa '30's and earlier.

Many if not most homes built in that era were not bolted to the foundation. In fact many homes in LA Ventura and Santa Barbara area were built on piles of rocks with a 2x6 redwood plate just lying on top not supported or connected to anything. I saw and worked on some pretty incredible projects in the aftermath of that event and couldn't believe just how dangerous some of these homes were if subjected to a strong seismic event.

Needless to say these homes didn't stand much of a chance in that strong of an EQ because they lacked adequate if any lateral resistance and simply shook off their foundation if you want to call it that. Homes that go through that are pretty much a total loss as every structural member in the home suffers some level of damage if not total destruction.

Another huge problem, albeit there were several, was the lack of shear paneling on cripple walls under the home. Cripple walls are very common in most homes of that circa due to their architectural genre which called for a higher profile.

Or they were built on slopes and the only way to make the home level in those days and even today depending on the architectural and engineering specs was to either cut and fill the slope in order to level it or simply and far more cost effective built the structure on a cripple wall. So we kept pretty busy for a few years after that event retrofitting hundreds of foundations and cripple walls.

Another huge problem in the aftermath of a strong EQ is with older Trailers and Mobile Homes that were set up on cinder blocks or steel piers. Literally thousands of them fell off their supports or "PANCAKED" as they say in that industry. It was like someone pulling the rug out from under you be it a home, trailer or Mobile Home.

That particular EQ changed the engineering calcs completely and by mid 1996 there was a whole new ball game mandated by the UBC and other national and international building regulators. Homes built since '96 are more EQ resistant than any other homes built before them. In fact as we continue to research after every event we continue to see improvements in building technology.

Now, all this stated, don't be afraid to purchase an older home. Just make sure that you have it thoroughly inspected by an EQ retrofitting licensed and experienced contractor who knows exactly what to look for and how to estimate the cost. if that's done correctly it will be almost as safe as homes built according to todays standards. But it can be costly so if you're not ready for that you'd be better off purchasing a home built circa '96 and newer.
1 vote
Steven Ornel…, Agent, Fremont, CA
Thu Sep 19, 2013
Hi missyfiona,

It depends when/how the home was built.

See page 14-30 of the document below:

1 vote
Great reference link Steve.
Flag Thu Sep 19, 2013
Ingrid Ski R…, Agent, Mission Viejo, CA
Fri Sep 20, 2013
Yes, All Homes are subject to damage in any kind of strong earthquake thats just the way it would be. and today's homes are built better than homes in the 1980's than the homes in 1960's. than the homes in the 1940's. etc Building codes change all the time to better the home structurally.
Earthquakes are a part of California just like hurricanes are a part of Florida
And many people live here and there
It's good your asking a lot of questions but don't over analyze it either.
Maybe leasing a place here would be an idea to see if you like it
On the other hand buying a house would be good to lock in the interest rate and price of the home as staying here over a period of time the home would increase in value
Irvne is a great city.
Having a concern with earthquakes you should know a lot of people move to Southern California and its not slowing down with people moving here to Orange County
Talk to you soon MissyFiona

Ingrid Ski Realtor
0 votes
Ingrid Ski R…, Agent, Mission Viejo, CA
Thu Sep 19, 2013
The majority of older homes are fine having gone thru many earthquakes. Lots of homes still around from the 1900's Irvine is newer and will not have to many older homes like that
Sounds like you re really concern about earthquakes in Southern California You may want to check out the website

Talk to you soon Fiona

Ingrid Ski Realtor
0 votes
Nicole Fedor…, Agent, Santa Ana, CA
Thu Sep 19, 2013
Hi, Fiona!
I hope all is well with you! I see you are asking another great question! It can certainly be difficult moving from Singapore to Irvine, CA without really knowing too much about the area.
I would be happy to assist you in any way I can.

Most older homes have withstood some of the strongest earthquakes we have had in the region. While there are new building standards in place, no home is 100% protected from earthquake damage. Before moving forward with a purchase, you will have a thorough home inspection, as well as proper disclosures regarding natural hazards, so you can make an informed decision!

I look forward to working with you!
Nicole Fedorchek, Realtor
Tarbell, Realtors
0 votes
The inspector doesn't cover this fully. There is a reason why insurance doesn't cover it. Risky business...
Flag Mon Jun 8, 2015
Kawain Payne, Agent, Seal Beach, CA
Thu Sep 19, 2013
I would say that some older homes are actually built better than newer homes.

If you buy an older home chances are it has already been through an earthquake or two.

I grew up in a home that survived the big earthquake in the seventies! Some newer homes may not have faired as well.

Best of luck to you!

Kawain Payne, Realtor
0 votes
JR Thrasher, Agent, San Diego, CA
Thu Sep 19, 2013

J.R. Thrasher
0 votes
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