Without any doubt, California is earthquake country; everyone is subject to the power of Mother Nature. When it comes to earthquakes, there are no guarantees of safety, but precautions and preparation can help. Homeowners should take precautions such as strengthening their homes so as to minimize the potential damage before the next quake hits. A good way to begin preparing is by identifying the potential weaknesses and estimating the risk of earthquake damage. BUT HOW?!

After the October 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the California legislators have enacted certain bills that require the California government to provide some guidelines of earthquake safety and precaution procedures to the general public. As a result of those actions, The Seismic Safety Commission has developed, adopted and published a booklet called: "The Homeowner's Guide To Earthquake Safety." This Booklet has information on geologic and seismic hazards; explanations on structural and non-structural earthquake hazards; and recommendations for minimizing the hazards.

Beginning January 1, 1993, state laws require that in sales of residential real estate, seller must provide the buyer with a copy of this Booklet. The buyer has to sign an acknowledgement of receiving the Booklet. For the houses built before 1960, which are older homes and usually were not built to modern earthquake codes, the law requires the sellers of those homes to provide the buyers an additional disclosure: 'Residential Earthquake Hazards Report', 'as soon as practicable before the transfer'. Those sellers are required to answer seven questions in that Report to the best of their knowledge, using the section 'Major Earthquake Weaknesses' in the Booklet for references. This Report is part of the disclosure requirement mandated by the State except in certain instances. For commercial real estate sale, property owners can use the booklet called 'Commercial Property Owner's Guide to Earthquake Safety'.

The Booklet has photo illustrations on the following subjects:

  1. Major Earthquake Weaknesses; how to identify and to fix the following problems:

    1. Unbraced water heater
    2. Foundation not anchored
    3. Weak cripple walls
    4. Unreinforced masonry foundation
    5. Homes on tall walls or posts
    6. Unreinforced masonry walls
    7. Room over garage

  2. Other Earthquake Concerns, such as: older houses built on wood beams, i.e. without foundation; old concrete foundation; unreinforced masonry chimneys; etc.; and steps to fix those problems in making your property safer.

  3. Geologic hazards and the actions homeowners can take to protect them against those hazards.

  4. How to be prepared for earthquake: suggested list of emergency supplies, plans for before and after earthquake, 'Do's and don't's; etc.

  5. A list of the organizations which have information to help you to strengthen your home against earthquake, and suggestions for you and your family on how to prepare an earthquake response plan.

The Booklet also tells you how to identify potential earthquake related weaknesses and understand their importance. If you act on the suggestions outlined in the Booklet, you can make yourself, your family and your home safer before the next damaging earthquake. It is advisable to consult a qualified contractor for the repair projects you consider for your home.

If you are now considering buying a house, you can consult your Realtor for more information on this Booklet. You should review all disclosure statements provided by the seller, paying special attention to any item indicating earthquake weaknesses. A contractor will be able to give you estimates on the cost of strengthening the earthquake weaknesses. You can also negotiate the cost of strengthening with the seller. Sellers are not required by law to fix the weaknesses before they sell their home, but a better price may be achieved if those problems are fixed before putting the property in market.

By law, home sellers will be provided with this Booklet by the real estate agents who represent them. This Booklet is also available to the general public. You can contact the Seismic Commissioner directly for purchasing this Booklet. Their address is: 1900 K Street, Suite 100, Sacramento, CA 95814; and their phone number is (916)323-4213.