Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Is your property a Soft Story Structure? Soft-Story Seismic Screening Program FAQs- Oakland, CA

This posting was submitted to As-Built Answers by Enginious Structures Inc.  If you have questions about Soft-Story regulations and how they impact your building contact Sasha Itsekson SE at  Enginious Structures Inc.

Alexander (Sasha) Itsekson, SE, LEED AP
Enginious Structures, Inc.
Oakland, CA

Soft-Story Seismic Screening Program FAQs

What is a Soft-Story building?
A soft-story building is a structure constructed before 1991, when the California Building Code adopted enhanced earthquake design standards, which has large ground-floor openings (parking garage, store-front windows) with slender columns supporting the upper stories. Soft-story buildings are particularly likely to lean or collapse ("pancake") in an earthquake. Soft-story buildings on sloping ground have an even higher risk of collapsing. This disastrous consequence occurred in San Francisco's Marina District during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in Santa Cruz.

Why is Oakland concerned about Soft-Story buildings?
The Hayward fault runs beneath the Warren Freeway and Interstate 580 in Oakland. The United States Geological Survey and other earthquake researchers have determined that the Hayward fault has the greatest likelihood in the United States of a major earthquake in the near future. Major earthquakes occur along the Hayward fault about every 140 years, and the last occurrence was in 1868. Ground-shaking from an earthquake beneath Oakland will be hundreds of times stronger than the motion caused by the Loma Prieta earthquake. Unless Oakland prepares now, the damage to its housing stock will be catastrophic, causing billions of dollars in economic loss, many injuries and fatalities, and displaced residents.

Why should owners be concerned about Soft-Story buildings?
The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) estimates that communities ravaged by natural disasters (hurricane, flood, earthquake, tornado) need a decade or more to recover fully. If your building is damaged in an earthquake, it may be months before it can be evaluated for re-occupancy, and much longer before it is repaired. This inevitable delay will result in lost rental income and a stalled local economy. Thousands of families who are housed in temporary shelters may loose hope in their future in Oakland, and many may simply move away and not return.

What is the Soft-Story Seismic Screening Program?
The new ordinance (12966 CMS) mandates that owners of certain residential buildings provide simple and low-cost information to the City about their building's ground-floor structural supports (dimensions, materials, photographs, floor plan). It does not require any type of structural retrofit.

Are all buildings included in the program?
The Soft-Story Seismic Screening Program only applies to buildings which meet all of the following criteria:
  • constructed before 1991 (when the 1988 California Building Code was adopted), and
  • parking or commercial space on the ground-floor (see below for definition), and
  • five (5) or more apartments, condominiums, or live-work units, and
  • not structurally retrofitted for earthquake forces, and
  • two (2) or more stories (see below for definitions).
What should I do if I think my building is exempt from the program?
The building owner should submit a written request to Building Services with supporting documentation (example: permit for original construction or seismic retrofit). No fee will be charged for evaluating this submittal.

What is the difference between the Ground-Floor and a basement?
The ground-floor is the lowest story of a building which is not considered an exposed basement. If any part of a basement rises more than six feet above adjacent grade for more than 1/2 (50%) of the building's perimeter (front, sides, and rear), then the space is considered the Ground Floor.

Ground Floor vs. Basement

What is a significant ground slope?
If the rise of the ground adjacent to any side of the Ground Floor is more than 6 feet, your building has a significant ground slope and is more vulnerable to major damage or collapse in an earthquake. These buildings are required to have a more detailed Level 2 Evaluation report prepared by a licensed engineer or architect. Do not submit a Level 1 Screening form.

What is Significant Ground Slope?

How do I count the number of residential units in my building?
  • Include units with one or more sleeping rooms.
  • Include units regardless of ownership status (example: owned, rented, leased, owner-occupied, time-share, or vacant).
  • If you are not sure, consult with the Building Services Division.

How do I count the number of stories in my building?
  • Unfinished attics need not be counted as a story.
  • If the number of stories varies from one part of the building to another, use the maximum number of stories at any part.
  • Small penthouses, equipment rooms, elevator machinery rooms, and similar rooftop enclosures that in total occupy less than 1/3 of the roof area need not be counted as a story.
What is a floor/ ceiling assembly?
The floor/ ceiling assembly is the overhead structural system that separates the Ground Floor from the story above and supports the floor above. It is typically either wood framing or a concrete deck.

What is floor ceiling assembly?
What should the sketch of the Ground-Floor footprint look like?
The sketch should be proportional and dimensioned (feet & inches). Walls should be drawn as double-lines, and doors and windows should be drawn as single lines. Wall and column materials should be labeled (steel, wood, concrete, concrete block). Doors, windows, and other openings less than 3 feet wide need not be shown. Projections and setbacks of the floor above should be shown as dashed lines. Stairs should be shown. Property line setbacks should be shown. Street location, building address, and parcel number should be shown.

Example Sketch of Ground Floor Footprint
Doors, windows, and other opening should be labeled. Ground-Floor uses should be labeled. Incidental uses, such as single small closets used for storage or to enclose mechanical equipment, need not be shown.
  • Residential use includes any area used for sleeping rooms or for kitchen, restrooms, lounges, fitness rooms, shower rooms, or other rooms serving residential units elsewhere.
  • Commercial use includes offices, retail, and small food sales. Assembly use includes auditorium, social hall, and restaurant with seating for fifty patrons or more.
  • Parking use includes any area accessible by car or other motor vehicle from the street or driveway, whether or not it is actually used for parking, and whether or not individual stalls or spaces are marked.
  • Drive-through means a driving lane through the building.
  • Storage, utility, and equipment use includes any contiguous area larger than a single closet used for storage, laundry, workshop, boiler, elevator, etc.
  • Crawlspace includes any unfinished, lower height area used primarily for ventilation or for access to under-floor utility lines.
The sketch grid in the Level 1 Screening form assumes that your building has a simple footprint. For L-shaped, O-shaped with a courtyard, and similar non-rectangular footprints which will not easily fit on the grid, additional sheets may be attached as needed.

How long do I have to submit the Screening form? 
Building owners have until July 29, 2011, to file a Level 1 Screening form (or a Level 2 Evaluation report), unless they receive written notification from Building Services before then that their building is potentially included in the Soft-Story inventory.

Who can complete the Screening form?
A building owner may hire a home inspector, contractor, engineer, or architect to complete the Level 1 Screening form (Level 2 Evaluation report requires an engineer or architect).

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Irregular Swimming Pool - Land Survey or Architectural As-Built Survey?

If your property has an irregularly shaped swimming pool, we recommend that you hire a land surveyor to survey the pool, if you need an accurate plan of the pool.  This information should be included on your site plan.

An architectural field survey can show the general location of the pool,  include an outline of the pool and show its relation to buildings on the property.

Monday, September 13, 2010

California Residential Deck Remodel Projects - Tips before you start

Do-it-Yourself Deck Project Tips

If you are planning a deck addition to your home here are some things to consider:

  • Will you deck be attached to your home?  If yes, an Architectural designer is probably needed.
  • If your deck will not be attached to your home, you don't need an Architect but you will most likely need a licensed Engineer to provide calculations and structural drawings.
  •   Some things to watch for with decks: 
  1. Leakage between the deck and the house.
  2. Crowded decks at parties have been known to fail and kill people.
  • Check with your building department and find out what is required for your building permit before you start deck construction.  We have heard horror stories of people starting what they thought was a simple deck project and being shut down by the city while in the middle of illegal construction.
  • Prepare to provide as-built plans, at minimum a site plan for a free standing deck and an architectural drawing of your deck design if you work with an engineer.
ClearLogicGroup provides as-built plans and coordination with civil, structural services in California.  If you need further advice Contact us!  

Saturday, August 28, 2010

4 Reasons not to use Revit for As-Built Plans

Trying to decide if you should use Revit for your as-built plans?

  1. Will your project be in 2D?  If your project is not going to be developed in 3D or BIM, then there is no reason to use Revit. 
  2. Will the project be developed with AutoCAD?  Revit files can be converted to DWG files by using a SaveAS command.  AutoCAD DWG standards then have to be setup.  These additional steps can be costly if you can draft your as-builts in AutoCAD to begin with.
  3. Is speed an issue?  Revit asks for the additional Z coordinate and this takes time.
  4. Revit data is parametric, if you move one wall or remove a door, the building is redrawn to adjust to the changes.  As-Builts are drawings of the building as it was built and an inert drawing may be more practical for data integrity.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

As-Built Surveys for Office Sq. Footage - Save on Rent + As-Built!

Your office rent is, in most cases, determined by the sq. footage of your office space.   If you suspect that you are being charged for space that you're not using, it's possible to hire a field architectural drafter to measure your office and clarify your actual sq. footage.

Determining office area is not as simple as it looks.  We recommend that you, employ an architectural drafter with commercial experience.  He should be able to explain why measuring your office correctly is a fairly complex procedure.  Since this is a layman's blog, we leave that for the experts.  Trust us; you don't want to hire someone to determine your actual sq.footage if they have never heard of BOMA guidelines!

There are several kinds of office surveys you might want to consider:

1.     If you own the building then the best way to determine the square footage of a specific office is to survey the entire building in order to calculate the % of space that the office takes up.  This can be a fairly expensive procedure.
2.     If you don't own the building, it's not practical to survey the entire building.  Hire someone to measure your office space only.
3.     If you are trying to save on costs, your architectural drafter does not have to draw up floor plans.  A simple schematic diagram + an explanation of your area calcs will suffice.  This should not be an expensive process and depending on the size of your office can be done quickly.  

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Remodeling for Dummies - New vs. Existing - Before You Hire a Design Professional

Before you hire a General Contractor, Engineer, Architect or Drafter to assist you with planning your remodel, take time to organize your project. This will save you time and money.

Define: What is existing construction? 

 Do you have as-built plans of the building? If so, get them scanned so they can be easily reviewed by professionals who want to provide you with estimates. Do they accurately depict your property as it is now? If not, you will probably require an as-built field survey.

Define: What is new construction? 

 If possible draw up some sketches of your projected design changes. If you can draft, great,  but even rough drawings are helpful to consultants who really can't read your mind. Scan these too. Design professionals these days prefer to review drawings in PDF format.

Now you are ready to send out your material for estimates

Saturday, April 10, 2010

How to Convert As-Built Plans to CAD - Tips #1 Rough As-Built Sketches to CAD

If your as-built plans resemble this example we recommend that you hire an experienced local architectural drafter, field architect, architect or engineer to convert them to CAD drawings.

The drafter will have to know local building codes. Preferably, they will have local construction or field survey experience.

This type of as-built sketch can be misleading. Missing details such as wall thickness and dimensions of appliances can make the plans problematic. It’s quite possible that the dimensions may not line up.  Re-measuring the building may be required for accuracy.

Plans can be drafted to look good from a home owner’s untrained perspective but they may actually be unbuildable.

If you have questions about your as-built plans or would like a free estimate on plans to CAD conversion, contact

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Consult a Licensed Engineer Before You Start Your Remodel - 4 Reasons Why!

The recent quake in Haiti has raised public awareness about the dangers of building structures without taking safety into consideration.

Ironically, though the SF Bay Area is located on more than one major fault line, we still encounter many situations where ignorance contributes to irresponsible building practices.

As a drafting service we get plenty of inquiries from potential customers who are hoping to find a cheap and easy way to renovate their property by avoiding the costs of hiring a licensed engineer or architect.  We can attest that this is often the best way to end up paying more in the long run!

Here are a few reasons why we recommend asking a civil or structural engineer to review your renovation project at the start.  You can save time, money and aggravation by getting a professional’s input before you even draft proposal plans.

1.  Existing structures may not be up to date in terms of compliance with current codes.  Building codes are constantly evolving based on experiences of building failure, accidents or hazards.  Making a change to an old building may result in the need to comply with today's regulations.  This makes your property safer and a better investment for future owners, too.  The local building department can advise you about applicable codes and let you know if they require a signed set of plans to approve the changes you envision.   Though we’ve seen many attempts, we can tell you that it is counterproductive to try to get around the building department.  You’ll just have to pay extra for your project to be corrected or rebuilt, later. 

2.  Design changes that look great on paper may involve moving walls, doors, windows, beams that are part of the structural integrity of the building.    It’s much easier to consult an engineer early in your project with a rough sketch than later after you have drafted a full set of detailed plans.   Your structural engineer may decide that additional modifications to the roof and foundation will be required because you want to add some rooms, another story or a garage.  An unlicensed designer may or may not be able to advise you of same.  Don’t count on a drafter to know all the risks you are taking by altering your existing structure.

3.  The soil of your property may be too unstable to support the type of remodel you envision.  Consult an engineer to find out if a soils test is recommended for your property.  Conceptual plans might look inspiring but find out before you draw them up if the drainage or solidity of the ground will be an issue.

4.  If you are contemplating the purchase of a property for remodel it's not wise to rely on the advice of your real estate broker regarding its suitability.  Get an appraisal and estimate from a licensed Structural Engineer before you decide to purchase and remodel. A good engineer can let you know in advance what kind of structural changes are recommended for the building.  They can even advise as to the style of architecture that is safe for the property.  

Saturday, October 24, 2009

San Diego Residential High Occupancy Permit – Requirements for Parking Lot Plans

If you have 6 or more adults living on one property,  then you may have to comply with City regulations regarding the design of your parking lot and provide one parking space per tenant.

The city requires plans submittal as proof of compliance.  The parking lot area must be correctly laid out according to San Diego Permit Specifications. We recommend that you hire a field architect or architectural drafter for this task. 

You will need to submit the following plans along with your permit application:

• Vicinity Plan

• Site Plan.

• Parking lot layout - an experienced drafter can create the plans and parking lot layout.  The skill level does not call for a licensed engineer or architect.   Plans do have to be accurate and cannot be fudged.

Permit Application for Residential High Occupancy Permit

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Foundation Remodel with Steel Post? You may need a Soils Report!

Q. We are working on a residential remodel in Virginia.  Our structural engineer recommended adding a steel post in the basement under a steel beam.  We drilled down to 6 or 7' and the soil is soft.  The engineer is now recommending that we consult a geotechnical engineer before proceeding with more drilling.

A. You need to hire a Soils Engineer to take a soil sample at the location where you are drilling.  This sample will be analyzed in a lab.  The hole may need to be widened to generate more friction to support the beam.  The Structural Engineer will determine how deep and wide the hole must be based on the Soils Report.

Your local Geotechnical Firm can probably recommended a good Soils Engineer who will take residential projects.  Many larger firms don't deal with homeowners but they maintain a list of quality professionals for referrals. Some Civil Engineers can also provide this service.