Strengthen Your Building: How to Hire Someone to Help

When planning to strengthening your building, sometimes it may become necessary to hire a contractor, engineer, architect or a design professional to assist you. As you are protecting your biggest investments, your home or business, it is important to be an informed consumer when making these decisions. Get all your questions answered before taking the next step.

The Earthquake Country Alliance cannot recommend specific contractors, so we suggest that homeowners do additional research, including checking references, experience, and current professional standing before selecting a contractor to help with home projects.

Here are some resources to assist you. Our long-term goal is to streamline this process, as best as possible, to make it easier for you to secure your space. We will continue to expand and modify available references and resources.

Plans, Permits, and Contractors

  • Decide which strengthening project or projects you are going to do
  • Get the necessary building permits first
    • Have a licensed architect and engineer draw up the necessary plans and specifications
      • Interview two or three architects and engineers
      • Ask for references or former clients
      • Talk to references or former clients
      • Compare experience, ideas, and fees
    • Submit the plans for approval to your local building department
    • Remember: the building codes are designed for your safety

There are many publications that describe strengthening projects in detail. Visit the California Seismic Safety Commission's website at, which provides many useful links.

Larger imageA Retrofit Drawing Example

Source: Department of Planning & Development

  • Get the documents that relate to your project and read them
    • This will help you to better understand what the architect or engineer is doing, and also what the contractor is doing
  • The International Existing Building Code contains the best current guidelines. Ask your local Building Department how to comply with this code
  • Select your licensed contractor
    • First make sure the contractor is properly licensed
    • Interview at least two or three contractors
    • Ask your licensed architect or engineer for recommendations
    • Ask for references or former clients
    • Talk to references or former clients
    • Compare experience, fees, and terms of contract
    • Get at least three written bids for the construction work
    • The lowest bid may not always be the best bid
  • Keep all plans, permits, and other records of your strengthening project
    • Provide future buyers of your building with these

If your building qualifies as "historical," you also may need to comply with the California Historical Building Code.

  • Contact your local Building Department for further help with this.


Whether you do it yourself, or hire a contractor, you need permits from your local Building Department.

It costs far less to correct earthquake weaknesses before an earthquake than to repair the damage after an earthquake.

If your building is damaged in an earthquake, you will probably also have other costs such as lodging, medical, etc.

Additional Resources:

  1. A detailed booklet on the step by step process to protect yourself when hiring a contractor for any work on your home:
  2. How to check a contractor's license:
  3. Currently, there are two resources from the City of Los Angeles to assist you (if you live in another city, contact your own building department to see what "earthquake retrofit" guidelines and permitting they have to assist you)
  4. How to find a structural engineer for your small, residential projects:
    • Visit
      • Select the "Residential or Multifamily" checkbox ONLY from the options. (Do not select "Seismic Rehabilitation" as those contractors are already covered in "Residential or Multifamily".) Click the "Search" button. You now have a list of professionals to choose from to assist you.
      • Be clear when contacting them to state the reason for your call, earthquake retrofit
      • Note: Some large contracting companies also have structural engineers as part of their services, which can streamline your retrofitting process, although with some cost
  5. The Contractors State License Board has produced a 15-minute educational video titled "Doing It Right: Hiring a Licensed Contractor." The video guides consumers through the process of selecting, hiring and managing a contractor including:
    • How to verify a contractor's credentials
    • What to include in the written contract
    • How to prevent common disputes
    • Where to go if problems arise
    The video can be viewed either:

©2016 SCEC Southern California Earthquake Center @ USC