Standard Plan A is a seismic retrofit guideline that must be used to qualify for a $3,000 grant from the Earthquake Brace and Bolt Program, but the Plan has serious flaws which can result in an expensive, yet ineffective retrofit. Beginning in May 19, 2015, Bay Area Retrofit performed 177 retrofits using the Earthquake Brace and Bolt Program, but was kicked out of the program in September 2019 for publishing the videos below, which describe problems with Standard Plan A. We also published this critique of Appendix Chapter A3, another guideline approved by the program.

A co-author of Standard Plan A produced this video to point out its many problems, such as resulting in additional expense for unnecessary hardware due to underrating hardware strength, and requiring hardware that no longer exists. (45 minutes)

In this video you will find a detailed analysis of Standard Plan A’s plywood connection, which creates a connection that is twice as expensive and half as effective as it should be. (40 minutes)


Navigating the Earthquake Brace and Bolt Retrofit Program

  • It  is very efficient in sending grant checks. They say payment takes place within 15 days of final approval and that is usually the case.
  • Their  staff is very helpful, but have limited power to handle more than basic items. Keep asking to go higher up until you reach someone with authority.
  • You should ask the IRS if this is taxable, I have heard both.
  • The permit costs $500-$900.  San Jose is one of the more expensive, usually $800 or so.
  • The $3,000 windfall evaporates into around $1,000 for construction, after the permit, taxes, and admin fees.
  • You must use Standard Plan A, or Appendix Chapter A3 of the California Existing Building Code.  The International Code Council wrote Standard Plan A to supplant A3 because of A3’s many problems.  See the videos below for details.
  • When we were participating in the program, we had to raise our fee to navigate the very onerous bureaucracy from $250, then to $475, then to $800, based on the program’s ever-increasing complexity.
  • Many contractors find the program so onerous they won’t even bid on projects that plan to utilize it.

 

Permitting

  • You have 12 weeks from the time you received your acceptance letter to get the permit, and 8 months from the time you received your acceptance letter to finish the work.  No exceptions.
  • The permit must be in place BEFORE they do what they call a “preliminary review.” This involves looking at 3 exterior and 3 under floor photos to see if the house qualifies.  They also want to see the permit.
  • If the EBB decides your house does not qualify based on these photos, the permit was for nothing,  This can happen because they read a photo incorrectly or decided a cripple wall was over four feet (without measuring it). In that case the put you in the “needs an engineer” category.  You can expect to spend $4,000+ on an engineer for a design you possibly cannot afford.
  • In other words, the contractor could have paid for the permit, uploaded the permit and photos, and then be told the house does not qualify.  At that point you will be required to reimburse the contractor for the permit and perhaps their time.
  • Partial retrofits are not allowed.  If you have living area above a garage as well as a crawl space you must retrofit both parts of your house or you will not qualify. The living area above the garage alone will require an engineer and ~$20,000 in construction.

 

Administrative Headaches

  • Contractors may not use their standard invoicing system, but must use one tailored to the program.  Invoices must reflect dates work was done, hours spent on the job, hourly rate, list of materials used and their cost (which changes day to day).  Tracking all of this is extremely time consuming.
  • The contractor must take 3 exterior photos and 3 under-floor photos, and submit them before work can be approved.  3 more photos of the completed work must be taken from the exact same angle as the pre-approval photos.  Before payment these must be submitted along with 2 photos of the water heater and 1 photo of the crawl space access.
  • Even slightly blurry photos, taken in a crawl space with zero lighting, upside down on your back, with dust floating in the air will be rejected and contractor must return to house and take them all over again.

 

Payment Headaches

  • Sometimes the program withholds payment because even clear photos were uploaded upside down.
  • At times, the program locks the homeowner and contractor out of their dashboard and/or the program with the note “call EBB staff.” Staff informs homeowner or contractor they see no reason for the lock out and are unable to resolve it.

Hopefully this information helps you navigate the program.  I also hope you just don’t take our word for it about its complexities.  Please speak with some other contractors or other clients of ours. Many decided to forego the program once they found out what a hassle it was. For confirmation of its complexity please go to sections 1.8.1, 1.8.2, and 1.8.3 from this guide found on the Brace and Bolt website.