Soft Story Contractor

What if I don’t do what the San Francisco Soft Story Mandate requires?

San Francisco Building Code, Section 103A states, “Violation of any code requirement related to the upgrade of these buildings may subject the property owner to penalties of up to $500 per day per violation and other penalties.”

How to find the Best Soft Story Retrofit Contractors

After you find your soft story retrofit engineer and they design your soft story retrofit, you need to find a good contractor.  It is important that the contractor you use understands the principles of retrofit design so that they can identify mistakes that the engineer may have made.  After spending tens of thousands of dollars, you don’t want a retrofit that might fail because no one noticed a design error.

City inspectors are especially notorious for overlooking significant flaws in design and construction.  If the City building inspector, the engineer, and a competent contractor are all looking at the project with well-trained eyes you can be assured the retrofit will be properly designed and installed.

The timeline and abiding by the San Francisco Soft Story Mandate in 6 simple steps.

1. If it must be retrofitted, you will now need a set of As-Built plans, an engineer, and a contractor.

2. Buy As-Built plans.

3. Solicit bids from a couple of engineers.

4. Choose an engineer using these guidelines.

5. The engineer draws the plans and applies for a permit before the filing for a permit deadline date.

6. Complete the work before the deadline shown here.

 How do I Decide which Soft Story Engineer is Best?

Here is a guide for finding the best soft story retrofit designer.  You can use either an engineer or an architect.

Existing Soft Story Retrofits often need Retrofitting

Until the adoption of the San Francisco Soft Story Mandate, the City of San Francisco was operating under the presumption that “anything is better than nothing” and would approve anything. It still does for all buildings that are not trying to meet the mandate.  If you have had retrofit work done in the past, you can only hope that it will meet the Mandate requirements.

If much of the work has been covered with plywood, there may be no way to know what was done.  Try to find a building permit and plans at the City of San Francisco Building Department.  If they don’t have anything, contact whoever did the work.

This information will be very helpful in your development of asbuilt plans required by the engineer.

As stated earlier, if your building was “retrofitted” in the past, the Building Department most likely did not even check to see if it met some kind of standard or would resist earthquakes at all.  This could have resulted in the work being poor quality and of limited value in developing your as-built plans.

In one case, the building owner hired an engineer to design the retrofit.  It consisted of a very strong moment frame with tremendous earthquake-resisting capacity.  However, only two bolts attached this impressive frame to the floor it was intended to strengthen!  You may find yourself in a similar situation.

 Design/Build Firms and out of the Area Firms.

Many firms are design/build firms.  This is a firm that has a team consisting of a particular engineer and a particular contractor, who both design and build your retrofit.  This may sound like a good idea at first but creates a conflict of interest.  Reasonable up-front costs for engineering can balloon into extremely expensive construction costs.  Try to keep the engineering separate from the contractor.

Here is an excellent article written by a local structural engineer that describes some of the important considerations when hiring a Design/Build firm.


 What about the occupants?

Soft story retrofit work usually takes place in the parking area below where occupants reside.  Very large trenches are dug out in the parking area, which can normally be covered at the end of the day with steel plates or plywood so they can park after work hours.  The other option is to buy them parking permits from the city.  If you have a commercial building, it may be tough not to impact commerce, but with proper planning we can make sure it has as little impact as possible.

How much will my soft story retrofit cost?

It depends on how your soft story retrofit engineer designed your retrofit.  This is why the soft story retrofit design is so important.

Who is going to pay for it?

You do, but you can pass through these costs to your tenants over 20 years and raise the rents as much as needed to make the monthly payments.  San Francisco offers a public financing option.

Information for your Records

Even though the building department will provide you with signed confirmations that all the work meets the San Francisco Soft Story Retrofit Mandate, we still think having a photographic record of the job is a good idea.  For example, if you wish to sell the building you can show prospective buyers photographs and City documents to confirm the soft story retrofit work was done.  These photographs should include all phases of the job such as trench excavation, foundation construction, attachment to the moment frame or column to the floor, etc.