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HOME SHOW : Minimizing the Quake, Rattle 'n' Roll


A firm foundation. It's almost a redundancy, something we take for granted, like gravity. And, according to old wisdom, a firm foundation will keep your home safe, solid and reasonably permanent.

Except in California. Here, a firm foundation can double as a trampoline during a severe earthquake, and your house can turn into one huge acrobat.

That's going to be the dominant message at the new earthquake safety display at the 39th annual Southern California Home and Garden Show, beginning today and running through Aug. 29 at the Anaheim Convention Center. Sponsored by the Orange County chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the earthquake display will explain what it takes to keep house and foundation together when the shaking starts.

The answer, in a word, is anchors. This is a catch-all word for a variety of connectors, straps, bolts, beams and reinforcing materials--sometimes called "hold-downs"--that can be put to use in retrofitting an older home that may be in danger of slipping off its foundation in a large quake.

Most newer houses in the county--generally those built in the past three decades--already are fitted with such hardware, said Bill Walker, marketing manager of Simpson Strong-Tie, a connector manufacturer that will participate in the home show display. It is the older, more rigidly built homes that may be at risk, he said.

Earthquake safety consciousness is something relatively new in Southern California history, said Mark Singer, an architect with a firm in Laguna Beach.

"In the more distant past," he said, "there was no consideration at all for earthquakes in older houses. And houses had very little lateral resistance."

Because of that inability to withstand the violent lateral motion of an earthquake, as well as the upward thrust that comes with seismic waves, many older houses, with much more masonry used in construction than is typical today, either slid or literally leaped off their concrete foundations.

"Since then," said Singer, "the codes have gotten more restrictive and buildings have become stronger laterally. In a normal wood frame structure, there is plenty of sway built in and you may suffer cosmetic damage, but what we don't want is for the structure to be dislodged from its foundation. Each time there's a new building code, there's something more in there about earthquakes."

Retrofitting single family homes has not become mandatory, however, said Walker. Homeowners are not compelled to bring their older homes up to current earthquake codes. However, he added, "insurance companies and banks are getting behind it (and) 70% of homes in this area could be done for around $2,500." That number can vary widely, however, if the structure is multistory, he said.

What's involved in an earthquake retrofitting? First, an inspection of the foundation. If it's crumbling, said Walker, it will need to be replaced. If it's solid, however, there are dozens of devices to anchor the house to it, several with esoteric names: mudsill connections, foundation connectors, foundation-to-stud connectors, floor girders, pier systems, column bases and caps, building shear walls, cripple wall detail, rafter and truss connectors, adhesive anchors and floor-to-floor connectors.

All these devices--which will be on display at the home show--perform the same basic tasks: reinforcing the strength of the frame of the house and holding it fast to the foundation.

Also featured at the earthquake safety booth: suggested earthquake home safety kits, emergency camping equipment and free disaster plan guides distributed by the American Red Cross. Also, the AIA will present a home constructed out of Lego blocks and offer both children and adults a chance to experiment with building a portion of the house.

The Home and Garden show features hundreds of other displays in addition to the one on earthquake safety. Among them:

* Houses of straw and sticks. The EOS Institute, a nonprofit organization of architects, interior designers, urban planners and landscape architects, will present an environmentally frniendly house with the walls constructed of insulating straw bales.

Elsewhere, Greatwood Log Homes will demonstrate how you can build your own log home from a prefabricated kit.

* An aroma therapy steam tube. Manufactured by Tulipani Enterprises, this is part of a portable steam bath. The tube is connected to the bath, and oils are put in the tube to allegedly relieve respiratory and cold symptoms.

* The "Better Living Theater." This features speakers such as Norm Abram of the PBS series "New Yankee Workshop," and includes a weekend nail driving contest.

* A representation of the White House gardens, and "First Lady" gardens featuring plants favored by eight First Ladies.

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