Reinforce Old Brick Walls As Soon As Possible In Quake Country

Posted on: 13 October 2015

Brick buildings look gorgeous and classic when designed well, especially if the buildings are older and well-kept. But many older brick buildings are unreinforced, meaning that if a quake were to hit, the building could collapse. Luckily it is possible to retrofit a brick building, reducing damage and danger to others substantially. If you own one of these buildings, even if your town does not have a retrofit ordinance, start reinforcing the walls even if you have to go bit by bit. Here's a look at why retrofitting is so crucial if you want to keep that brick building and what you can expect after the retrofit.

Adding an Endoskeleton

Quake experts like to talk a lot about building frames and how those frames work in quakes. For example, wood frames tend to sway, which increases shaking inside the building but also helps keep the building upright -- basically, it goes with the flow instead of resisting the shaking.

Unreinforced masonry, though, does not have a frame. All you have are the exterior brick wall, the internal drywall or plaster, and any plumbing in between. So any horizontal shaking can knock the wall down. There's just nothing there to hold it up. The end result is a collapsed building with potential injuries or deaths.

In seismic retrofitting, a steel frame is inserted into the building. If you want to look at it this way, you're adding a skeleton to the building so that the walls can stay up around that skeleton. The bricks are then bolted to the steel frame.

Full vs. Partial Collapse

Retrofitting actually won't prevent any damage from happening if there's a quake. What it will do is keep the building up in most cases. Quakes are unpredictable, and even steel can fail, as was seen during the 1994 Northridge quake. The reinforced concrete columns (that contained steel) of a parking garage at Cal State Northridge literally bent over.

However, retrofitting will still reduce the chances of an entire collapse in most brick buildings. In cities like Los Angeles, which have strict retrofitting ordinances in place, brick buildings thrive because they've been brought up to speed code-wise. That will give people inside, as the Los Angeles Times said, "a fighting chance" and allow you to fix the areas of damaged brick, rather than losing the whole building.

If you own a brick building, give the occupants and people outside that fighting chance. Contact a brick company and contractors who specialize in seismic retrofits to discuss how you can shore up the building while keeping the brick exterior looking good.