How To Get California To Give You Money To Retrofit Your Home For Earthquakes

This house in the Santa Cruz Mountains collapsed in the Loma Prieta Earthquake on October 17, 1989, due to a lack of structural support. (J.K. Nakata / U.S. Geological Survey)

In what sounds like every internet scam ever — but is totally definitely not — you may be able to get a free $3,000 from the state of California to protect your home from an earthquake, assuming you qualify.

It's available through the California Earthquake Authority's Earthquake Brace + Bolt program, which you can apply to now.

BEWARE PRE-1980 HOMES

If there's a temblor, and you live in a house built before 1980 (and especially 1940) that's never been retrofitted, there's a chance that it could slide off its foundation.

It's a widespread problem throughout the state with an estimated 1.2 million homes at risk, according to the California Earthquake Authority.

Back before 1980, building codes meant to protect homes from earthquakes were severely lacking or nonexistent. Thus, many wood frame homes in California haven't been adequately attached to their foundations.

That's a problem when the ground beneath them begins to move violently from side to side. The foundation can go in one direction, and the house in another. When that happens, the whole thing can shift precariously and topple off the foundation, requiring hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs — assuming that it can be fixed at all.

The good news is that the solution to keeping your home safe is fairly simple. Your house just needs to be retrofitted. And the government wants to help you do that.

Here's how it works:

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?

The CEA estimates that a retrofit costs between $3,000 and $7,000, and generally takes two to three days to complete, depending on the type of home you have and where you live.

To help offset that cost, California's Earthquake Brace + Bolt program is offering up to $3,000 towards the retrofit.

HOW DO I GET THE MONEY?

First, you have to qualify. Here are some criteria:

  • Are you the homeowner?
  • Was the home built before 1980?
  • Is it on a raised foundation?
  • Is it wood-framed construction?
  • Was it built with a crawl space and/or a cripple wall?
  • Is it on relatively level ground?
  • Does it lay within a qualifying zip code

If you want to learn more about the qualifications and how to apply, you can click through to the CEA's website, here.

WHAT HAPPENS IF I AM SELECTED?

If you qualify and are selected to receive money, you'll have eight weeks to get quotes from multiple contractors, and six months to complete construction, though you can apply for extensions.

If you don't do that — you won't get the money. In 2018, the completion rate for those selected was only 38%.

Janiele Maffei, the CEA's Chief Mitigation Officer, say that low rate is due to a number of factors, including "life just [getting] in the way."

There may be another barrier, depending on where you live: finding the rest of the money the retrofit will cost. While $3,000 may go a long way, additional costs to complete the job can be prohibitive.

"We're acutely aware that we don't meet the needs of low-income communities and vulnerable communities for a variety of different reasons," said Maffei. "And it is our intent, with additional funding, to put together hopefully what I think will be a very meaningful and successful retrofit program in those vulnerable communities."

The CEA puts aside 5% of investment income into their loss mitigation fund, some of which goes towards the EBB program. When bolstered by grants from outside agencies like FEMA, they're able to offer more homeowners assistance, according to Maffei.

HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN HELPED?

About 4,500 homes in L.A. County and nearly 10,000 homes throughout California have been fixed with assistance from the program since it began in 2014.

This year they hope to distribute money to 4,400 houses throughout the state, thanks to an additional $13 million via a grant from FEMA.

WHEN CAN I APPLY?

2020 applications are now open until March 19.

WHAT IF I DON'T GET SELECTED?

Money to the program is limited, so those that qualify, but aren't selected, will be placed on a waiting list and offered assistance as more money rolls in.

Whether or not you have earthquake insurance — most homeowners in California don't — a retrofit could be a worthwhile investment to protect your home.

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