Ultimate Guide to Build Earthquake Proof Custom Home

Earthquakes are natural disasters that lead to soil failure, structural collapse, and loss of lives. They affect small remote places to large cities. An earthquake is caused as a result of seismic ground movement originating in all directions leading to the collapse of the buildings. For this reason, an earthquake-safe home is crucial as this unforeseen natural disaster can occur at any time of the year.


A Ground Works article, "What Are the Worst U.S. Cities for Earthquakes" reveals that cities across the United States are highly prone to earthquakes, including California, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, South Carolina, and New England. These areas are held to stricter building standards per the NEHRP Recommended Seismic Provisions. All custom home builders should follow specific construction regulations to reduce damage and protect human life.

If you are in the process of building a custom home, there are a few things that you need to ensure so that you won't experience high damage risk in case an earthquake hits your area. Learn building and earthquake-proof custom home shares all you need to know if you're thinking of building from the ground up.

Reasons Your Custom Home Is Impacted by an Earthquake

Ground shaking is the primary cause of earthquake damage to your custom home. A federal study reveals that a quarter of the San Francisco Bay Area buildings would be damaged after a magnitude-7 earthquake. Below are reasons why an earthquake might impact a residential property:

1.Lack of proper inspection

Site inspection is a crucial part of every construction project. If you don't get a site inspected, you won't plan according to requirements, standards, and regulations. Construction site inspection ensures that you have accurately met building standards.

2.Increased moisture

If the soil type in your area has high moisture content, it will be soft and more prone to movement when an earthquake hits. The base of any house is affected by the soil. So, to protect your home, it's crucial to check the soil moisture and ensure that it is dry.

3.Anchoring is not properly done

The sturdiness and strength of metal play a crucial role in the foundation of the building. The foundation offers stability and prevents the home from damage or failure. If anchoring is done correctly, it affects the foundation of the building. Always use high-strength bolts fixed to the building foundation for a substantial home.

4.Weaken foundation

Climate affects the foundation of the building a lot. During the summer season, the soil heat and shrinks, leading to weakening a building's foundation. Even the soil shrinks if there are trees near the foundation as they suck water from the soil.

5.Cripple walls

Cripple walls used for the exterior foundation are made from wood. These walls handle the weight of the house and create a crawl space. Act as a shock absorber and lower the risk of the building collapsing during the earthquake. The best way to provide resistance to your property is to brace up your cripple walls with plywood.

6.Unreinforced masonry walls

Unreinforced masonry buildings are more prone to collapsing during an earthquake. Mostly, the mortar isn't enough to handle the impact of the earth's movement without any additional masonry elements. If a building remains unreinforced, it is more likely to collapse, and also, the masonry elements peel off in the long run.

Things to Consider While Building Earthquake-Proof Custom Home

Natural calamities like earthquakes cause a lot of destruction. Fortunately, there are advanced technologies that help to build a structure that is resistant to earthquakes. An earthquake-resistant custom home is one that's designed with careful dimensions, layout, and quality building material. Build your dream home with ease by considering the following:

The quality of the soil is important

Location plays an essential role when it comes to building construction. Some areas are more likely to have earthquakes or have high seismic activity. These areas are at high risk, and the government has set some strict building standards to minimize risk. The area should be stable enough to withstand high excessive seismic activity; therefore, soil quality is a crucial factor. A soil engineer or expert can determine the type of soil and offer advice on the type of design that is more compatible with the location.

Foundation matters

A flexible building foundation could help withstand an earthquake. One way is to build the structure on top of pads that separate the building from the ground. With this, only pads move, but it doesn’t affect the building. An alternative is to place a solid foundation slab of reinforced concrete and crisscrossing strips atop to form an intermediate sand cushion. Contact experienced and knowledgeable home foundation contractors near you to get the best advice before starting your custom home project.

Height of the structure

Short buildings are less flexible than tall ones. Thus, engineers typically offer more structural reinforcement for buildings only a few stories tall versus skyscrapers.

Distribution of load and symmetry

As per the studies, buildings with proportionate symmetry can withstand intense movement. That is why buildings likely to experience high seismic activities are joined perpendicularly with high symmetry. A structural engineer has to form a building layout so that the structure remains intact and safe even during natural calamities like earthquakes and landslides. Dome-shaped structures are more popular in these areas.

Structural design

Engineers and building designers follow various methods to strengthen the building structure against earthquake. Many of these climate change resilient homes stand up well to seismic forces. For instance, shear walls and braced frames transfer lateral forces from the floor to the roof, which aid the building’s frame joints to stay rigid while letting the other parts move.

Quality of building materials

You cannot compromise on, building material quality, especially in earthquake-prone areas. Always get certified high-end building materials. The building behaves as a single structure during an earthquake and should display overall uniformity. Excellent quality materials can absorb the vibration impact of the earthquake. Structural steel, for example, is a ductile material, whereas concrete has low ductility.

Authorizations and procedures

There are certain regulations set by the government which home builders have to follow when constructing a custom home. Certain designs or layouts that fulfill safe home building get authorization from the government. How a home is designed affects the overall safety of the building. So, it’s always best to engage an experienced custom home builder to get the job done correctly from the get-go.

Maintenance post-construction

Once the home is built, then all that matters is its aftercare. A build can withstand any type of tremor if you get timely maintenance and get repairs done when required. Maintenance post-construction is equally important as it will make your build safe to live in even during natural calamities. Rather spend on house maintenance costs than face financial expenses with earthquake damages.

Earthquake-resistant materials

Reinforced cement concrete is a popular and durable building material. If you don’t have complete knowledge, getting the right material for your custom home can be quite challenging. You need the right design, high-quality material, and a curated construction procedure to ensure your new property is an earthquake-resistant home.

If you are building your custom home in areas more prone to severe weather conditions, then you require modern house materials that are more resistant. On that note, certain building materials can be used to help your custom home stand up better to earthquakes.

Structural steel

Steel is an ideal building material. Steel framed houses can withstand winds or intense ground vibration as it offers good ductility. What’s more, you can bend it into any shape or design you desire. Compared to brick and concrete, steel is a better option as it will help you form any shape without breaking.


Wood is a highly ductile and one of the most used materials. It is preferred for building houses, sheds, and small civic buildings. Wood can withstand high loads but for a certain period. It has an incredible strength to handle seismic and high winds. Wood-frames weigh less than concrete and steel, thus reducing inertial seismic forces.

Reinforced concrete

Reinforced concrete is used together with structural steel to create earthquake and cyclone-proof custom homes. Building a concrete house helps convert the low ductile material to higher ductile material to prevent cracking and structural failure from high winds or ground vibration.


These materials are designed to give support to the diaphragm of a building. They are diagonal and can be easily fitted into certain areas to form the building’s overall frame.

Shear walls

Another major element in earthquake-resistant building design is shear walls. These are vertically applied and designed to give stiffness to your custom home. They are mostly used in elevators and stairways where walls are built without opening. It is one of the best ways that help a building withstand an earthquake.

Damping systems

Damping systems integrated into home construction act as a shock absorber during earthquakes. If a heavyweight is applied to the building, the dampers connected to the structure reduce the severity of the vibration. Damping systems are implanted within the building on a small or large scale, depending on the size of the structure.

Furniture Straps/Anchors

It is a simple yet one of the most effective building material types that prevent structural damage during an earthquake. These straps help to anchor the furniture to the walls and prevent them from tipping or causing any major accidents.

Should I Buy Earthquake Insurance?

Earthquake insurance offers a coverage plan for the home in case any damage occurs due to an earthquake. According to Insurance Information Insurance, earthquake insurance is different from the standard homeowners or renters’ insurance. What’s covered in the earthquake insurance will depend on an individual policy. Generally, a residential earthquake insurance policy covers three major parts:

Dwelling coverage — Coverage to repair or rebuild a home.

Personal property coverage — Coverage to replace personal items like furniture.

Loss of use coverage — Coverage to help you live somewhere else or handle living expenses during ongoing repair for your damaged home.

In addition, earthquake insurance may include building upgrade coverage, which means you can rebuild your home at an increased cost to meet current building codes.

Pros of earthquake coverage

• If any damage is caused to the property, all the repair or rebuild costs will be covered through house owners’ insurance and you may not need to spend any cent from    your pocket. It will help you make your home livable without going into any debt.

• If you live in less prone areas, the cost is less so you won’t have to spend as much as homeowners living in high prone areas. It is always worth getting a quote for    insurance before you make any decision.

• For instance, if earthquake insurance is only $20 a month, then it is worth paying for peace of mind. You can get a monthly plan or reduce the yearly plan into    installments depending on what works for you or your policy terms.

Cons of earthquake insurance

There are many limitations of earthquake insurance, aside from cost.

• People living in high-risk areas have to pay more to get insurance coverage. You have to first decide if you can afford to fund any damages from your pocket or pay for    insurance.

• Regular deduction of the payments will be made on your regular home insurance policy. The insurance depends on the value of the home. It can vary depending on the    insurance policy.

Build Your Earthquake Resistant Custom Home with Element Homes

As modern luxury home builders at Element Homes we understand the pain and anguish of losing your dream home to a devastating earthquake. We offer superior quality construction that ensures your residential property is fully prepared and protected. We have a longstanding relationship with first-class architects and engineers — and work collaboratively to deliver spectacular custom home building services unique to each California client.

When building a custom home for our client, our design process includes investigating the surrounding area to help us understand the hazards a potential lot might be susceptible to. Our exceptional team focuses on the area’s groundwork, soil quality, and surrounding environment to make the best choice when designing and building your dream home.

We offer equal measures creativity, workmanship, and expertise — guaranteeing that your new house is not only aesthetically beautiful but constructed with extra stability and security in the case of an earthquake. Contact Element Homes luxury builder today to discuss your new-build ideas or get free estimates for your residential construction project.

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