Their job is preparing homes for the ‘Big One’ in NW

  • By Victor Balta / Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, April 19, 2006 9:00pm
  • Life

T hree major earthquakes have hit the Puget Sound area in the past 100 years.

Such a frequency might lead folks to do anything they could to protect their property before the next one strikes.

But the opposite is true.

Sound Seismic

24 Smith St Seattle 206-352-5644

“That’s one of the challenges we’ve had,” said Erik Jackson, who owns Seattle-based Sound Seismic, a company that specializes in retrofitting homes. “People tell us, ‘My insurance agent says I need to have this (retrofit), but this house has been through three major earthquakes.

“It’s tough to be polite and say, ‘Yes, we’ve gone through three earthquakes, but they’re much different than what we’re expecting to go through in the future.”

The difficulty for Jackson is that he risks giving off an appearance of advocating a safety measure that, in the end, makes him money. And it’s position in which he’ll find himself this weekend at the Everett Home and Garden Show.

“Ultimately, we’re in the business of selling retrofits,” he said. “But we really want to use the opportunity to educate people.”

Jackson said the Bainbridge fault, which goes through Everett, and the Seattle fault, which runs under I-90, are expected to create more violent earthquakes that move more quickly, side to side and up and down, than past quakes in the area.

“Unfortunately, that’s when we’re going to see the damage from an earthquake,” he said. “Our booth (at the home show) is, in a nonselling way, as much as possible, just trying to educate folks on the fact that we have a real susceptibility to earthquakes.”

Jackson, 42, started his business with his brother, Leif Jackson, seven years ago after they’d both worked for a high-end remodeling company in Seattle.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency had come to Seattle in 1998 to teach contractors about earthquake retrofitting, and Jackson was working on a proposal to start a retrofitting division for his employer at the time. Before long, he figured he could do it on his own and brought his brother with him.

They started Jackson Remodeling, which does home remodels. But they also registered Sound Seismic as a trade name, and they stress the importance of retrofitting when they come upon a new remodeling project.

“I can give you a really great kitchen,” Jackson said. “But rather than just have a really expensive kitchen, I want to keep it on the foundation and not have it (end up) out in the middle of the street.”

The retrofitting process involves effectively securing the house to the foundation using strategically placed bolts and braces. Sound Seismic almost always uses a structural engineer to design plans that are specific to the home.

Technological advancements in both researching earthquakes and developing engineering and materials has brought the retrofitting industry a long way in recent years.

“Some people still think, ‘Oh, I’ll just put a bolt in every six feet and I’m going to be fine,” Jackson said. “Now retrofitting has gotten much more advanced as we’re trying to protect against more different types of movement.”

But is doesn’t come cheap.

Jackson said the average cost of projects his company has done is between $5,000 and $8,000. That’s a steep price tag, especially when the new kitchen is so darn pretty compared to some huge bolts and braces in your crawl space or basement. But it could save much more.

“You wouldn’t do it to make the house more appealing to a potential buyer,” Jackson said. “We find that folks who retrofit, they recognize the house is their single greatest source of wealth and they want to protect that. And they’re also doing it to protect the loved ones that are inside.”

Reporter Victor Balta: 425-339-3455 or

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