Danger lies in ‘soft-story’ homes

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Q: I have a den above a garage in a soft-story house. I am considering a floor-to-ceiling bookcase and a baby grand piano. The piano will weigh 800 to 1,000 pounds. As for a wall of books, I have no idea how much that would weigh. Do you see the need for some kind of reinforcement so it won't sag the floor, etc.? A: Putting that much extra weight in the den will stress the framing below, especially on a soft-story structure, which has ground-floor space located where a wall might otherwise be. This makes the building's frame prone to twisting and buckling in an earthquake. Beefing up the floor joists is a must. You should also install shear panels on the garage walls to provide additional lateral support in the event of an earthquake. The piano and the books will make the garage section even more top-heavy. Installing shear walls on these walls will give it the best chance to survive a tremor of moderate to severe magnitude. Your first step is to head down to the local build...