103 Seismic Performance of Wood Buildings

10.3.1 General

As noted above, wood frame structures tend to be mostly low rise (one to three stories, occasionally four stories). The following discussion of the seismic performance of wood buildings is drawn from several sources. In the next few paragraphs, we provide an overview of wood construction and performance drawn from FEMA 154 (1988), followed by a limited discussion of performance in specific earthquakes drawn from various sources.

Vertical framing may be of several types: stud wall, braced post and beam, or timber pole. Stud wall structures (''stick-built'') are by far the most common type of wood structure in the United States and are typically constructed of 2-in. by 4-in. nominal wood members vertically set about 16 in. apart. These walls are braced by plywood or by diagonals made of wood or steel. Most detached single and low-rise multiple family residences in the United States are of stud wall wood frame construction. Post-and-beam construction is not very common and is found mostly in older buildings. These buildings usually are not residential, but are larger buildings such as warehouses, churches, and theaters. This type of construction consists of larger rectangular (6 in. by 6 in. and larger) or sometimes round wood columns framed together with large wood beams or trusses.

Stud wall buildings have performed well in past earthquakes due to inherent qualities of the structural system and because they are lightweight and low rise. Cracks in the plaster and stucco (if any) may appear, but these seldom degrade the strength of the building and are therefore classified as nonstructural damage. In fact, this type of damage dissipates a lot of the earthquake-induced energy. The most common type of structural damage in older buildings results from a lack of connection between the superstructure and the foundation. Houses can slide off their foundations if they are not properly bolted to the foundation, resulting in major damage to the building as well as to plumbing and electrical connections. Overturning of the entire structure is usually not a problem because of the low-rise geometry. In many municipalities, modern codes require wood structures to be bolted to their foundations. However, the year that this practice was adopted will differ from community to community and should be checked.

Another problem in older buildings is the stability of cripple walls. Cripple walls are short stud walls between the foundation and the first floor level (Figure 10.4). Often these have no bracing and thus may collapse when subjected to lateral earthquake loading (Figure 10.5). If the cripple walls collapse, the house will sustain considerable damage and may also collapse. This type of construction is generally found in older homes. Plywood sheathing nailed to the cripple studs may have been used to strengthen the cripple walls.

Garages often have a very large door opening in one wall with little or no bracing. This wall has almost no resistance to lateral forces, which is a problem if a heavy load such as a second story sits on top of the garage. Homes built over garages have sustained significant amounts of damage in past earthquakes, with many collapses. Therefore the house-over-garage configuration, which is found commonly in low-rise apartment complexes and some newer suburban detached dwellings, should be examined more carefully and perhaps strengthened.

10.3.2 1971 San Fernando Earthquake, California

The San Fernando Earthquake occurred on February 9, 1971 and measured 6.6 on the Richter scale. The following commentary is excerpted from Yancey et al. (1998):

There were approximately 300,000 wood-frame dwellings in the San Fernando Valley of which about 5% were located in the region of heaviest shaking (Steinbrugge et al. 1971). A survey of

First floor

First floor

FIGURE 10.4 Cripple wall (courtesy of Benuska, L., Ed. 1990. Earthquake Spectra, 6 [Suppl.]).
FIGURE 10.5 Houses damaged due to cripple wall failure, 1983 Coalinga Earthquake (courtesy of EQE International).

12,000 single-family wood-frame houses was conducted by the Pacific Fire Rating Bureau (Steinbrugge et al. 1971). Most of the dwellings were constructed within the two decades prior to the earthquake. Typical types of foundations were either slab on-grade or continuous concrete foundation around the perimeter with concrete piers in the interior, with the former being more common. The majority of the houses were single-story. The survey showed that within the region of most intense shaking, 25% of the wood-frame dwellings sustained losses greater than 5% of the dwelling's value, with the remainder sustaining smaller losses. The number of houses with damage above the 5% threshold is equivalent to 1% of all the wood-frame dwellings in the San Fernando Valley.

10.3.3 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, California

The Loma Prieta Earthquake occurred on October 17, 1989, in the San Francisco Bay region and measured 7.1 on the Richter scale (Lew 1990). The following general observation and commentary are excerpted from Yancey et al. (1998):

Property damage was estimated at over $6 billion and over 12,000 people were displaced from their homes. A survey of the damage to wood-framed structures was conducted by a group of three engineers from the American Plywood Association (APA) (Tissell 1990). Their main findings were

1. Damage was caused by failure of cripple walls. The failures of cripple walls were the result of inadequate nailing of plywood sheathing. When adequate nailing was provided, no failure was observed.

2. Lack of connection between the major framing members and the foundation was the cause of failure of two severely damaged houses.

3. Damage caused by soft stories was observed in the Marina District. The phenomenon of soft stories, first observed in this earthquake, results from garage door or large openings on the ground floor of apartment buildings and houses that reduce the lateral resistance of that story. The reduced lateral resistance causes severe racking to occur or increases lateral instability.

4. Chimney damage was common. Chimneys were typically unreinforced and not sufficiently tied to the structure.

5. Upward ground movements caused doors to be jammed and damage to basement floors.

6. Post-supported buildings were damaged because of inadequate connections of the floor to the post foundation and unequal stiffnesses of the posts due to unequal heights. Houses where the poles were diagonally braced were not damaged.

A particularly noteworthy concentration of damage was in the Marina section of San Francisco, where seven 1920s-era three- to five-story apartment buildings collapsed, and many were severely damaged (Figure 10.6). The excessive damage was due in large part to the man-made fill in the Marina, which liquefied and greatly increased ground motion accelerations and displacements during the shaking. However, the primary cause of the collapse was the soft-story nature of the buildings, due to required off-street parking. The buildings lacked adequate lateral-force-resisting systems and literally were a ''house of cards.''

10.3.4 1994 Northridge Earthquake, California

An earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 struck the Northridge community in the San Fernando Valley on January 17, 1994. The effects of this earthquake were felt over the entire Los Angeles region. Approximately 65,000 residential buildings were damaged with 50,000 of those being single-family houses (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 1995). The estimated damage based on insurance payouts was over $10 billion (Holmes and Somers 1996) for single- and multifamily residences.

City and county building inspectors estimated that 82% of all structures rendered uninhabitable by the earthquake were residential. Of these, 77% were apartments and condominiums, and the remaining 23% were single-family dwellings. A week after the earthquake, approximately 14,600 dwelling units were deemed uninhabitable (red or yellow tagged). Severe structural damage to residences was found as far away as the Santa Clarita Valley to the north, south-central Los Angeles to the south, Azusa to the east, and eastern Ventura County to the west. Multifamily Dwellings

Particularly vulnerable were low-rise, multistory, wood-frame apartment structures with a soft (very flexible) first story and an absence of plywood shear walls. The soft first-story condition was most apparent in buildings with parking garages at the first-floor level (Figure 10.7). Such buildings, with large, often continuous, openings for parking, did not have enough wall area and strength to withstand

FIGURE 10.6 Collapsed apartment buildings in Marina district of San Francisco, 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake (courtesy of EQE International).
FIGURE 10.7 Typical soft story ''tuck-under'' parking, with apartments above (courtesy of EQE International).

the earthquake forces. The lack of first-floor stiffness and strength led to collapse of the first floor of many structures throughout the valley. The main reason for failure was the lack of adequate bracing, such as plywood shear walls. Most older wood-frame structures had poor if any seismic designs and resisted lateral forces with stucco, plaster, and gypsum board wall paneling and diagonal let-in bracing. Single-Family Dwellings

Widespread damage to unbolted houses and to older houses with cripple-stud foundations occurred. Newer houses on slab-on-grade foundations were severely damaged because they were inadequately anchored. Two-story houses without any plywood sheathing typically had extensive cracking of interior sheetrock, particularly on the second floor. Nine hillside houses built on stilts in Sherman Oaks collapsed. All but one of the homes were constructed in the 1960s — predating the major building code revisions made after the 1971 San Fernando Earthquake.

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