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Earthquake Soft-Story Retrofit Grant Program

What is ESS?

Earthquake Soft-Story (ESS) is a pilot grant program that provides eligible California homeowners up to $13,000 toward a seismic retrofit for homes with a living space above the garage, also known as a "soft story." The California Residential Mitigation Program (CRMP) is providing these grants to incentivize homeowners to complete a retrofit if their house has this soft-story vulnerability.

Funding for ESS is provided through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program, administered by the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), and managed by CRMP.

How It’s Done – FEMA-P1100 Construction Plan Set

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) created FEMA-P1100, a pre-engineered set of construction documents that provide details for contractors to complete the soft-story seismic retrofit, in many cases without requiring additional input from an engineer or architect. Your ESS retrofit must be in accordance with FEMA P-1100. CRMP makes this approved plan set available to contractors, provides contractor training and ESS program support to make the process as easy and cost effective as possible.

There may be situations where an engineer will still need to be consulted. Contractors should first determine if the FEMA P-1100 plan set can be used to seismically retrofit a house before recommending an engineered solution.

The ESS Retrofit

For homes with a living space over the garage, also known as a "soft story," the ESS retrofit strengthens the garage walls and structure, including the walls on either side of the garage door. This helps prevent the living space over the garage from collapsing into the garage during an earthquake.

How the ESS program works

Homeowners who meet certain criteria, such as their house being located in an ESS program area and having been built prior to 2000, may register for the opportunity to receive a grant of up to $13,000, to help them pay for a soft-story retrofit.

aerial view of street with living space over garage

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ESS Program Rules

In order to participate in the Earthquake Soft-Story program, homeowners, contractors, and design professionals are required to agree to and follow the ESS Program Rules.


Eligible homeowners can submit their application for the ESS pilot program when registration is open. Registration is a simple process of answering qualifying questions.

ESS Program FAQs

Q. What is the Earthquake Soft-Story program?
A. The Earthquake Soft-Story (ESS) program provides participants who own and occupy a qualifying house with a soft-story vulnerability (a living space built over a garage), and who qualify for the ESS program, an incentive grant to reimburse up to 75% of the total cost of the retrofit, up to $13k to assist in obtaining a seismic retrofit performed in accordance with FEMA P-1100.
Q. What is an ESS retrofit?

A. An ESS seismic retrofit strengthens an older house (pre-2000), making it more resistant to earthquake damage caused by ground shaking and soil failure. The seismic retrofitting required for ESS is performed in accordance with FEMA P-1100 (seismic retrofit construction plan set) and directly addresses the vulnerabilities by:

  • Strengthening the walls at the garage door or any other large openings with plywood or other strengthening elements including steel columns or proprietary shear elements;
  • Bracing the perimeter walls of the lowest story and, if there is a crawl space, the cripple walls must also be braced; and
  • Bolting the house to its foundation.

The ESS retrofit may require new reinforced concrete foundations at some or all of the existing perimeter and interior bearing walls. Strengthening the garage door may involve installation of steel columns or proprietary shear elements.

Q. Do I need to hire an engineer to do my ESS retrofit?
A. There may be instances when an engineer will need to be consulted. However, the ESS program provides the use of FEMA P-1100 plan sets for compliant soft-story retrofit work, in many cases, without requiring input from an engineer or architect. Contractors should first determine if the FEMA P-1100 plan set can be used to seismically retrofit a house before seeking an engineered solution.
Q. What do I need to do to receive an earthquake retrofit grant if I live in a Special Flood Hazard Area?

A. For properties located in a FEMA-designated Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), receiving a FEMA-funded earthquake retrofit grant of $5,000 or more, FEMA requires compliance with the National Flood Insurance Program regulations. Because CRMP's Earthquake Soft-Story (ESS) grants, and some Earthquake Brace + Bolt (EBB) grants are FEMA-funded grants, affected program participants must comply with these regulations.

To comply with these FEMA regulations, EBB and ESS grant recipients, when the grant amount is $5,000 or more and their house is located in a SFHA, must maintain flood insurance on the property and provide proof of coverage to CRMP. Additionally, grant recipients must complete, notarize, and record the “Acknowledgement of Conditions for Mitigation of Property in a Special Flood Hazard Area with FEMA Grant Funds” Form. 

The completed Form must be:

1. Notarized by a notary of the homeowner's choosing;

2. Recorded with the applicable County Recording Office; and,

3. Proof of the recorded document must be uploaded to CRMP through the Homeowner Dashboard to receive authorization to proceed with a retrofit and to receive grant funding.


Q. What is FEMA P-1100?
A. FEMA P-1100 is a prescriptive, pre-engineered set of plans that can be adapted to retrofit crawlspace dwelling cripple walls, living space over garage dwelling, and ground story bracing walls.
Q. What are “Prescriptive Standards”?
A. The prescriptive provision or plan set is a "blueprint" version of a prescriptive ("cookbook") standard for strengthening homes to better withstand earthquake shaking. When approved by the local building official, the plan set may be used to strengthen older homes without the need for costly site-specific plans and design calculations. This plan set provides a low-cost method to help improve an older home's chances of surviving an earthquake.  FEMA P-1100 is an example of a prescriptive standard.
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