Rebuilding Safe, Satisfactory, and Sustainable Houses After Earthquakes

How to build earthquake-resistant houses <br />on a tight budget

Who: Dr. Elizabeth Hausler, earthquake-safe housing revolutionary
What: How to build earthquake-resistant housing for little or no extra money
What if: You could teach people how to make earthquake-safer housing… and then that just became the way people built?
The takeaway: Don’t cut corners, tie them together! And it doesn’t take much to make houses survive a quake: A little knowledge and sometimes a little money.
Revolutionary? Definitely.

Did you know that you can double the strength of a brick wall using nothing more than a bucket of water? Or that lightweight materials like wood, bamboo or lightweight steel can withstand an earthquake better than heavy materials like brick and stone?

Dr. Elizabeth Hausler knows — the daughter of a brickmason, she grew up building things. Now she’s a skilled brickmason herself and an earthquake engineer with a Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. From 2002 to 2003, she spent time in India’s quake-stricken state of Gujarat helping with the reconstruction as a Fulbright Scholar.

‘Earthquakes don’t kill people,’ Hausler says, ‘poorly built buildings do.’Hausler is also the founder and CEO of Build Change, a a nonprofit social enterprise that designs earthquake-resistant houses and teaches homeowners, builders, engineers and government officials how to build them.

“Over 70,000 people are living in safer homes because of our work,” Hausler says.

Key to her mission: a strongly held belief.

“Earthquakes don’t kill people,” Hausler says, “poorly built buildings do.”

Image from "Six Things" poster

Detail from a Build Change poster on how to build safer buildings. Click the image to download the PDF. (2.2mb)

Her organization has published a series of education posters. You can download one by clicking the image above, and the others are available on this Build Change web page (login required; registration is free and quick) that explain key safety measures any builder or designer can take to strengthen a house.

National Geographic has an excellent graphic on quake-safe housing construction. Click the image to visit their site.

The one that really blew us away: “If you soak the bricks in water before you build the wall, we’ve done some very simple experiments that show you can double the strength of the wall,” Hausler says. This is especially true in areas with inferior, more porous bricks, and in hot climates where the water in the mortar evaporates quickly — before it has a chance to form a solid bond.

The other five tips are more technical, but include how to tie columns and beams together correctly, and where not to use masonry (brick or stone) in the house.

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