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City of Portland Unreinforced Masonry Building Policy Proposal

November 17, 2017
Hugh Holtman | Senior Advisor

On November 8, 2017, the City of Portland issued a draft of Unreinforced Masonry (URM) Building Policy Report. The preliminary report estimates that it will cost  from $20 to $112 per SF of gross building area, based on the extent of retrofitting required for building that require retrofitting. If passed, this could have a major impact on property owners. While incentives are being considered by the City of Portland, most owners say the available incentives aren't close to covering the costs.


In an earthquake, unreinforced masonry (URM) buildings pose a life-safety risk to building occupants and people nearby. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), “More than any other kind of construction, they can be singled out as being seismically vulnerable.” 

Masonry walls are heavy and brittle, while wooden ceilings and floors are light and flexible. When the ground shakes, the roof and floors pull away from URM building walls, which crack and crumble. Typical earthquake damage to URM buildings includes the collapse of the walls, roofs, and upper floors. Mortar weakens with age, so the risks increase in older buildings. With even light shaking, chimneys, parapets, and architectural ornaments may break off and fall. It is for these reasons that URM buildings pose a great risk for human injury, property damage, and loss of economic use after an earthquake.

Possible Solution:

One of the most cost effective methods of retrofitting an existing building is to use urethane foam. This method only requires a small hole to inject the foam, leaving the rest of your building’s walls intact. In addition, urethane foam has highly effective insulation properties that are resistant to heat loss and can help you save on energy costs in the long run. In addition, pests should not be a problem as rodents are unable to use the foam as nesting materials or food.

Other retrofitting procedures involve far more invasive and expensive requirements, such as adding metal stud walls in front of existing ones or breaking down walls entirely.

To find out more information about the proposed policy or if you would like to discuss the best way to protect your investments, please contact Hugh Holtman at 503.208.9393 or

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