Though a large earthquake can prove catastrophic to life and property, even relatively minor tremors may compromise the structural integrity of a home, resulting in large repair costs. A team of engineers based at California's Stanford University has developed a new method of building earthquake-resistant homes that could be implemented relatively easily and inexpensively.

The Stanford engineers built a small two-story home model that features what they refer to as a "unibody" design. Rather than screwing drywall to the home's wooden frame, it was attached with glue, while strong mesh and additional screws were used to attach and keep the white stucco facade safely in place.

More significantly however, the home was not placed on a standard foundation, but on "seismic isolators." The seismic isolators comprise 12 steel-and-plastic sliders, each measuring around 11.4 cm (4.5 in) in diameter, and plates and bowl-shaped dishes made of galvanized steel were placed beneath.

The prototype model home was tested on an earthquake simulator that essentially acts as a large shaking table. Though unable to give a Richter scale reading, the engineers report that they shook the table at three times the intensity of a 6.9 magnitude quake. Thanks to the seismic isolators, the house slid harmlessly from left to right, but took no damage. Indeed, it wasn't until the researchers turned up the earthquake simulator up to maximum that the building displayed significant damage.

Of course, the principle of seismic isolators isn't new, and they are already used to protect some larger structures, like San Francisco International Airport for example. However, the significance of the Stanford research lies in its inexpensiveness and ease of installation. The researchers report that their system would only add around US$15,000 to the total cost of a typical 185 sq m (2,000 sq ft) full-sized house.

Though retrofitting the earthquake-resistant technology to an existing home is possible, the researchers say that a new build would be much easier and only take contractors roughly four additional days to install.

The video below shows the model home being tested.

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