Vacation Home Dilemma

Photo Source: Randy Jibson, USGS

What do you do when you own a vacant lot with a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California? You build a vacation home, of course, but there’s always a complication or two with coastal properties and sometimes it pays to call in an expert at the start of the process.

We were recently asked to provide structural engineering and waste disposal design engineering services for a vacant property in La Conchita on the scenic coast between Ventura and Santa Barbara. The client wanted to construct a vacation rental home, consisting of a garage on the first floor and a pre-manufactured home on the second floor and unless you are familiar with the location you might wonder why?

The scenic La Conchita area is geologically unstable. The property is an area that has experienced significant landslides within recent memory. In 2005, a major landslide killed 10 people and damaged more than 20 homes. This slide, which was a continuation of one that occurred in 1995, is part of a massive slide complex that began thousands of years ago and will continue to move and threaten homes in the future.

The geotechnical report for the project recommended that the uphill side of the property be protected from mudslides by designing and constructing a debris impact wall to prevent mudflows up to 4-feet deep from affecting the proposed home. Helfrich-Associates prepared the wall design to withstand the expected debris impact and divert the mudflow into the street and alley on two sides of the property.

Photo Source: Wikipedia: ANTANDRUS

Helfrich-Associates also designed the on-site septic system for the property. We evaluated several on-site treatment options, and consulted with local Health Department officials and local septic system contractors for best-practices that could be applied to this very small lot with less than ideal percolation characteristics. Our proposed system forced the design of the home to be two-story, with second floor decks that are supported entirely on the building, without the need for support posts that would inhibit the septic system’s performance.


The design of the garage foundations and walls was performed by our engineers to support the manufactured home as the second floor. Close coordination between our engineers and the manufactured home engineers has been essential to success of the project. The project was successfully completed and the vacation home rental is in use today.

This project is a good example of the diverse scope of services and complex situational experiences that Helfrich-Associates can offer to our clients. We’ve completed multiple California coastal home construction and renovation projects over the past two decades, and each one was unique in one aspect or another.

Do you have a vacation home dilemma? Contact us and we’ll help you get a handle on it. Since 1995, Helfrich Associates provides engineering and construction consulting services in California, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, and Utah. Our team of experts fills a missing service niche in the engineering market: a diverse team of professionals available through one company. 

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