Designing an Earthquake Proof Home

San Francisco is situated in earthquake country with two historic quakes that took place in 1906 and 1989. Innovative science and engineering bring more protections to our urban structures.

Grade 6 students have been studying the science of earthquakes and are getting ready to design earthquake proof houses.

Below is their assignment:

Congratulations! You have just been selected to design a new house or building in San Francisco. You have only $500 to spend on your new house or building. It must be at least 30 cm tall, be two stories and have weight (6 washers) at every level (2nd story, roof). Each story needs to be at least 15 cm tall. 

You will have the following materials to build from:

Brick (sugar cubes) $5

Metal Ties (pipe cleaners) $15.00

Wood (sticks or straws) $2.00

Marbles: $25

No cost: Glue-you will be given a specific amount.

Please include all of the following in this lab!

Identify Problem:


Draw and label your design ideas on a whiteboard, paper, or notability. Include pictures below.

After brainstorming your final design, answer these questions:

  1. List the materials that you will use in this design and how much they will cost.


  1. What do you think your house needs to withstand an earthquake?


  1. Why did you design your house the way you did?


  1. What do you predict will help it withstand the earthquake?


Engineering your house- Record your observations as you build.

Build, Test, Evaluate, Redesign

After building your final house:

Take pictures to explain why you created the design the way you did. Talk about each part of the structure.

  1. What did you change about your project’s original brainstormed design?
  2. What was challenging or difficult when building your home?
  3. How much money do you have left?


After using the shaking tables!

  1. What happened to your house in the earthquake? Explain
  2. What seismic wave caused the most damage?
  3. How would you design your home differently next time?

Share Solution

What did you learn?


Use the interior design app to build the inside of the house. Each lab partner will make their own. Please include:

  • Two story homes
  • Must have kitchen (with a stove, sink, and refrigerator). Where should a kitchen be?
  • Must have bathroom (with a bath, toilet, and sink). Where should a bathroom be?
  • Doors open logically
  • Windows carry light into the room
  • Must have at least one bedroom (that can hold a bed and a dresser)
  • Must have two house exits
  • Must have at least two closets
  • Stairway connects floors
  • A hallway connects rooms
  • Must have laundry room (with a washer and dryer). Where should a laundry room be?
  • Need to have storage for furnace and water heater
  • Room Size. How large is each room?


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