Easy First Steps to Earthquake-Proof Your Home
By Teo Spengler
You may be closer to an earthquake than you think. Residents of the San Francisco Bay Area live under the shadow of “the Big One” day after day, year after year. Homeowners there understand the need for earthquake retrofits and either have done them already or are in the process of doing them.
But living in other areas doesn’t guarantee you an earthquake-free existence. Experts warn that homeowners in dozens of states are at risk for earthquakes. So, it’s a good idea anywhere to take steps to earthquake-proof your home.
Hire an Expert for an Inspection
Everybody knows that, in an earthquake, there’s a whole lot of shaking going on. The seismic energy at work can be lateral forces that shake your home side to side and back and forth, weakening the frame and causing the house to slide. It can also be uplift forces, shaking your home vertically and lifting it off the foundation.
These diverse forces impact buildings differently depending on their height and structure as well as seismic improvements already in place. Before you jump into a seismic retrofit project, find a retrofit specialist to inspect your home. You’ll receive an analysis of the type of seismic work required to make it earthquake-resistant.
Anchor the Foundation
Building codes in earthquake-prone areas grow more stringent every year, requiring builders to construct earthquake-proof, or at least earthquake-resistant, buildings. The key to this type of construction is a strong, integrated structural framework. This helps the building ride out an earthquake by transferring the seismic shaking from the house frame to its foundation.
To add this protection to an existing home, do a seismic retrofit that reinforces the most important connections in your home. A critical first step is to bolt the home to its foundation, securing the sill plate (which supports the floor and walls studs) to foundation slabs. This limits earthquake damage by preventing the house frame from sliding or jumping off the foundation. Hire a licensed specialist to undertake this important work.
Install Seismic Shut-Off Valves
If you’ve read about the great earthquake that destroyed much of San Francisco in 1906, you know that while a few buildings collapsed from the shaking, many more burned to the ground in the gas fire that followed. An earthquake twists and ruptures gas pipes, so any nearby flame is enough to kindle destruction.
One important step you can take toward an earthquake-proof home is to install an earthquake-activated shut-off valve on the primary gas line into your home. At the first sign of a tremblor, the gas shuts off.
Secure Water Heater and Tall Objects
When an earthquake hits, even the most earthquake-resistant buildings shake. When large objects in your home fall, they can cause damage. Fortunately, there are steps you can take at minimal cost to prevent this.
Look first to your water heater. You don’t want it to fall in a quake. Not only is it filled with water that may spill out and damage your property, but it’s also connected to the gas line. If the water heater’s pilot light ignites the gas or flammable objects, your home can burn. To earthquake-proof your home, fasten the water heater to wall studs with heavy-gauge metal strapping. Secure the straps on both the top and the bottom of the heater.
At the same time, secure other furnishings and heavy objects that could fall in a quake. Anchor bookshelves, filing cabinets and large-screen televisions to wall studs. Museum putty at the corner brackets of loose shelving will anchor them down. Attach blocking devices on the lips of shelves to prevent books from cascading out, then install latches on cabinet doors to keep your things inside when shaking starts.
Temblors are a fact of life for homeowners in earthquake country. But as Dr. Robert Butler, Ph.D., a professor of Geophysics at the University of Portland, has noted: “Earthquakes don’t kill people. Buildings that collapse from earthquake ground-shaking kill people.” You can protect your home and family by taking steps today toward making your house an earthquake-proof home.
About the Author
Writer, novelist, attorney and world traveler, Spengler has published thousands of online articles including on many topics, including travel, law and the outdoor world. She holds an M.A. in English, a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley, and splits her time between San Francisco and France’s Basque Country.