With an average of 5,000 earthquakes reported in the United States each year, earthquakes are more common than you would expect, and it is often difficult to predict when they will strike. Most are usually too small to be noticed, but any of these small earthquakes have the potential to turn into a bigger one that could damage power lines, leaving areas without gas or electricity for an indeterminate amount of time. Although an earthquake can happen at any time, there are steps you can take to mitigate future earthquake damage to your real estate. Taking the time to do a home inspection and checking your furniture and equipment can go a long way to making sure your family is safe and prepared during and after an earthquake.
Securing your heavy items such as furniture or kitchen equipment is one of the first steps you should take to prepare for an earthquake. Tall and bulky items like bookcases, shelves, and storage racks could easily fall over and block an exit during an earthquake, or worse, trap you beneath them. The same could be applied to the appliances in your kitchen, where most of your heaviest equipment is housed in. Steel angle brackets can help anchor your heavy furniture to vertical wall studs, concrete, or masonry. It is important to keep in mind that the item needs to be fastened to the building structure itself and not just to a movable wall to ensure its stability; drywall, plaster, or other wall coverings usually are not strong enough to support heavy furniture during an earthquake. Another thing to remember is that the heavier the furniture, the stronger your restraints need to be to secure it, even if they may already appear to be stable. Hanging light fixtures and plants may be more difficult to get to and secure, as they must be anchored to the ceiling’s structural support. In these cases, calling a carpenter or an electrician can help ensure that they are safely and securely anchored.
Aside from anchoring your furniture to walls or ceiling, fastening and strapping your water heater is also extremely important, as it will prevent the water and gas lines from breaking. Not only will that ensure a source of water during an earthquake, but it will also reduce the potential risk of fire and water damage. This is also required in some areas and most contractors who install and service water heaters can also make sure it is properly braced as part of regular maintenance. Straps may become loose over time from vibrations caused by earthquakes, so it is crucial to replace the straps regularly.
A properly braced water heater should have two straps that wrap completely around the heater, screwed into the studs or masonry of the wall behind it. Making sure the tank is strapped correctly is also something to check for to prevent the tank from breaking through the strapping during an earthquake. Where the strapping is placed and the type of strapping used are big factors in determining how secure the tank will be. It is recommended to secure both the top and the bottom of the tank instead of only the top or the middle, and using heavy-gauge metal strapping instead of plumber’s tape can give the tank reliable support to ensure that it remains securely braced against the wall.
The next step to earthquake preparedness is securing all gas appliances. Although it is possible to manually shut off the natural gas in your home, specialized valves can shut it off automatically during an emergency. When an earthquake of a sufficient magnitude occurs, a seismic natural gas shut-off valve automatically turns off the gas service to stop the flow of gas and prevent accumulation. It is important to make sure the valve is installed correctly, and some states require the valve to be certified and installed by a licensed plumbing contractor.
Emergencies such as earthquakes can often be unpredictable and unprecedented even with preparation. However, taking measures to secure your furniture and strapping your water heater will make a difference in mitigating as much damage as possible, and installing fail safes such as automatic gas shut-off valves can help keep you and your family safe in the event of a disaster.