Preparing your Home for Earthquakes – Part 2

According to a UCLA study, the majority of the injuries from the damaging 1994 Northridge Earthquake were from heavy furniture and household objects falling on people. In addition to the structural tips presented in Part 1, there are many things you can do in and around your home to protect yourself and your belongings in the event of a seismic catastrophe.


Flexible Connectors – During an earthquake, rigid gas and water lines can be damaged or torn from their points of connection. Broken gas lines are especially dangerous because of the potential for fire or even an explosion.


The best way to avoid damaged gas and water lines is to install flexible connectors between the appliance and its supply line. These appliances can include gas dryers, stoves, furnaces and ovens, propane tanks, hot water heaters, hot tubs, sinks and toilets.


Water heaters – Ground tremors caused by an earthquake can destabilize an unsecured water heater and cause it to tip over. The size and immense weight of the heater, and especially the water contained within, can easily damage its surroundings on impact.


An even greater concern than physical and water damage is the secondary risk of fire. A falling water heater can rupture its gas supply line, leaking combustible gas into the air. The small pilot flame of the water heater itself could ignite the released gas, triggering a fire that rapidly spreads and consumes the surrounding structure.


To prevent a water heater from falling over, at least two straps should be installed around the water heater and secured to the wall behind it, preferably to the wood framing in the wall. The straps should be located in the upper third and lower third of the water heater and depending on the size of the tank, should be in the vicinity of 1 ½ inches in height.


Propane tanks – During earthquakes, propane tanks and gas cylinders can break free of their supporting legs. As we learned with gas fired water heaters, propane tanks with ruptured gas supply lines have the potential to create fire hazards from gas leaks.


A proven way to limit damage to propane tanks and gas cylinders is to limit their ability to move. Gas cylinders can be chained to a wall. Large, stationary propane tanks should be bolted to a concrete pad. Propane tanks that rest on a metal frame or legs should employ cross bracing.


Clear the area around the tank of objects that could fall and rupture the tank or its gas supply line.


Shut offs – Know in advance where the shut off valves for the gas and water supply lines are. Know where your electrical panel and if it should have one, where the main breaker is.


Appliances – At first glance, major appliances such as ovens, dishwashers, refrigerators and microwave ovens can all appear to be stationary items, but looks can be misleading. Any one of these items if not properly secured can move during an earthquake. Just imagine the noise and damage a large, overhead microwave oven would make if it slid out of position and fell to the floor.


Make sure overhead microwave ovens are securely bolted in place. Ovens and refrigerators can be chained to the wall behind. Dishwashers can be secured to the countertop it sits under or to the walls of the cabinets on either side.


Cabinets – During earthquakes, drawers and cabinet doors can open and the stored materials can spill out and damage floors and floor coverings. Objects that fall from overhead cabinets can injure you or members of your family.


To prevent the accidental opening of drawers and cabinet doors install latches such as barrel bolts or safety hasps. Heavy, spring-loaded latches are advised, especially for cabinets containing valuable dishes. Often times, even inexpensive babyproof catches can keep cabinet doors closed during an earthquake.


Don’t forget medicine cabinets where prescription medicine could fall on the floor and mix, producing a toxic combination.


Heavy Furniture – Large pieces of furniture such as tall bookcases and file cabinets can fall on you or members of your family. Toppled furniture can also block exits and prevent you from escaping.


Avoid this by strapping bookcases and shelves to the walls to prevent tipping. It is best to secure these units to the wall studs when possible.


Line your shelves with nonskid shelf padding and relocate heavy, breakable or valuable items to the lower shelves.


Picture Frames and Mirrors – During an earthquake, framed pictures and mirrors that are not securely attached to walls can easily fall. Large pictures and mirrors can cause injuries when they fall, and the broken glass that often results increases the potential for injury.


Anchor heavy mirrors and pictures over chairs, and couches with wire through eye screws into studs. Make sure that eye-hooks penetrate not just the wall but the studs behind it as well. Eye-hooks embedded only in drywall or plaster, are likely to pull out.


Do not hang heavy objects over places you spend time such as couches in your living room, desks in your home office, or the table in your dining room.


Electronics – Tremors caused by even minor earthquakes can easily move personal computer systems, stereo systems, television sets, and other small appliances that typically sit on desks, tables, and countertops.


If they fall, they can be damaged beyond repair. Televisions, computers and other electrical components can be secured using a variety of methods: Chains, cables, bungee cords or Velcro.


Beds – Considering that a third of your life is spent in bed avoid hanging heavy objects over your beds. Lie down on your bed and look around for items that could fall on you during an earthquake.


Secure those items that might endanger your life including falling headboards. Then do the same for the beds where other members of your family sleep, particularly small children.


Secure ceiling fans, pendant lighting and other hanging lighting fixtures. Locate beds away from windows wherever possible.


Chimneys – Chimneys collapse by the hundreds during major earthquakes as most not reinforced when they are built. Most often, chimneys break at the roof line and the taller the chimney, the more likely it is to fall through the roof and into your house.


If anyone can be killed or injured by a falling chimney, consider taking it down. Prefabricated metal chimneys can be attached to an existing brick firebox so that no brick projects above the roof line.


Mantel pieces above the fireplace can be very attractive, but very heavy when they fail. Install the lightest-weight material you can.


Wood stoves resting on brick or concrete hearths should be bolted to the hearths. Secure the stovepipe to the flue and tie together each of the stovepipe segments.


Flammable Liquids – Store weed killers, pesticides, and flammable products securely away from your house in closed cabinets with latches on the bottom shelves.


Trees – Prune trees and limbs that are close to the house to avoid damage from falling debris.