Is Your Property Quake-Ready?

We all know that the Bay Area is earthquake country. Yet according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), fewer than 10 percent of households have a disaster plan, disaster supply kits or have taken steps to retrofit their homes.

Use your head

One of the cheapest ways to make your home safe in the event of a quake is to simply take a look around your living areas. Does heavy furniture like bookcases loom over your bed? Is that heavily-framed portrait of grandpa dangling over the couch?

Making your home a safer place during an earthquake may be a matter of shifting your décor around. Most local residents are familiar with the strapping systems that come with furniture these days. Perhaps now is the time to actually use those straps to keep the entertainment center or the hutch in place before the ground begins shaking. Make sure securing straps are mounted in wall studs and not just the drywall. And for those heavy art items, mirrors and such, make sure they are secure on a closed hook. It is also a good idea to make sure that exits are clear of clutter.

For items like dishes or collectibles, there is a double danger: that your items may break, and or become harmful projectiles. Applications of earthquake putty or gel, or museum wax can be applied to shelves and objects without marring either.

For cabinet doors, especially ones overhead, use childproof latches or latches designed for boating. That way, a quiver in the ground won’t send a fleet of flying saucers around the kitchen.

Don’t forget, more than half the injuries sustained in earthquakes are not from collapsing structures, but from falling televisions, mirrors and framed pictures, according to a USGS study.

Check the garage as well to be certain that a quake won’t cause a spill of toxic or flammable materials, or that your tool shelf won’t fall behind your vehicle, making exit difficult.

Strap that tank

Water heaters also need to be strapped to the wall, according to building codes. Not only can a toppled water heater be a fire hazard, especially if you have a gas heater, water can damage property as well. Water heater strapping kits are available at any hardware store and install fairly easily. The tank must be strapped to wall studs or masonry with metal straps and lag screws.

These are some of the free or inexpensive ways of securing your house before the ground starts shaking.


There are also plenty of other matters to attend to by certified contractors. These include installing flexible water and gas lines that have some give in them (especially connectors to gas and water appliances). All rigid pipes to appliances should be replaced because appliances will shift during a quake, possibly breaking gas and water lines. All rusted or worn pipes in the house should also be replaced to avoid breakage.


The sill plate of your house should be bolted to the foundation. Plywood sheers should be nailed to the studs, extending from the sill plate at the bottom to the floor joist above.

The sheering will prevent the studs from collapsing. Rim joists should be secured to the top plates with metal brackets. The combination of these three items will make your house more structurally sound. A contractor will know how many bolts and how many square feet of plywood are needed.

Plan ahead

These modifications should only be one step toward a total emergency plan in your household. Emergency kits including water, food, flashlights and so forth should be on hand, as well as a communication scheme for family members to get in touch if separated at the time of a disaster, and a safe place to meet following an earthquake. A little preparation beforehand can save a lot of misery — emotional and financial — when the big one hits.

Contact Eric Turowski at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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