If you live in an earthquake-prone area, it’s probably a question you’ve heard before…and one that might give you a panic attack. There are ways, though, to prepare for the next temblor, better protect you and your family, and calm your nerves a bit.
Creating an earthquake action plan in case disaster strikes is your first line of defense. It’s also crucial to strengthen your home ahead of time, so it’s less vulnerable when a quake hits.
Also known as “seismic retrofitting,” reinforcing your home’s structure ensures that the foundation, floor, and walls are fastened together and bolted down, from below the ground up, better protecting it from earthquakes. Work with a licensed contractor or an engineer to reinforce your home’s structure, rather than trying to do it yourself.
Here are three common types of retrofits you can ask your contractor about:
Repairing and Straping & Bolting the foundation
Ask yourself: If an earthquake struck today, is my home’s foundation solid enough to withstand a heavy beating? Keep in mind older homes are especially in danger of frail or cracked foundations.
Seismic retrofitting starts with repairing a weak foundation so it’s more stable, secure, and resistant to damage from earthquakes.
It’s also important to ask your contractor if your home is properly bolted to its foundation. Foundation bolting attaches your home’s wood frame to the foundation with anchor bolts and metal plates.
Bracing the cripple walls
Another smart upgrade involves adding plywood sheathing to shore up the cripple wall or the short wood wall, which extends from the foundation to beneath the floor of the house. If the cripple wall is not stiff enough, it can literally cripple your main floor, which can buckle under the pressure of an earthquake.
Bracing un-reinforced chimneys and walls
Some older homes have walls or chimneys made of brick or other masonry, which aren’t braced securely. During an earthquake, they can crumble or crash into your home. A licensed contractor or engineer can inspect your chimney and recommend any repairs.
An earthquake can hit your home with force enough to simply rattle your glass wear, or strike with devastating results, completely destroying your home. Without proper preparation or earthquake insurance (if available in your area), a powerful quake can leave you with a massive repair bill or even worse, without a roof over your head. Contractor and retrofitting costs can add up, but if you live in an earthquake zone, it pays to be prepared, as your home is more likely to ride out an earthquake with less damage.
You can also take some smart precautions around the house to make it more earthquake-resistant. Lock down or anchor anything that’s likely to fall and crash when a quake hits, such as bookcases, drawers, appliances, electronics, and valuables. And remember, most homeowner’s policies do not cover earthquake damage. Speak to a licensed agent for more information on earthquake insurance.
Purchase an automatic gas shut off value.
Some cities and counties have regulations that require the installation of automatic gas shutoff devices, which may include excess flow gas shutoff valves and/or earthquake actuated gas shutoff valves. Regulations vary, but generally apply to new building construction, or significant alterations or additions to existing buildings. Check with your local city or county agency to see if regulations apply in your area.
If a customer installs an excess flow gas shutoff valve or earthquake actuated gas shutoff valve, it should be one that is certified by the State of California and it should be installed by a licensed plumbing contractor in accordance to the manufacturers instructions.
In the event that a gas service shutoff valve or an automatic gas shutoff device is closed, there may be a considerable delay before service can be turned on, but do not turn it on yourself. Your gas company or another qualified professional should perform a safety check, restore gas service, and relight any appliance pilots, even if the closure was not caused by an earthquake.