We live with the threat of “the big one” on the horizon, so it’s always a good time to revisit how prepared you are for an earthquake. Though a huge shaker will cause inevitable damage, there are a few fundamental things—some more expensive than others—you can do as a homeowner to minimize damage that can happen in a large earthquake.
Here are five excellent ways to safeguard your home against major damage:
1. Make sure your gas shutoff valve is operable. Gas leaks can occur as a result of an earthquake, which can lead to fire. Locate your gas meter and find your shutoff valve. Make sure you have a wrench nearby so you can turn that valve off. I discovered last week that my shutoff valve was frozen, so I had PG&E come out and they replaced the valve. I wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of smelling gas after an earthquake and not being able to do anything about it, so this fix was a big deal.
2. Brace your water heater. If water heaters aren’t properly braced, they can topple over during an earthquake and result in broken gas lines/leaks, fire or flooding. Have a licensed plumber strap your water heater to code, and make sure your gas and water lines have flexible pipes.
3. Anchor your home to the foundation. Homes can slide off their foundations if they’re not anchored well. You can guard against this by having a contractor drill holes through the sill plate that runs atop your foundation, and install anchor bolts. You do need permits for this job, and the cost will probably be around $3,000. But it will cost a lot more if your house slips off its foundation.
4. Retrofit brick foundations. Unreinforced masonry (brick, concrete block or stone) often can’t resist earthquake shaking. It can break apart or be too weak to hold anchor bolts. We have a lot of Victorian homes sitting on brick, and they’ve been through some big quakes. But if you own a home with a brick foundation, it’s a sound idea to consider replacing it with a concrete one. You’ll need an engineer, contractor and permits, and the whole deal will probably cost around $100,000-$150,000, depending on the size of your building. But in the long run, that cost is worth it vs. the cost of losing your building.
5. Strengthen areas around garage door openings. The large opening of a garage door and the weight of a room above it can weaken walls and cause collapse in an earthquake. Consult an engineer and contractor to design plywood paneling or a steel frame around the door. I did this in my building a few years ago, because we have garage doors at the front and back of our two-unit building. We installed sheerwall, and also discovered that there already was a steel frame around the rear opening.