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Shake Down Your Home to Make It 'Quake Safe

Earthquakes are always in the news, are there any measure I can take to make my home safer?

April is California Earthquake Preparedness Month. And, each new quake serves as a grim reminder of the need to prepare for these incidents.

Sadly, no one can guarantee the extent of damage, but by taking some precautions we are now able to lessen the extent of damage.

Securing homes to their footings is relatively inexpensive compared to the costs of resetting the home on the footing. Experience has shown that older homes, usually built before the mid-1970s, can be severely damaged when the home is jarred off the foundation.

Your home can be retrofitted to lessen the chance of this type of damage in an earthquake. Special bolts are installed between the base of the frame of your home and the concrete footing in the ground.

We don't recommend the homeowner perform this type of installation; this is something best left to professionals that have the special skills and tools needed for this type of work. There are several companies in town that specialize in this type of work. Just be certain that the company you select is in this type of business, and that they are a licensed contractor. A construction permit and inspection are usually required because of the structural changes made to the home.

We have handouts showing what's involved in giving your home more seismic strength. We also have other handouts on making your home more "quake safe" that have been produced by the State of California's Office of Emergency Services.

There's another place you can go for a handy checklist to better prepare yourself for a 'quake, and most likely its right in your home right where you can find it. Its in the Pacific Bell White Pages, and it includes tips such as securing bookcases, bracing the water heater and keeping children's play areas away from items which may be a hazard during earthquakes.

When I got a new water heater, the plumber charged me an extra $25 for an "earthquake strap." What's this?

One of the items you'll find in any flyer on earthquake tips, securing your water heater, is now required under the State building code for all new water heater installations. This simply attaches your water heater to the wall using a strap of some sort.

In an earthquake, the water heater, which is a little top-heavy, can start to sway. In some cases it will fall over, spilling 40 or more gallons of hot water, breaking the cold water supply line and the gas line. While cleaning up and shutting off the water can be an inconvenience, the gas leak can do much more damage to your home than the earthquake if the gas should ignite.

There are a variety of commercial products on the market for attaching your water heater. This is one of those items you can install yourself; just make sure the strap is securely fastened to a stud, not just to the sheetrock or plaster of the wall. We have a handout on securing your water heater. Send us a stamped, self-addressed envelope and we'll mail you a copy.