3 Steps to Seismic Safety

Strengthen your home

pbrundle's picture

You have options. Always weigh how much probable damage you can avoid against what you will have to invest.

For all homes... Homes and structures constructed under current seismic codes are built to withstand earthquakes, but little to no attention is given to securing their contents. By securing your contents, you can avert significant potential losses and injury for a low investment: Most projects cost less than 2 hrs and $10 in hardware.

Start by identifying the objects that would cause you the greatest losses or physical harm if they fell. What do you own that is valuable or fragile? Does anything sit precariously above where people typically eat, sleep, socialize, or work? What items are sharp, heavy, flammable, toxic, caustic, or glass? Below are the 3 most commonly overlooked household hazards and their solutions.

Hazard: Tipped bookcases and shelving can block exits and falling contents can cause serious injuries.

Solution: Place bookcases and shelves in out-of-the-way locations and secure them to the wall. Store heavy and fragile items on the lower shelves. Consider adding shelf lips, horizontal bars, or latching doors to restrain objects.

Hazard: Cupboard doors can fly open, spilling fragile content onto the floor and/or people's heads.

Solution: Add latches to your cabinet doors and line them with rubberized shelf mats to prevent dishes, glassware, and other valuables from sliding.

Hazard: Appliances like refrigerators and water heaters can tip and/or slide, breaking water pipes (flooding!) and gas connections (fire hazard!), and injuring anyone in their path.

Solution: Secure your appliances and use flexible copper piping for all connections. Properly brace your water heater with two heavy gauge steel straps (not plumber's tape!) that loop around it and screw into the studs or masonry of the wall. Install an automatic gas shut-off valve.

Ready to secure your things? Click on the following links from the CA earthquake readiness campaign “Dare To Prepare” for detailed instructions and pictures on how to secure your bookshelves, kitchen cabinets, refrigerators, water heaters, file cabinets, paintings, propane tanks, garage shelves, display items, glass, and electronics.

For older homes… If your house was not built under current seismic building codes, it could be at high risk for major damage (e.g. shifting off the foundation, complete or partial collapse) in the event of an earthquake. In California, building codes after 1975 protect against most major structural hazards, but similar standards have come later, if at all, elsewhere. The cost of repair and risk of injury for seismically vulnerable structures make the probable damage exceptionally high even if your earthquake risk is moderate. Use the resource links below for instructions and diagrams showing how to identify and resolve major hazards.

LA Dept. of Building and Safety pamphlet, "How you can strengthen your home"

  • Bolting a home to its foundation
  • Reinforcing weak cripple walls
Dare to Prepare webpage, "Secure Your Building"
  • Fixing foundation weaknesses
  • Anchoring walls to the roof and floor
  • Protecting rooms over collapsible “soft stories” like garages
  • Reinforcing masonry (brick, stone, and concrete blocks) in walls, foundation, or chimney
Risk Alert