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Can Your Home Handle an Earthquake?

Posted by Johnine Larsen on October 23, 2019
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Washington had a state-wide earthquake drill last week, and KUOW and other news outlets shared updated earthquake response tips to help maximize ourpreparation. These are important precautions, but homeowners should take a few more.

How do you make your home a safe place during an earthquake? How do you keep your home itself safe?


Gas appliances

Ensure that plumbers have installed flexible connectors on all gas appliances. In the event of an earthquake, rigid gas lines might crack.


Utility Shutoff

If a pipe breaks, you’ll need to shut everything off to prevent further damage. Every adult in your home should know how to turn off the electricity, gas, and water—both at the main switch and at the valves. If you do need to shut off the gas, don’t turn it back on yourself! A professional must restore gas service. 



Updated earthquake response tips

  • If a sturdy table or desk is nearby, crawl underneath it for shelter.
  • If no shelter is nearby, crawl next to an interior wall (away from windows).
  • If you are in a vehicle, pull over and stop. Set your parking brake.
  • If you are in bed, turn face down and cover your head and neck with a pillow.
  • If you are outdoors, stay outdoors away from buildings.
  • Do not get in a doorway.
  • Do not run outside.


Unsecured objects

Walk through each room in your home and note all unsecured objects—especially tall, heavy, or expensive items like bookcases, home electronics, appliances (including water heaters), and items hanging from walls or ceilings (including paintings and chandeliers). Secure these items with flexible fasteners like earthquake-resistant nylon straps and buckles.

All cabinets and bookshelves above waist level should be secured to the wall studs (not just sheetrock) with flexible fasteners. This flexibility will let your furniture move independently of the wall, which will reduce the strain on the studs during an earthquake.

Hanging lights and plants deserve special attention to ensure they won’t swing off their hooks and/or hit a window. Use closed hooks for hanging, and replace heavy clay pots with lighter ones to minimize damage if they fall or strike something.




In a severe earthquake, bricks can tumble down from a chimney—or, worse, the entire chimney could break away from the house. To prevent this, use sheet metal straps and angle bracing to secure your chimney to the framing of the roof.


If you want to undertake a major update to make your home earthquake-proof, or if you’re building a new home from the ground up, I’d recommend FEMA’s “Homebuilder’s Guide to Earthquake Resistant Design and Construction.”



Flying glass

How secure are your photos and mirrors? To ensure these glass items don’t fall and shatter during an earthquake, you can secure them with wire threaded through eye screws (drill the eye screws into studs). Additionally, you can upgrade the latches on your kitchen and medicine cabinets to prevent their doors from flying open and their contents from tumbling out when everything starts shaking.


Living space above the garage

Because of the large opening of a garage door and the weight of a second-story room above it, garage walls are often too weak to withstand a major earthquake. If your garage walls aren’t reinforced or braced, you should consult with an architect or engineer. They’ll know if you should install braces, plywood panels, and/or a steel frame to make your garage resilient.


FEMA has a quick visual guide for conducting your own “Earthquake Home Hazard Hunt.” I’d highly recommend it!


Crawlspace walls

From FEMA: “Wooden floors and stud walls are sometimes built on top of an exterior foundation to support a house and create a crawlspace. These walls carry the weight of the house. During an earthquake, these walls can collapse if they are not braced to resist horizontal movement. If the walls fail, the house may shift or fall. You can look under your house in the crawlspace to see whether there are any wood stud walls supporting the first floor. Check to see whether the stud walls are braced with plywood panels or diagonal wood sheathing. If your house has neither of these, the wood stud crawlspace walls are probably insufficiently braced or are unbraced. Please note that horizontal or vertical wood siding is not strong enough to brace wood stud crawlspace walls. Plywood or other wood products allowed by code should be nailed to the studs to strengthen your foundation. The type of wood product used, the plywood thickness, and nail size and spacing are all important when making this upgrade.”



Have a Plan

Everyone in your home should know the safest spots in each room to“drop, cover, and hold on” during an earthquake. You should also assemble a household emergency supply kit that contains one or two portable containers (plastic tubs, backpacks, duffel bags, etc) with the supplies your family would need to survive for at least three days after an earthquake.

And finally, prepare a list of addresses, telephone numbers, and evacuation sites for all theplaces where your family members can regularly be found (home, work, school, etc). Include an out-of-state contact in that list, too, and then make sure each family member carries a copy of the list in their wallet, purse, and/or car.

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