7 Things You Can Do to Help Prevent Earthquake Damage

Candace Nelson
Written by Candace Nelson
Updated September 8, 2021
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Take time now to protect your home against potential earthquake damage

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Earthquakes can cause thousands of dollars in home damages in the seconds it takes for the shaking to stop. Limit potential damage by thinking ahead and identifying problem areas before a disaster hits.

If you live in an earthquake-prone area—and particularly if you live in a home built before 1980—consider hiring a local structural engineer to determine if your house needs seismic retrofitting to help keep you, your family, and your home safe. 

Then protect yourself from earthquake damage with some other steps you can take on your own.

1. Install Gas Shut-offs (and Know How to Work Them)

Earthquakes can jostle your gas appliances (water heater, dryer, oven), so you want to give them a little leeway with flexible connections to power sources and gas hookups to accommodate some movement. Ideally, you’ll also brace those appliances to keep shifting to a minimum.

In the event of an earthquake or other disaster, you’ll need to shut off the gas to the house. Make a note of where your home’s gas shut-off valve is and how to use it. Be careful not to use the space in front of it as storage, either. You’ll want to minimize the obstacles between you and that valve.

If you don’t have one, consider installing a breakaway gas shut-off device at the gas meter for about $500. You never know when you might need it. If the device is tripped by an earthquake (or heavy snow or ice), it stops the flow of gas to the house. This process helps prevent fires and gas leaks.

2. Secure Heavy Appliances and Furniture

Some states require that you strap water heaters to walls. That’s a great start, but while you’re at it, secure the oven and refrigerator as well. You can purchase authorized straps at hardware stores for about $70.

Take a walk around the house and secure dressers, bookshelves, ceiling lights, and mounted TVs. It’s not only a good safety practice for earthquakes, but the safety measures you take now could also protect children in the house.

3. Prevent Window Damage

Window frames shift during a quake, and the window corners can crack and chip. Prevent glass from shattering and causing injuries by applying a safety film to windows. A roll of the film costs about $30 and is easy to apply. The best part is that you can leave it up all year. The film doesn’t change the window appearance, but it does help protect against shattering from storm damage or an errant baseball.

4. Store Items Securely

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A cute ledge above the bed isn’t the best place to store your trophies and crystal service awards in the event of an earthquake.

Consider where you store things carefully. Heavy items should be on low shelves or secured in closets, where they can’t topple and cause injuries.

Keep smaller items like small kitchen appliances, desktop equipment and knick-knacks in their place. You can buy gels, putties, straps, screws, and adhesives to secure them on shelves, countertops, or desks. Also, consider shelving units and cupboard shelves with a lip to prevent items from sliding off.

In kitchens and bathrooms, install latches on drawers and cupboards to prevent them from swinging open.

Finally, move that ledge away from the bed—or at least install it securely and use it only to display teddy bears.

5. Store Things Securely in the Garage, Too

You might not be as concerned about the junk stored in your garage, but don’t forget to take inventory of what’s out there. Secure any flammable liquids like gasoline, weedkillers or pesticides in a low cabinet to prevent leaks that could lead to fires.

6. Prune Trees

Keep tree limbs from falling on your house by trimming them back. This could prevent damage in a wind or rain storm as well, so it’s a good practice to keep up.

7. Get an Earthquake Retrofit

If you have a home more than 25 years old, you’ll likely need to take on the cost of a seismic or earthquake retrofit. A structural engineer will assess your home and might suggest some fixes. Here are some common ones:

Brace Cripple Walls

Cripple walls are short walls that rest against the foundation and support a home’s floor and exterior walls. Earthquakes can shift cripple walls, so experts recommend bracing them. 

Add 2-inch by 4-inch boards between the vertical studs at the top and bottom of a cripple wall. Make sure to check with your local building officials to see if you need a permit for this type of work.

​​Bolt the House to the Foundation

If the house isn’t bolted to the foundation, it can shift in an earthquake. A sill plate rests on top of the foundation. 

A licensed contractor should do this work. The cost typically ranges between $50 to $70 per bolt, depending on the type of foundation. So a structure with a perimeter of 180 feet would require a minimum of 30 bolts. Expect to pay between $1,500 to $2,250.

Brace Masonry

Your structural engineer will tell you if your chimney, concrete walls, foundations, or other structures need to be braced. Since stonework has a tendency to collapse in an earthquake, bracing it keeps it in place. Pros will add steel reinforcements and leave space between the walls and the building frame. This will allow for some drift as the building moves during an earthquake. The cost will vary by region and needs.

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