Securing Appliances, Furniture and Valuables for Earthquakes

A home wrecked by an earthquake.

I live in a state which is synonymous with earthquakes: California. Nearly every day there's an earthquake here. Most we don’t feel, but some we do in passing. Consequently, there are endless public service announcements warning residences, here in earthquake central, to take steps to prepare for the inevitable big one.

Generally, these recommendations include the steps necessary to protect against public services becoming inaccessible due to a major quake. So, if in a major earthquake we lose power, food in refrigerators goes bad, and water treatment plants cease to do their jobs—most of the recommendations include a list of things we need to stash away—water, food, flashlights and the rest.

There is, however, much more to earthquake preparedness than stashing provisions. We also need to try and protect our homes and valuables inside our homes—small and large.

The House

In California, building codes require homes built on a raised foundation to be seismic proof, requiring older homes to be anchored and professionally retrofitted against seismic activity. New homes are built to meet these seismic requirements, using special anchors, unique means of construction, and construction materials.

The Big Stuff

Code for more than 20 years has required that certain major appliances be physically strapped to the structure.

Water Heaters, Central Heating and Cooling Units - If you purchase a water heater and have it professionally installed, seismic strapping will be done as part of the installation. If, on the other hand, you wish to strap your existing water heater, it's a straightforward do-it-yourself project. Wrap the water heater top and bottom with a steel perforated strap and anchor to the wall in a stud. The strap can be purchased at any hardware store or home center.

Large Appliances and Furniture - While not always required by building code, it is always a good idea to anchor refrigerators and other large pieces of furniture. There are companies that make special straps for earthquake-proofing standard refrigerators, which come with instructions and are easily installed by the do-it-yourselfer.

Large curios, hutches, bookcases, file cabinets and such can fall over and become very dangerous in a large earthquake, so they also need to be anchored to the wall. There are easily installed anti-tip fasteners available that will secure your furniture and at the same time will not cause damage to the finished surfaces.

The Small Stuff

In addition to securing large pieces of furniture, you need to be sure your smaller items stay put in a shaker.

Doors - There are special seismic latches available, which keep doors from opening and your valuables from falling out and breaking. One company even makes a latch, which remains open until a piece of furniture starts to move triggered by an earthquake and then locks automatically.

Small Appliances - There are easily installed fasteners available to secure tabletop appliances such as microwaves, and devices to keep flat screen TVs from falling over either from a natural earthquake or one created by your child or pet, protecting both it and them at the same time.

Glassware and Keepsakes - My wife has a significant amount of glassware in our curios. Most of it has great sentimental value and can easily be broken by the motion of an earthquake. Even if the curio is anchored so as to not fall over, and the doors latched so as to not open so the items will not fall out, the shaking caused by an earthquake can cause valuables to fall off shelves and break.

She uses museum quality putty to anchor pieces to shelves inside the curio. The putty is soft adhesive, which will not dry out and need to be replaced. It is also perfect to secure decorative pieces and lamps to table tops. In fact, we recently moved and found out how good a job this putty does—it was difficult to remove some of those pieces anchored in the putty. However, there is a special tool to facilitate the removal of these valuable pieces without doing damage to the furniture or the the piece itself.

Moral of the Story

Earthquake proofing the furniture and valuables in your home is a relatively inexpensive straightforward do-it-yourself project. It requires properly securing anything that might fall over and be damaged or broken, which not only protects your valuables, but yourself and the family.