Earthquake Preparation: Secure Your Water Heater
In the Pacific Northwest, earthquakes are a serious risk. These natural disasters can cause thousands of dollars in damage and come at unexpected times. All homeowners in this area surely have a lurking fear of “the big one”, but are your homes properly prepared for the next earthquake?
Earthquake preventative measures have improved dramatically in the construction industry in previous decades, but there are still some weaknesses to pay attention to, especially in homes built before 1995. One of the major features susceptible to damage during an earthquake is the water heater. And in many older homes, water heaters are not properly secured to sustain an earthquake.
Historically, water heaters were typically secured using a single strap of plumber’s tape. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake in California, experts learned that the current recommendation wasn’t sufficient, and the standard for water heater strapping was modified.
In addition to new strapping techniques, Steve Gemmell of Earthquake Tech says that “installing seismically activated gas shut off valves has become standard practice…” in construction of new homes. “These are both great ways to keep your rentals intact, preventing fire and water damage which can end up totaling your property if not costing thousands in damage.”
In areas that may be subject to earthquakes, including much of the real estate along the West Coast, seismic straps for water heaters are a requirement. In many other states, seismic straps are also recommended. Of course, legal jurisdiction varies state to state, so always be aware of the laws in your region and keep your property up to code.
In Washington and California, seismic water heater straps are required by law. This includes securing the top and bottom of the tank using heavy-gauge metal strapping. In Oregon, the Plumbing Specialty Code (OPSC) requires water heaters to be strapped or anchored in seismic categories. The Uniform Plumbing code requires that water heaters be strapped on both the top one-third and lower one-third of the tank, however some state’s architects and building jurisdictions require a third or fourth strap for tanks up to 100 gallons in volume. If you’re not sure of the requirement in your area, call the local building department.
Strapping and bracing a water typically costs between $100 and $150, depending on the size of the heater and the residence. While this may seem unnecessary if your water heater has remained unstrapped for many years, it is a price well worth paying to protect your home from hundreds or thousands of dollars in damage in the event of an earthquake.