There is an old saying that goes, “When the earth mightily shakes, only then does humanity decide to awake”. This may sound ironic, but it, unfortunately, seems to be true. For instance, did you know the National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) at Illinois (USA), records a global average of 20,000 earthquakes every year? Of these, only a hundred of them receive any nation-wide attention, and again, only because of the widespread damage they cause. Yet, unlike a hurricane or a tornado that come with a prior warning (at least ten minutes), an earthquake can occur in mere seconds and shake up the very foundation of your house. In fact, a significant number of earthquakes shatter the framework of many a house because the building infrastructure is not designed to withstand even minor tremors. Through this blog, we help you avoid such needless devastation by sharing ten resourceful ways to minimize earthquake damage to your home.
What Is the Best Way to Prepare for an Earthquake?
If a high-intensity earthquake rips through your town or city, there is little you can do beforehand to protect your belongings. In fact, this is the time to drop everything and rush towards personal safety, while also keeping an eye on the larger community. However, you will be surprised to know that the majority of yearly earthquake damage is not caused by these high-intense quakes, but by mere tremors. When the earth shakes, everything can turn upside down, literally! Fortunately, forewarned is indeed forearmed. If you live in an area that has recorded any seismic activity over the past decade, your house may be subject to some amount of risk. Here are four elementary tips to help you stay prepared at all times and thus minimize earthquake damage.
Anchor All Precious Belongings
The expensive large-screen television set that has seen cherished family memories, the safe that contains your jewelry and standby money, the large 2-door stainless steel refrigerator that has housed many a family meal, the valuable décor pieces spread around your home, the prized china in your kitchen cabinet that has been unfailingly passed down several generations are all precious belongings that cannot be replaced easily or at all. However, they most certainly can be protected. For this, we suggest that you secure them firmly at all times. You can do this by bolting them to heavy furniture, fastening them with durable straps, or even anchoring them to a sturdy wall, so they are less likely to be disturbed during a minor quake.
Close Those Doors
In the stress and hurry of our daily lives, how often do we nonchalantly leave our file cabinets or kitchen drawers or windows open? Unfortunately, this carelessness can be thoroughly punished during a quake. Protect your house and your everyday belongings from earthquake damage by making use of those bolts, doors, and latches. Yes, it is time to close them securely every single time.
Safeguard Your House from Hazardous Substances
As a regular family, you are bound to have several potentially hazardous chemicals and materials sprinkled all around your house. (This includes all flammable liquids, detergents, wooden pieces collected around your fireplace, etc.) If you live in an earthquake susceptible area, definitely find storage solutions that do not inadvertently add to earthquake damage.
Otherwise, imagine if the structure of your house has remained solid even after the earthquake, only to be burnt down due to a fire caused by an open oilcan. Now, that would be devastating for sure. It is therefore important to find a way beforehand to safeguard your home from this unfortunate situation. (This is also the reason you should consider anchoring all high-risk appliances like your water heater, fireplace, etc.–firmly to the wall.)
Tip 4: Fortify Your House with a Well-Stocked Earthquake Kit
This can include a safety kit (or two), a fire extinguisher, a pack of portable batteries, a camp-stove (or two), torches, and perhaps even an emergency radio. With this, you are not only training yourself to be a resourceful boy scout but also protecting your beloved home for potential earthquake damage.
Is There a Need for Your Home to Be Designed a Specific Way to Withstand an Earthquake?
An earthquake–no matter how minor – is bound to test the stability and strength of your home’s structure. Here, common construction guidelines show you need a cohesive, leak-proof roof, which is tightly attached to the building. You also need to be surrounded by securely fastened walls and supported by a strong foundation to protect your home. Here are some additional tips to protect your house from earthquake damage. (Note: These require the services of a professional contractor, and you may need additional permits before construction.)
Boost the Strength of Your Home’s Foundation by Bracing All ‘Cripple’ Walls
A cripple wall is different from other walls as it supports your house’s foundation. It also supports the sub-floor and rests on top of the foundation. This is the first wall to shake during a quake. Fortify your cripple walls with additional braces–like a 4-inch board all around–so it stays strong and sturdy during and after the earthquake. In addition, this bracing can also be provided to chimneys and the external walls so your house stands on a foundation that is truly designed to stand firm during a quake.
Reinforce Your House’s Foundation with Steel
This tip has both literal and metaphoric implications! If you want your house’s foundation to have a backbone of steel, you literally need to insert steel into it. This is where sill plates come in handy as they are inserted between your house’s foundation and the first level of flooring to add strength and support to your home. However, they are generally made of concrete or lumber.
To protect your house from earthquake damage, check with your contractor on using sill plates made of steel. They will also need to be bolted/screwed several inches into the foundation so they do not shift during a quake. Another hint is to use steel within your walls. The typical (concrete/brick) masonry used is susceptible even to minor shakes. Reinforcing them with steel will make them more capable of withstanding earthquakes.
Round Your Window Edges
A square or rectangle shaped window reeks of a sleek design. However, an earthquake can cause the entire house to shift a few inches. This can cause the windows to chip and crack. Rounded window edges avoid this by providing more leeway. Again, check with your contractor so this fits into both the aesthetics and functionality of your home.
Ways to Minimize Earthquake Damage to Your Home
Strap Beds and Heavy Furniture to the Wall
With the tips listed in the above section, your house’s foundation will stay strong and secure. Now, imagine that you come back to a home, still standing after a recorded seismic activity, only to find it completely trashed within. This can happen when the heavy furniture pieces within your house shift randomly during a quake. To avoid this, ensure that you strap them securely to the wall. The same applies to all vehicles and equipment in the garage and anything that “hangs” from the ceilings or the walls. (It is best to avoid any hanging arrangement in quake-prone areas. You might compromise on aesthetics or design, but it is well worth the safety of your house.)
Treat Tubes and Wires with Extra Care
Check with your construction contractor on flexible materials that can be used for your gas tubes and electric wires so they stay safe during quakes. In the event of an earthquake, it is also important to close all gas pipes and have the house thoroughly inspected by a professional so you are sure there is no leakage. Finally, make sure you do not inadvertently touch a hanging/ broken wire, as it may be live and, hence, dangerous.
Prepare a Safe-Box
A safe-box is essentially a place to keep your most precious belongings. While the tips listed above protect you from earthquake damage, no list will be complete without preparing you for an eventuality. This safe box is your sanctuary in the case of that eventuality.
You will be surprised that many people can seamlessly minimize earthquake damage to their house and community by developing a ‘seismic conscience’ or ‘seismic intuition’. Earthquakes are mostly sudden and unexpected. They also transpire in mere seconds with no warning. However, you can still tune into the community and area around you so you sense when your house is vulnerable to earthquakes. This knowledge can help you take the required steps to secure your house against future damage. Finally, do you know you can purchase extra-strong harnesses, wall straps, equipment straps, safety straps, buckles, and (furniture/ equipment) fasteners, locks, wall-brackets, floor brackets, furniture cables, and adhesive plates, which are exclusively designed to hold your things together during natural calamities? There is a whole, forceful world out there which can safeguard your house and its belongings from earthquake damage. It is time to wear your seismic conscience and get curious.