Imagine putting everything you own neatly inside a big box—your clothes, your television, your furniture, your decorations, your car keys, etc. Then imagine picking up the box and shaking it really hard. When you open the box, is everything right where you put it?
Earthquakes can cause all sorts of damage to belongings and make it difficult to find the things you need right away. Use our tip-sheet, Preparedness for the Home [PDF, 192Kb] to learn how you, with just a few simple and inexpensive steps, can keep your belongings where they belong and minimize damage to your property.
There are two simple methods for securing your furniture: l-brackets, also known as corner braces, and furniture straps. Both have their pros and cons; l-brackets are much less expensive than straps, but are generally unsightly (though decorative wood versions are available). In addition they are rigid and could possibly be pulled out of the wall during a major earthquake. Unlike straps however, brackets can be painted or stained to match your walls and furniture. Furniture straps are much more expensive at around $10 per kit (each kit secures one piece of furniture), but come in all-inclusive packs that contain all the screws and everything else you'll need (except for the tools) to install. They come in a limited variety of colors to match most furniture (black, white, beige, and various wood-stain colors), but unlike l-brackets they can be used with metal or glass furniture, such as aquariums. Straps are made of industrial-strength velcro, which allows for greater flexibility during an earthquake, and can be hidden behind the furniture.
For both methods, use a stud finder to locate the wall studs behind your furniture, as both brackets and straps are only effective when screwed into a stud. Once you've located and marked the locations of your studs (using a pencil), determine where you'll install your brackets or straps:
• For brackets, hold the bracket on top of the furniture where you'd like to install it (make sure it lines up with a stud). Mark all the holes with a pencil on both the wall and the furniture.
• For straps, mark the point where the top of your furniture meets the wall, then pull the furniture out. Hold the strap up to the wall so that the wall holes start about 1/2" below the mark, making sure that the strap lines up with a stud, then mark the holes with a pencil.
Once you've got your holes marked, use a hand drill to drill pilot holes for the screws. For straps, screw the straps into the wall, then push the furniture back into place. Lay the rest of the strap down over the top of the furniture, clean that spot with an alcohol wipe or other solvent that won't damage the finish, then remove the adhesive backing from the strap and firmly press into place on the furniture. For brackets, simply screw the brackets into the wall and the top of the furniture.
Earthquake straps can also be used to secure large appliances and electronics, such as washing machines and televisions. These straps usually come in a two-part kit, one for each side of the appliance, and generally have adjustable straps with quick-release buckles for easy moving or cleaning of the item. Installation procedures may vary, so check the instructions that come with your kit.
To secure artwork and other wall decorations that might fall down during an earthquake, all you need is a small, inexpensive screw-in wall hook and some earthquake putty or museum wax. Replace your standard art hook or nail with the screw-in hook; try to install it into a stud if possible, and make the space between the wall and the end of the hook as small as possible. Re-hang your artwork and straighten it out, using a level if needed.
Follow the maufacturer's instructions to prepare the putty or wax, then place a nickel-sized amount behind each of the bottom corners of the artwork, then press to the wall. Hold for a few seconds then release, and your artwork is secured.
Water heaters can be a great source of drinking water after a disaster, but they can also be a very dangerous hazard if they come loose. Water damage from cracked tanks and gas leaks from damaged gas connections can occur if water heaters are not properly secured. Metal plumbers tape (the thin metal strips with the holes down the middle) is weak and will NOT keep your tank secured in an earthquake.
Strap kits are available at most hardware and appliance stores for around $10-20 per kit, and include all the hardware you'll need to secure your water heater. You will also need a hand drill and a handheld metal cutting tool (the kind that looks like a cross between scissors and pliers). Depending on how far your tank is from the wall, you may also need two short pieces of 2x4" wood. If your home has metal studs, contact the manufacturer of your kit for replacement bolts or screws that will be compatible (most will supply these for free). Also replace metal gas and water connections to your tank with flexible ones.
To install the straps, follow the instructions that come with your kit. Keep in mind that the upper strap should be installed approximately one-third of the way down from the top, and the lower strap should be approximately one-third of the way up from the bottom (but at least 4" above the water heater's controls).
Cabinets & drawers
Child safety latches are an inexpensive and easy way to keep the items in your cabinets and drawers from flying out during an earthquake. Packs of latches can often be picked up for around $3-4, generally can secure between 10 and 24 doors or drawers, and often can be used on both. Follow the directions on your package as latch design and installation procedures vary between manufacturers.
For more information, visit the following websites (links will open in a new window):
FEMA—What to Do Before an Earthquake
Washington Emergency Management Division