Is Your Home Protected From Earthquake Disaster?

It’s true that bookcases are great for storing books, toys and supplies. They can, however, shake and tip over in an earthquake, causing considerable damage or injury. For this reason, make sure all bookcases are securely fastened to nearby walls. One way to do this is to attach either L-brackets or Z-brackets to the bookcase and the wall after predrilling holes in each. Be sure to use a bracket that can accommodate the fasteners you are using.

Attaching the bracket to the bookcase: For wood bookcases, attach the bracket with #8 (or larger) wood screws. The screw should be long enough to secure the bracket to the shelf without punching through and creating a sharp edge. For plastic and metal bookcases, use #8 (or larger) machine screws with washers and nuts to ensure that the bracket will stay in place. The screw should be long enough to accommodate the bracket, shelf, washer and nut.

Attaching the bracket to the walls: For wood stud walls, use 3-inch long #8 (or larger) wood screws to attach each bracket to the wall. Place screws in the wood studs to assure that they are properly supported. Use a stud locator to find the best places. For stone or masonry walls, place plastic anchors in the holes before you screw in 3-inch long #8 (or larger) screws or consider using 3/16-inch diameter (or larger) masonry screws. For a bookcase with a solid back, you can pass screws directly through the back into the wall. Use washers to spread contact over a larger area between the screw and the bookcase’s back. If you are working with a wood stud wall, use a stud locator to find the best locations for the 3-inch long #8 (or larger) wood screws. For a stone or masonry wall, use plastic anchors with the #8 (or larger) screws or use 3/16-inch diameter (or larger) masonry screws.

You can prevent items on shelves from falling by installing ledge barriers made from strips of wood, metal or plastic. Cut them to fit the shelf and attach them with glue or mechanical fasteners. You can finish the barriers to match the shelves. Place heavy items on lower shelves. You can stabilize bookcases that are not against walls by attaching them back-to-back with #8 (or larger) machine screws, oversize washers and nuts. Affix large, heavy items, such as plants and aquariums, and other breakables directly to the shelf to keep them from falling. You can apply hook and loop material (such as Velcro®) or museum gel (or museum wax) to secure these items. For added protection, use metal, plastic or wood ledge barriers. You can fasten several units together to form a wider footprint using #8 (or larger) machine screws. Attach simple mechanical or self-locking latches to cabinet drawers so they cannot slide open. Install mechanical or self-locking latches to prevent your cabinet doors from swinging open and spilling their contents. Your local hardware store has a large variety of latches, many of which are small, unobtrusive and easy to operate. Most of us place heavy objects such as televisions, computers and stereos on top of cabinets, bookcases and tables. You should fasten these items down so they will not slide off during an earthquake.

Picture Frames and Bulletin Boards: The photographs, bulletin boards and artwork you display in your home add to its character. But these items can easily fall during an earthquake if you do not fasten them properly to a wall in the following way: Use closed screw-eyes, instead of traditional picture hangers, for securing picture frames, bulletin boards and mirrors. Depending on the weight of the object and the screw-eye’s maximum weight limit, screw one or more closed screw eyes into wall studs. Use a stud finder to figure out where to put them. Attach picture wire to one side of the frame. Thread the wire through the closed screw-eye, fastening it securely to the other side of the frame. If you use an open screw-eye instead of a closed screw-eye, be sure to close it with pliers once you have hung the picture. Always mount heavy or sharp wall hangings away from areas where they could fall on children.

Ceiling Lights, Suspended Ceilings and Hanging Fixtures:
If they aren’t well attached and supported, ceiling lights, suspended ceilings and hanging fixtures, such as chandeliers and ceiling fans, can fall in an earthquake and seriously injure those below. Here are some ways to protect yourself:
  • Secure ceiling lights to supports using safety cables.
  • Use a chain strap or a minimum 14-gauge wire to attach the light fixture to a nearby ceiling support.
  • Locate the support visually or use a stud locator. Be sure to leave the safety cables slack; they should not support the weight of the lights under normal circumstances.
  • If your ceiling light has a cover, keep it from falling during an earthquake by fastening it to the fixture itself or to the home’s permanent structure.
  • Pay special attention to your home’s fluorescent lights. Installing plastic sleeves over the fluorescent light tubes will keep the glass from scattering if they break. As an alternative, consider using Teflon® fluorescent lights, which are shatter-resistant.
  • Use safety cables every few feet to attach suspended or false ceilings to the structure of your home.
  • Use chain straps, plumber’s strapping (metal strapping with holes) or heavy wire (minimum 14-gauge) to secure suspended or false ceilings.
  • Use screws, bolts or other appropriate fasteners to attach the safety cables to both the suspended ceiling and the permanent structure. You can prevent the ceiling panels from flying upward by installing adjustable compression struts.
  • Contact your suspended ceiling manufacturer for details. Make sure chandeliers, ceiling fans, othersuspended fixtures and hanging plants are safely secured to the permanent structure. Connect all suspended items to strong supports with safety cables capable of supporting each item’s entire weight. Each cable should remain slack and not support the item’s weight under normal circumstances.
  • Keep in mind that hanging items tend to sway easily. Make sure these objectswill not collide with anything if they swing in an earthquake.
Windows and Doors
Your home’s windows and glass doors may seem harmless enough. But in an earthquake, glass can break explosively, seriously injuring anyone nearby. One way to protect yourself and your family from broken glass is to apply safety film to windows and glass doors: Use a protective film (minimum thickness of 4 mils) on all types of glass, including tempered glass and annealed glass. You can buy it in rolls at your local hardware and home improvement stores, or contact the International Window Film Association for the nearest distributor. Be sure to install the film according to the manufacturer’s instructions. As an alternative, consider professional installation.

Large Appliances
An earthquake can cause refrigerators, washing machines and other large appliances to slide or fall over. Heavy objects on wheels may roll if brakes or stops are not provided and locked. To secure these items: Anchor large appliances to walls using safety cables or straps. The restraint should be located in the mid- to upper-portion of the appliance. Use the following method: Choose a screw-eye that is sized appropriately for the appliance. For example, use a 3/8-inch diameter screw-eye (or larger) for a refrigerator. For wood stud walls, use a stud locator to find the best wall location to install the screw-eye. For stone or masonry walls, place plastic anchors in the predrilled holes before you install the screw-eye. Connect coated wire cable to the screw-eye at one end and to a snaphook fastener at the other end. Attach the cable to the appliance with the snap-hook fastener. Replace rigid water or gas connections on large appliances with flexible connectors. Check to see if your local building codes allow you to use flexible connectors and whether a professional must install them. Always lock the rollers of any large appliances or pieces of furniture.

Water Heaters
Water heaters can move or tip over in an earthquake and the broken water pipe can flood your home, destroying ceilings, floors, walls, furniture, artwork and family photos. If your heater runs on flammable gas and the gas line breaks, the situation becomes far more serious. In many areas of the country where earthquakes are common, local building codes may require that water heaters be laterally braced or strapped to resist seismic forces. Most hardware stores sell retrofit kits for different-sized water heaters. In addition, several generic restraint systems are available.

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