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Care & Feeding of Your HOME

| May 8, 2013 | 0 Comments

By Bob Strong

Earthquake Retrofit:  Protect Your Home & Family

Growing up in Portland, I remember hearing about the “big one” that scientists were certain would strike some day. With each major earthquake that occurs somewhere else in the world, we are reminded that we are sitting on a significant fault line. It just makes sense then that it is not a matter of “if”, but a matter of “when” it will strike here.

One of the reasons Haiti suffered such horrific damage a few years ago is that they have virtually no building codes. Construction technique in that situation is left to the individual. While we’ve had building codes in place since the early 1900’s, seismic considerations weren’t codified until the 1970’s. This means older homes, in general, won’t withstand an earthquake as well as newer ones.

And, just so there’s no misunderstanding, seismic building codes are not designed to build earthquake proof structures, rather they help us build earthquake resistant structures. The intent is to build something that won’t collapse on the occupants and will allow them to escape safely.

For the most part, old fashioned building techniques simply relied on gravity to hold a house on its foundation, so the addition of anchor bolts through the sill plate into the concrete makes good sense. But, that only keeps the house from sliding off the foundation.

Once the house is anchored in place, shear wall hold-down anchors should be attached at each corner. This will keep the house from being tipped over like an old outhouse on Halloween night.

All post and beam construction under the house should be tied together to keep the posts from coming off their piers and to prevent the beams from sliding off the posts. Gravity is great so long as all forces are straight down. But when the earth begins to pitch and roll and twist and heave, all bets are off for any parts of the house that aren’t tied together.

Now, let’s go back into the house and see what we should do in there to make things safer. If your water heater isn’t strapped to a nearby wall, it should be. In a major earthquake, this container may hold 50 gallons of the most precious commodity you will ever own – water. Having it tip over and spill out could be the difference between life and death. Of course, having a five hundred pound tank full of water tip over can also cause a lot of serious damage, too.

How about your book cases? Are they all attached to the wall, so they won’t tip over and crush someone?

Outside your home, do you have an earthquake wrench strapped to your gas meter, so you can shut the gas off at the source in the event the gas line gets broken? They’re less than $10 dollars and are available on line or at many plumbing supply and hardware stores.

OK, that’s a real quick primer on earthquake protection for your home. If it’s something you really want to investigate more fully, just send an email to handyman@kxl.com and I’ll be happy to point you in the direction of some good contractors who can discuss it in a lot more detail with you.

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Category: Beaverton Voice, Handyman Bob

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