The Aftermath: What to do to Insure Everything is Safe after an Earthquake
The earthquake has us terrified that there may be dangers in our home we are not aware of. What can we do to insure that everything is safe?
- Use a spray bottle filled with a mixture of 1 pint of water combined with three tablespoons of liquid dish soap to test gas pipe connections throughout your home. Particular attention should be given to the gas meter, the water heater, the furnace, and other gas fired appliances such as a clothes dryer, fireplace log lighter, kitchen range, and cooktop. A slow leak could build up to create a tremendous fire hazard.
- Absolutely DO NOT use a fireplace which has shown signs of shifting or cracking. This is especially true of the masonry type as opposed to the metal kind, but a shift in location of either configuration can allow flame to contact wood in the frame of the home — another potential fire hazard. Even the slightest shift is cause to hire a chimney sweep or masonry contractor to make a thorough investigation prior to use.
- Homes with wood floors (especially on sloped lots) are prime candidates for a sub-area inspection. This should be done to insure that the support posts which traverse from the concrete piers to the floor framing members (floor skeleton) are plumb (straight up and down), and still tightly affixed.
- A visual inspection of the foundation should be made to insure that cracking has not occurred. If such is the case, a civil or structural engineer should be called in to investigate the severity of the situation.
- An attic inspection is also in order. Here we should look for cracked roof rafters or cracked ceiling joist. Minor cracks or splits in these members could easily magnify in months to come causing roof and/or ceiling sag. An expensive repair proportion if left unattended. While in the attic it will be important to study the condition of the felt roofing underlayment if such can be seen in your type of home (primarily wood shake roofs). A tear could allow water through to the inside of the home and cause tremendous damage this winter.
- Heavy objects hanging from ceilings, such as pot racks and light fixtures, should be thoroughly checked to insure that their connections are currently sound and safe.
- A carpenter’s level should be used to check the vertical and horizontal level of walls, windows and door openings. Windows that are an inch or more out of vertical level (racked out of square) may be under undue stress and stand the potential of shattering or exploding. This condition usually indicates damage to the foundation or floor framing members — see #3 above.
- Sewer lines should be give a running water and flush test to insure that leaks have not developed which will allow sewage to leak into the sub-area of the home. Beyond the distasteful smell, a real health hazard could be created. If leaks exist, and a repair is beyond your capability, a call to a plumber is in order.
For safety’s sake, take time to make your home a bit more earthquake proof for after-shocks and maybe even next time too:
- Use metal plumber’s tape to strap the top of your water heater to at least two adjacent walls to prevent it from toppling in a shake.
- Have the sub-area of your home checked to insure that proper foundation-to-floor connections exist. There should be one anchor bolt visible at least every six feet regardless of how many exist in any one six foot section.
- Gas lines rising from underground should not be encased in concrete walks or patios. If this condition exists, take measures to chip the concrete away from the pipe at least 6″ in all directions.
- Years ago it was not a building code requirement for fireplaces to be connected to the house. If metal straps do not currently exist which connect the chimney to your roof framing members the fireplace would be more prone to topple during a quake than if the connection exists. A masonry contractor can help with this problem.
- All gas supply lines should be connected to appliances with a short section of flexible corrugated gas line. This will allow the appliance to move at a different rate than the gas supply line without causing a break.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.