Checking for Damage After an Earthquake - On the House

Checking for Damage After an Earthquake

By on April 15, 2014
what damages to look for after an earthquake

Question

In the wake of the recent earthquake we are concerned that our home may have sustained either minor or major damage that is not readily visible to us. We feel apprehensive about our safety in the home and don’t know enough about its’ construction to determine if there is reason to be alarmed. If in fact we do have damage who can we call that would be prepared to make a thorough investigation or make the required repairs?

Francisco

Answer

You are correct in that just because your home may not appear to have sustained any visible damage or isn’t literally falling down doesn’t mean that some very serious problems or the potential for some very serious problems may exist. We suggest that before you do anything, start with your own quick and dirty visual inspection of both the interior and exterior spaces in the around the home to identify any obvious changes in the structure that may pose an immediate health or safety hazard.
Some of these potential problems could include but are not limited to:
  • cracks in drywall, plaster, or stucco
  • buckling wall siding
  • weak or out-of-level floor systems
  • a “belly condition” or buckling at the foundation to floor framing connection
  • new cracks or existing cracks in the concrete foundation which are noticeably larger
  • damaged brick or stone at the fireplace face, hearth, or chimney
  • cracked or broken window glass
  • windows or doors that no longer operate properly

Among the more immediate areas of concern are loss of electrical power or electrical shorts, damaged natural gas lines, or fractured water and waste systems. If any of these conditions should exist the services should be immediately terminated until such time as the respective utility provider can make the required repairs.

Once you have made your “laypersons” inspection and there is no immediate danger then we suggest that you proceed by contacting one of a variety of trained professionals who will be prepared to make a comprehensive investigation of the space and identify areas in need of repair. Among the most valuable resources are civil or structural engineers. They are particularly helpful in the case of a structure whose integrity has been seriously diminished. They will not only be prepared to identify a problem, but will also be qualified to propose a suitable repair. These individuals can be found in the yellow pages under engineers – “civil” or “structural”.

Another widespread resource is the Professional Home Inspector. Home Inspectors offer a more general report covering a variety of subjects. Many of these inspectors have engineering backgrounds or are building professionals with years of hands-on experience in construction. After a building is inspected, a written report is issued. Typically these reports offer a narrative description of the condition of the property and more often than not are accompanied by repair recommendations except in those cases where, because of the magnitude or nature of the problem, the inspector is not able to propose a repair. In this case he will recommend the appropriate specialist, an engineer for example. The cost of a home inspection will range anywhere from $200 to $500 depending upon the inspection company and the complexity of the home.

Local Building Inspectors are also qualified to make these same sorts of inspections but, because of the municipal demands placed upon them, are less likely to be available on an immediate basis. General Building Contractors may be consulted for minor repairs (typically at no charge) in the form of an estimate. Although, we believe that in most cases a General Building Contractor will be your ultimate source for repairs, we do not recommend that a General Contractor be employed to inspect or suggest repairs where major damage has occurred.

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