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No matter how impressive the building structures are, their real test lies in how well they withstand the forces of nature. Earthquakes — caused by the seismic waves throughout the ground — can destroy buildings, take lives and cost you tremendous amounts of monetary loss. So, how to make a house earthquake-proof?
This article will help you with important tips on how to make a house earthquake-proof. According to the National Earthquake Information Center, on average, there are 20,000 earthquakes each year in the world — and most of the damage is not caused by the quake itself but by the collapse of building structures with people inside them.
No wonder, making earthquake-proof buildings is an ongoing battle for most scientists, structural engineers, and architects. They are always on the lookout for ways to anticipate and deal with earthquakes, hurricanes, blizzards, and tornadoes.
While there cannot be completely earthquake-proof houses, you can make yours earthquake-resistant. Make sure it’s strong enough to protect itself to a great extent from earthquake destruction.
Fortunately for us, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) continuously works with the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) for building earthquake-proof structures, practices, and regulations. The goal is to safeguard our homes, schools, and offices against earthquakes. And, to minimize damage and injury.
Remember that while it’s not possible to predict exactly when an earthquake occurs, you can always take precautionary measures to minimize the damage to property and loss of life.
So, what kind of house can withstand an earthquake? Well, here are a few measures that you as a homeowner should take to prevent damage to yourself and your property.
1. Choose the right building materials to combat earthquakes
While structural engineers include shock absorbers and pendulums in their constructions to help dispel seismic energy to an extent, the materials you choose for your home are equally responsible for its stability. Building materials such as structural steel and wood resist stress and vibration. They allow buildings to bend without breaking.
Scientists and engineers are also looking into innovative materials such as shape memory alloys which have the ability to endure the heavy strain and yet revert to their original shape. There’s also fiber-reinforced plastic wrap that provides up to 38% greater strength and ductility. Interestingly, bamboo and 3D printed materials can also function as lightweight, interlocking structures — potentially providing great resistance during earthquakes.
2. Conduct a thorough home inspection
Building regulations, especially in earthquake zones, require that a house is designed to withstand the horizontal and vertical earthquake forces. These forces should be allowed to pass through the frame of a house to its foundations — leaving the structure intact.
As a homeowner, you should hire a licensed structural engineer to inspect your building and identify any structural weaknesses or faults that might require a retrofit.
Read more: Home inspection costs
3. Keep the moisture content in the foundation constant
Local soil and water conditions can affect the base of your house. For example, soil with high clay content, like in California, tends to expand and contract like a sponge during heavy rainfall. As a result, the moving foundation of your house can damage the overlying structure.
You must strive to keep the foundation moisture conditions constant. And, how do you do that? By keeping your house roof and rain gutters clean. Also, by ensuring that the rainwater on the ground runs into drains rather than under your house.
4. Strengthen your glass windows
You must take steps to earthquake-proof your windows and prevent them from shattering due to the powerful ground movement. The easiest option is to apply a safety film to strengthen the glass. The film will hold the glass shards together in case the glass breaks. You can apply the film yourself for $3 to $4 per square foot or hire a professional.
If you’re looking for more protection, you can replace your large windows and sliding doors with tempered or laminated glass — at an average cost of $10 to $20 per square foot.
Read more: Home window replacement financing & loans
5. Reinforce your garage wall
Building contractors call a room above a garage a “soft story” since it has low resistance to earthquakes. In order to earthquake-proof your garage, it’s a good idea to reinforce the garage door wall with steel or plywood. And while you’re at it, keep your garage storage unit away from the garage windows. This will prevent any glass breakage during an earthquake.
6. Get the right roofing material
If you’re already planning a roof repair, consider replacing your roof with a light, earthquake-friendly material. You could use aluminum, wood, or asphalt shingles instead of the heavy brick or terra-cotta roof shingles. Keep in mind that the lighter your roof, the less force it will exert onto your home’s support system, thereby decreasing any chances of a complete collapse. The same logic goes for brick chimneys which cause significant damage.
7. Check your house’s anchoring
Look in your house’s crawl space and check that the walls of the house are anchored well to the foundation slabs. If not, your house might slide along the foundation slab during an earthquake. It may even rupture your utility lines. Make sure the anchor bolts fasten the sill plate every four to six feet — supporting the floor joists and wall studs — to the foundation. The best way is to hire an engineer for the job.
8. Brace your cripple walls
Cripple walls are the exterior foundations of your house. They surround the crawl space and carry the weight of the house above them. Think of them as shock absorbers during an earthquake. So to keep them in good condition, make sure they are well braced with plywood on the inside. This will avoid their side-to-side swaying or a total collapse during an earthquake.
9. Avoid any unreinforced masonry walls
You will need to replace any load-bearing walls and non-load-bearing walls that are made of cinderblocks, bricks, hollow clay tiles, or such as masonry materials. The reason is that such walls are vulnerable during an earthquake, and can easily shatter, collapse or crush the occupants of the house. If you’re living in an older home, the best solution is to consult a structural engineer. They might suggest erecting a steel frame and tying the masonry wall to it.
10. Use flexible pipes and tubes for your utilities
Always install flexible gas and water pipe fixtures when it comes to your utilities. They will generally not rupture during an earthquake and avoid any gas leaks, water leaks, or fire breakout. Most importantly, install an earthquake-activated shut-off valve on the main gas line into the house. You should know exactly where and how to shut off your gas, water, and electric utilities. And yes, do not keep any flammable liquids in your garage.
11. Brace your water heaters
It’s a good idea to install a special bracing kit for your hot water heater. You can easily get one at a local hardware store. However, do ask a qualified plumber to carry out the installation to follow the building codes. Make sure the bracing is heavy metal strapping and is secured properly to the wall studs. The next time you’re in the bathroom during an earthquake, you want to be able to feel safe and secure, right?
12. Secure your furniture, fixtures, and decorations
You don’t want an earthquake to overturn your furniture and dislodge your favorite paintings and pictures from your walls. Avoid having a heavy picture or mirrors hanging over your bed. Make sure that the light fixtures, fans, bookcases, and cabinets are fixed properly to the wall or ceiling. And, secure the cabinet doors properly. Also, strap down your televisions, computers, and electrical appliances to a heavy, solid table.
Earthquakes test the strength and structural reliability of your home. Most importantly, they test your preparedness. Make sure your home has been constructed or retrofitted to be as earthquake-proof as possible. While earthquake proofing your home is an unending task, you can always ensure most of the above steps for your safety.
Keep in mind that an earthquake may do much more than just give you tremors, sway the pendant lights or spill some swimming pool water onto your patio. It could wreak havoc on you and your home. So, are you suitably prepared? Well, now you know how to make a house earthquake-proof, right?