How to Retrofit a Home for an Earthquake | Ask This Old House

28January 2019


Ask This Old House host Kevin O’Connor travels to Portland, Oregon to learn how to protect homes from earthquakes.
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Time: 1-2 days

Cost: $2000 and up

Skill Level: Expert – for licensed professionals only

Tools List for Earthquake Protection:
Palm nailer
Drill driver
Masonry drill
Pipe wrench

Shopping List:
Metal L brackets
Foundation plates
10 penny nails
Wood screws
Screw anchors
Automatic gas shut off valve
Pipe dope
Gas nipples
Museum putty
Zip ties
Water heater straps

Steps:
1. The work involved with a seismic retrofit often requires a consultation with an engineer, and any work involving gas must be done by a licensed professional. Consulting with a person who is licensed to do seismic retrofits can help identify key areas to work with in order to minimize damage.
2. The house can be secured to the foundation by securing metal L brackets into the rim joist and the sill plate at locations determined by the engineer with a palm nailer and 10 penny nails.
3. To connect the sill plate to the foundation, drill screw anchors into the anchor plates and the foundation, and wood screws through the anchor plates to the sill plate. Predrill the sill plate to prevent it from splitting.
4. To prevent gas from leaking into the house during an earthquake, an automatic gas shut off valve can be installed by a licensed gas fitter.
5. Shut off the gas to the meter.
6. Disconnect the gas pipes starting from the meter until you reach a level gas pipe.
7. Thread the gas shut off valve into the pipes using pipe dope and nipples.
8. Reconnect the remaining gas pipes to the meter and turn the gas back on. Check for any leaks in the new gas work.
9. Secure any valuables and nick knacks to the wall, shelves, and floor using museum putty and zip ties.
10. Secure the water heater to the surrounding walls using straps.

Resources:
While the specialty hardware that was used to secure the house to the foundation can be found at most home centers, determining the proper location for that hardware may require a consultation with an engineer.

The seismic gas shutoff valve installed was a Northridge Valve, which is manufactured by Seismic Safety Products (http://www.seismic-safety.com/). Gas work is extremely dangerous and should always be left to licensed professionals.

The museum putty used to secure valuables to the shelves is manufactured by QuakeHOLD (http://www.quakehold.com/emergency-management-emergency-preparedness-index.html).

Expert assistance with this project was provided by NW Seismic (https://www.nwseismic.com/) and Christopher Higgins.

About Ask This Old House TV:
Homeowners have a virtual truckload of questions for us on smaller projects, and we're ready to answer. Ask This Old House solves the steady stream of home improvement problems faced by our viewers—and we make house calls! Ask This Old House features some familiar faces from This Old House, including Kevin O'Connor, general contractor Tom Silva, plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey, and landscape contractor Roger Cook.

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How to Retrofit a Home for an Earthquake | Ask This Old House
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