Your water heater is the most unstable appliance in the house. It’s heavy, being full of hot water, and it’s tall, likely to topple over due to horizontal forces from an earthquake.
Strap the water heater in place, top and bottom, with heavy-gauge metal straps (not plumber’s tape, which is too brittle to be effective). Anchor the straps to studs in the wall at both ends (Figure 11-8). Make a complete loop around the water heater (one and a half times) before anchoring it to the studs. This precaution is very easy and inexpensive to do and will not reduce the effectiveness of the water heater at all. Commercial kits are available from Walmart, Lowe’s, Home Depot; contact Seattle’s SDART Program for further information. One company is Hubbard Enterprises at www.holdrite.com, phone 800-321-0316.
If the water heater is right against the wall, brace it against the wall with two-by-fours so that it doesn’t bang against the wall during an earthquake. If it’s against a concrete wall, install quarter-inch expansion bolts directly into the concrete on both sides of the water heater and run steel cable through the eye screws, again making a complete loop around the heater.
If you have a water cooler, with a large heavy water bottle on top, strap this, too. You will need the water if your water supply is shut off during an earthquake.
Built-in dishwashers, stoves, and ovens might not be braced in place; they may only rest on a trim strip. One homeowner was quoted in Sunset Magazine after the October 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake: “I assumed built-in appliances are fixed in place. NOT SO! Our built-in oven and overhead built-in microwave slid out.” Make sure your appliances are securely braced (Figure 11-9). A gas stove might topple over, snapping the gas line and causing a fire. Secure the refrigerator to the wall. Babyproof refrigerator door locks are effective in preventing food in the refrigerator from spilling out on the floor.
Look around your house for tall, top-heavy furniture such as a china cabinet, tall chest of drawers, bookcase, or wardrobe. Attach these to studs in the wall to keep them from falling over (Figure 11-10). There are two concerns. One is the loss of heirloom china in your china cabinet. The other is the possibility of a heavy piece of furniture falling on you or on a small child. For either of these reasons alone, securing these large pieces of furniture to the wall is a good idea. Home computers and flat-screen televisions should be secured in the same way.