By s.e. smith, Networx

Earthquake straps are a must-have if you live somewhere prone to geologic activity. They’ll hold heavy items of furniture in place during an earthquake to reduce the risk of damages and injury, and are especially highly recommended for bookcases, which can deal considerable damage if they topple. You should also consider them for appliances like fridges and water heaters. Plumbers in San Francisco and other earthquake-prone areas should be familiar with installing earthquake straps on water heaters.  Some insurance companies will actually offer you a discount if you install earthquake straps and other safety measures, so be sure to check on that if you have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.

Hardware and home supply stores typically sell earthquake straps, which can be made from plastic or metal, or can order them if you need them. Make sure to check their weight rating and confirm they are safe for their intended use, as not all strap products are suitable. You’ll need a drill with appropriate bits along with anchors and the earthquake straps themselves. Carpenters in earthquake prone areas are familiar with installing earthquake straps.

Start by unloading the furniture and pulling it from the wall to locate the studs. You can use a stud-finding tool for this or rely on the trick of tapping the wall and listening to hear the heavier sound indicative of a stud rather than insulation. It’s important to anchor to a stud, because otherwise the strap may pull out during an earthquake. Depending on the design of the product you’ve purchased, you may need to attach it to the wall first or to the furniture first, so check the directions carefully. If you’re working in masonry, concrete, or drywall, use an anchor into the stud; if you don’t, the screw could pull out during an earthquake, sending the furniture toppling.

Prepare the item you’re anchoring by drilling holes into the site where you’ll be inserting the hardware, if directed to do so. Make sure to choose a point where the furniture is solid, rather than a weak point like a joint that could fracture when you drill or under the strain of an earthquake. Follow the installation directions for the strap carefully, taking care to apply the screws or fixative glue exactly as directed to avoid an unsafe installation.

As you anchor the furniture to the wall, make sure it’s level and even. If it’s not, it could unbalance in an earthquake and cause problems. When you’re satisfied that it’s in the right place, you can complete the installation and test it by pulling on it with an assistant. The furniture shouldn’t move, indicating that it is firmly anchored into a stud in the wall and won’t go anywhere under the stress of mild to medium shaking. Then, you can load it back up with books, china, or whatever else it might hold.

For additional safety, you might want to consider installing barrier straps or strips at the front of the furniture if it’s open or has doors that might easily swing out. These prevent items from tipping out in the event of an earthquake; for something like a bookcase, this can prevent injuries and a huge mess if the bookcase stays in place but all the books go flying. In the case of items like china and antique cabinets, the straps will prevent catastrophic damage to prized household items that might otherwise topple out during an earthquake. Adhesive gels and tapes are also available for specialty items like sculptures.