Earthquakes

Guide for Bay Area Residents

Earthquake Preparedness

While we can’t predict when earthquakes will occur, Bay Area residents can and should prepare for them. That’s why we’ve collected information and expert tips to help you keep your home and family safe in the event of an earthquake.

  • Get Started: Start by reading 14 ways to prepare for earthquakes.
  • Find: Find a top rated professional to help make your home safer.
  • Research: Dive into more specific topics related to earthquakes.
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14 Things Bay Area Folks Can (and Should) Do Right Now to Prepare for an Earthquake

Those of us who live in the Bay Area understand that a major earthquake could happen at any time. If we want to live here—with the mountains, beaches and great weather—we have to make an uneasy truce with the massive fault lines running beneath our homes. Luckily, while we don’t have to like our rowdy underground neighbors, we can preemptively call the cops on the party. Do these 14 things now and be prepared for a major quake.

    1. Anchor tall bookshelves and other heavy or high furniture to the walls. Be sure to attach the items to the wall studs rather then the drywall.
    2. Do not hang pictures or mirrors over beds or the couch.
    3. Keep heavy objects on lower shelves.

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LOCAL EXPERTS' TIPS

Mark Corrallo

All Seasons Construction

Christopher Wells

Christopher Wells Construction, Inc.

Matthew Hechim

Water Heaters Masters, Inc.

George Walton

Alameda Structural, Inc.

Rod Tehrani

Absolute Plumbing and Drain

Alex Diaz

Water Heaters Masters, Inc.

A Crucial Component of Earthquake Safety

A Crucial Component of Earthquake Safety

OAKLAND — Due to concerns about earthquake safety, many Bay Area homeowners are taking preemptive action by having their homes retrofitted via measures like foundation bolting and bracing. While retrofitting is a great idea, there’s one caveat: if your home’s foundation is poor or weak, bracing and bolting won’t do much good. For example, when an earthquake strikes, a bolt that’s anchored in weak concrete could easily snap out of the side of the stem wall, which eliminates any of its intended benefits.

The best way to avoid wasting your money on pointless retrofitting measures is to hire a quality retrofitting company—preferably one that also handles foundation work. A company that doesn’t do foundation work may not be able to provide all the services you need or even inform you about them, but a well-regarded retrofitting company will give you the straight scoop and provide everything you’re looking for.

Assessing Your Home’s Foundation

Assessing Your Home’s Foundation

BRISBANE — Earthquakes are an ongoing concern for anyone who lives in the Bay Area. One way you can be proactive about protecting your home and family is to know the condition of your home’s foundation. If you understand the signs to look for, you can determine if measures are needed to bolster your home against earthquake damage.

Depending on when your home was built, the character (as well as the quality) of its foundation can vary. For example, many houses built in the 1920s and ’30s have foundations that were engineered using local materials, which isn’t good. Local sand contains impurities, which leads to degradation of the concrete. Also, builders in those days likely didn’t use enough Portland cement, as it was very expensive.

To assess the condition of your home’s foundation, perform this simple test: go down to your basement with a hammer or screwdriver and attempt to scrape off a piece of your foundation. If you’re successful, it’s a sign that the foundation’s integrity is compromised, in which case you should call a structural engineer.

Another thing to look for when assessing your home’s earthquake readiness is signs of foundation settlement, which can be caused by anything from poor soil compaction to drainage issues. In most cases, signs of foundation settlement can be found inside the home in the form of wall cracks, whether in corners or diagonally above doors and windows. Another common sign is a door or window that suddenly becomes difficult to open or close. If you start to notice these signs in your home, it might be time to get a professional assessment from a structural engineer.

Inspecting Your Water Heater

Inspecting Your Water Heater

CONCORD — For most homeowners, water heaters tend to be out of sight and out of mind. In reality, periodic water heater inspection is an important aspect of home maintenance, mainly because it allows you to preventatively identify problems like leaks and safety risks.

When inspecting your water heater, the first thing you should look for is proper safety. Due to earthquake concerns, any standard water heater installed in the Bay Area is required to have two support straps—one on the lower third of the tank and one on the upper third. These straps should be anchored to the wall by a sturdy support like a wall stud or post. Since most water heater tanks weigh more than 500 pounds, if yours shakes loose during an earthquake, the water and gas lines could be ripped loose.

Once you’ve verified the safety of your water heater, it’s time to check for water leaks. Start at the top of the tank and check connections like the water lines and shut-off valve for signs of moisture or corrosion. The next place to inspect is the drip pan beneath the tank. Everything should look dry—if you see water in the pan, you may have a leaky drain valve or flex line.

To preventatively identify leaks and safety risks, make it a point to inspect your water heater every six months.

The Importance of a Pre-Purchase Soils Report

The Importance of a Pre-Purchase Soils Report

ALAMEDA — When buying a home in the Berkeley Hills, one important step is having a soils report performed by a geotechnical engineer. Why? Because if the home needs foundation work, you’ll need to know what type of soil it’s sitting on.

I’ve seen many instances in this area where foundation repairs were improperly engineered because no one had performed a soils report. This can lead to dire consequences—in fact, a foundation repair that’s incorrectly performed can result in a worse situation than what the home was previously in. For example, drilling a pier in the side of a hill that’s composed of landslide material can encourage a landslide to occur. Likewise, drilling a pier in the wrong kind of soil material can drag the house down rather than stabilize it. Either of these situations (and the expensive repairs that go along with them) can be easily avoided by simply getting a soils report beforehand.

An Important Pre-Purchase Property Inspection

An Important Pre-Purchase Property Inspection

CONCORD — An important part of buying a new home is performing pre-purchase property inspections. These inspections verify that the home is in good condition and help rule out any unwanted (and expensive) surprises. One pre-purchase inspection I highly recommend is a sewer lateral inspection.

Since sewer laterals are situated below the ground, it’s easy for problems to go unnoticed until they become full-blown. These include cracks and breakages caused by intruding tree roots, as well as foreign objects or buildup clogging the line. Repairing or replacing a damaged sewer lateral can cost thousands of dollars, so it’s something you’ll want to be aware of prior to purchasing.

A sewer lateral inspection is performed using an in-line camera that provides an interior view of the pipe’s condition. If it turns out the sewer lateral is damaged, you can either move on to another property or use this information as a bargaining chip to get a reduction in price. In either case, a sewer lateral inspection can help you avoid a very expensive mistake.

How to Stop a Water Heater Leak

How to Stop a Water Heater Leak

CONCORD — If you discover a leak in your water heater, the first thing you should do is turn it off to prevent further leakage. However, in order to do so, you’ll need to know the correct procedure. Here’s how it’s done:

1. Turn off the water heater’s shut-off valve. Typically, this is found on the right-hand side of the tank. Grab the valve handle and rotate it a quarter-turn; this should stop water from entering the tank.

If the shut-off valve isn’t working, you may need to shut off water to your entire home (depending on how bad the leak is). Every homeowner should know the location of their home’s main water shut-off valve—it’s either just outside the home or at the sidewalk. This shut-off valve can also be used to prevent water damage in the event of a broken pipe or other major leak.

2. Turn off the gas. There are two ways to turn off gas to a water heater, the primary being the gas shut-off valve on the tank itself. Just like the water shut-off, give this valve a quarter-turn. If the valve isn’t working, you can shut off the gas via the water heater’s thermostat. Simply rotate the dial until it reaches the “Off” setting, which will extinguish the pilot light.

3. Call a plumber. Before calling, locate and write down your water heater’s model number and serial number. This information will let your plumber know what to expect before arriving.