In California, it can be easy to forget that we live in the heart of earthquake country. When the next big one hits, odds are you’ll be at home, possibly in bed. To minimize the potential damage that can happen to both your home and your family, it’s never too soon to take the necessary steps to protect your home from an earthquake.
The following tips can also provide you with a good selling feature if you are selling your home in San Francisco. Thinking about buying a home in San Francisco? Check to see if the properties you’re viewing have some of these earthquake damage control measures in place.
1. Evaluate the state of your home
Brittle crust refers to a type of ground that fractures when the tectonic plates under the surface grind together and cause earthquakes. Ductile crust, on the other hand, is warm and pliable, and it will keep its shape during an earthquake. These terms apply to structural engineering as well; a ductile building can sway without the threat of collapsing, whereas brittle structures can’t deform without falling to pieces.
How can you tell what kind of San Francisco real estate you’re working with? Brittle buildings include those made of concrete or brick joined by mortar but without additional reinforcements. A ductile house built on a wooden frame is more likely to survive an earthquake, but a brick chimney without steel rebar reinforcements is brittle and will probably collapse.
2. Conduct a deeper inspection
In earthquake zones, there are building regulations that demand structures built in those zones must be able to withstand vertical and horizontal forces caused by an earthquake. San Francisco real estate should be able to remain intact as the forces of the earthquake pass through the full frame of the building: a concept referred to as a continuous load.
Assuming the concrete foundation is safe, your next task is to determine if the house has been bolted to the foundation. If not, horizontal forces will shake the concrete right out from under the building, which occurred in northern California from 1989 to 1992. For help with retrofitting, hiring a licensed engineer is the smartest investment to make. If you’re buying or selling a home in San Francisco, an experienced real estate agent can offer guidance through this process.
3. Consider purchasing earthquake insurance
In California, most homeowners obtain their earthquake insurance from the California Earthquake Authority (CEA). Here, you can obtain policies for standalone buildings, mobile homes, apartment rentals and condo units. Like with all other kinds of insurance, there are pros and cons to consider that only you’ll be able to answer for yourself. If you’re sure that you can afford to rebuild your home while continuing to pay for your mortgage at the same time, you may consider forgoing earthquake insurance.
It’s important to note that these policies often come with certain exclusions, like fire, even when the earthquake is the cause. Because of this, it’s critical to ensure that all of your home utilities are safe and up to code. Think of earthquake insurance as supplemental to a more robust home insurance plan. At the very least, earthquake insurance may offer peace of mind, especially if you have a lot of equity in your home.
4. Ensure all utilities are safe
The greatest danger an earthquake poses, short of collapsing the building, is causing fire to ignite and engulf the home. Fire played a very damaging and deadly role in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake as fires swallowed up much of the Marina District and its properties. Natural gas is the concerning factor here.
If the gas connections in your home are too rigid, they will easily break off in the commotion, releasing a hiss of flammable gas that takes a single spark to create a fireball. All gas connections should be flexible, and the main line should have a shut-off valve that can be activated. Also, ensure all members in your house can shut off the electricity, gas, and water connections.
5. Don’t forget your furnishings
Even if the building is fully protected from the jarring experience of California earthquakes, furniture and items on the wall can all cause injury. For example, tall bookcases and file cabinets that aren’t secured can block exits or fall on top of smaller family members. Metal L brackets and screws can help reinforce tall furniture to prevent this problem.
An earthquake can also cause cabinet doors and drawers to fly open, spilling the contents within and damaging them or causing injuries; installing latches can keep these doors secure. Small appliances and personal electronics, including computers, televisions and stereo systems, can all shake off their homes and break. Finally, a gas tank in the home, including small cylinders stored in the garage, could also fall and rupture, releasing gas.
Minimize your cost: Protect your home from an earthquake in San Francisco
In San Francisco, the bills are already high enough, so spending extra money on work to your home that may not necessarily increase its value can seem like a futile exercise. However, when considering the worst case scenario, even if you don’t lose your home from lack of reinforcement, you or someone you love could be severely injured. At the minimum, homeowners should have the house bolted to the foundation, install flexible gas connections, ensure a gas shut-off valve is installed, and ensure no furnishings can fall and break or cause any injury.