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Certain areas of the West Coast are subject to earthquakes, and these can cause significant damage to your home. A number of states not only recommend that you have earthquake straps installed on your water heater, but this might be required depending on where you live.

Water Damage, Leaks, and Fires

An earthquake can cause a water heater to shift its position, tip over completely, or slide off of its platform. If the unit moves too much, cracked or broken water lines can leak, which will result in damage to floors and walls.

There’s are even greater damage possibilities that many don’t consider. It’s been discovered that, where water heaters have been near broken water lines, the resulting drop in water pressure in the surrounding area has hindered a fire department’s ability to sufficiently fight fires.

In addition to these hazards, a shifting or tumbling water heater could cause a gas line to rupture. This creates additional fire concerns. If the water heater is electric, live wires could be exposed if the conduit is separated.

Earthquake Strap Requirements Are Relatively New

There were as many as 110 fires in the wake of the 6.7-magnitude Northridge earthquake that impacted the San Fernando Valley in 1994. Officials traced the cause of many of these fires to ignited gas resulting from tipped over water heaters.

In some instances, water heaters were strapped with inadequate material such as plumber’s tape. In others, anchors were improperly installed in drywall, or there was an insufficient number of straps used.

Following these events, experts updated building codes to require more stringent measures in seismic zones.

Do I Need Earthquake Straps for My Water Heater?

Section 510.5 of the Uniform Plumbing Code requires that earthquake straps be installed in seismic zones 3 and 4. California, Oregon, and Washington are all located in either seismic zones 3 or 4. According to California law, all new water heater installations must have these straps as well as all existing ones at the time of property sale.

The code specifically requires that water heaters be strapped or anchored to resist horizontal displacement from earthquake motion. Strapping must take place in the upper 1/3 and lower 1/3 of a tank-type water heater (not a tankless water heater). At the lowest point, there should be a minimum of four inches clearance from the strapping to the controls.

If you live in California and have a larger tank water heater, the state’s Architect’s Office requires that you have a third or even a fourth strap. There may be additional requirements imposed by state, city, or county regulators, so you’ll need to check with your building department or water heater expert to ensure you’re compliant.

No one likes to think that the “big one” is going to happen in their area, but it sure doesn’t hurt to be prepared. Not only do you want to protect your property, but taking these precautions might be required by law.

If you’d like to learn more about earthquake straps for your home’s water heater, contact Fast Water Heater. We’ll answer your questions and provide you with a fast estimate to get the work done by one of our friendly and qualified technicians.