All Shook Up? Make Sure Your Plumbing Is Braced For Earthquakes

Is your plumbing braced for Earthquakes?

You may have felt the 4.4 temblor that hit Los Angeles the other day. A lot of folks around here sure did.

I consider it a “good” earthquake. That’s because it did very little damage, but was strong enough to serve as a reminder that all of us here in Southern California live in a perilous earthquake zone and need to be prepared for the inevitable bigger shaking to come. Those of us who lived through the Northridge earthquake of 1994 remember that the ground below us can bring catastrophe at any time without warning.

Most of the peril from earthquakes stems from man-made objects rather than nature. Very few people get swallowed up by cracks in the earth. The vast majority of deaths, injuries and property damage are caused by collapsed structures and fires from damaged gas lines. Many of the fires occur long after Mother Nature stops her spasms as gas from broken pipes gets ignited by tiny sparks or static electricity. In the Northridge earthquake, authorities estimated that around half of all the devastating post-quake fires were caused by leaking gas. If you watched TV news during the last week you probably saw videos depicting the aftermath of a deadly building explosion in New York caused by a natural gas leak. It’s not a pretty sight.

That’s why the California Health and Safety Code specifies that gas mains in all homes need to be protected by automatic gas shutoff valves. Dutton Plumbing can install these devices where needed. Automatic gas shutoffs are simple devices. They are attached to the gas main leading into your home. When shaking gets rough a stainless steel ball releases into the line to block the flow of gas. A reset allows you to restore the gas flow after danger passes. Most homes built since 1991 when their use was mandated probably have these devices. If yours does not, please give us a call as soon as possible to have one installed. Periodic inspections are also important to make sure your gas shutoff valve remains in good working order. This is one of many yearly inspections included in our Family Plan service agreements.

Your water heater is another major concern during earthquakes. During past earthquakes, many water heaters have moved or tipped over if they were not securely anchored. This has resulted in countless gas line or water line leaks and electrical wiring damage. Since 1991 California Health & Safety Code Sections 19210-19217 require that any new or replacement water heater be braced, anchored or strapped when installed to resist falling or horizontal displacement due to earthquake forces. If you sell your property you are required to certify in writing to the purchaser that water heater bracing requirements have been met.

Bracing requirements vary with the size of the water heater. Units smaller than 52-gallons capacity require a minimum of two braces near the top and bottom anchored to a wall. Larger units may require a third brace in the middle. 

Guidelines from California’s Division of the State Architect strongly recommend that code-compliant flexible connectors be used in attaching the water heater and any water, gas and electrical lines. As their name suggests, flexible connectors will flex when shaken whereas rigid metal or plastic connectors may break.

California law also specifies bracing for fire sprinkler piping. In fact, any water-bearing pipes in your home that are hanging or protruding ought to be reinforced with braces and anchors. Otherwise, any earthquake a bit stronger than this week’s may cause the pipes to break and flood your premises.

Again, if your home was built since 1991, you most likely are compliant with the seismic bracing requirements of the plumbing code. If not, our trained technicians can make sure your home’s key plumbing systems are well protected against all but the most catastrophic earthquakes.

Like anything else, bracing straps and supports may break or deteriorate over time. Annual inspections under one of our Family Plans can assure you that when the next earthquake hits, your home may be shaken but not too badly stirred.