Is Your Home Ready for an Earthquake?

“. . . severe and appalling as this great convulsion of the earth unquestionably was, it is a settled conviction with all here that not a person would have been killed or hurt had their houses all been made of wood.”

Editorial, Inyo Independent, 1872
after the Owens Valley, California, Earthquake

How Safe is Safe Enough?

Chances are two out of three that you’ll be at home when the next big earthquake strikes, and one out of three that you’ll be in bed. So, your home’s ability to withstand an earthquake affects not only your pocketbook but also your life and the lives of those who live with you. If you are an owner or even a renter, you can take steps to make your home safer against an earthquake.


But first you need to make some decisions. Sure, you want to be safe, but how much are you willing to spend to protect your home and family against an earthquake? Is it your goal that you and those around you walk away from your house without serious injury, or that your house survives the earthquake as well? Deciding would be easier if scientists could tell you when the next earthquake will strike. But they can’t. You might spend a lot of money protecting against an earthquake that might not strike during your lifetime.

Here we review the steps you can take to protect your home, your valuables, and yourself from earthquake shaking, presented in order of importance. It does not consider damage to your house from liquefaction, landslides, surface rupture, subsidence, or tsunamis. It assumes that the ground on which your house is built will be shaken but not permanently deformed by the earthquake.


It is critical to keep your house from collapsing or from catching on fire, so those preventive steps are presented first. This is followed by discussion of other, less critical prevention measures. Then you can make the decision about how much protection is enough for you.

Minimum Steps

You might not take all of these steps in making your home safer against earthquakes. Doing everything would be costly and might not increase the value of your home, unless it successfully rides out an earthquake. So you could decide to live with some risk.

At least do the following:

  • Bolt your house to its foundation
  • Strengthen your cripple wall
  • Install flexible connections on all your gas appliances and make sure the main shut-off valve can be turned off quickly in an emergency
  • Secure your water heater
  • Make sure that large pieces of furniture or large ceiling fixtures won’t collapse on anyone in bed.

Taking these steps will help to protect you against a catastrophic collapse of your house, and against fire or serious injury.