Earthquakes strike without warning. Unlike hurricanes, tornadoes, and other kinds of natural disasters, earthquakes fail to send signals that danger is approaching. In Utah, about 700 earthquakes occur each year. While only around two percent of these quakes are felt, the rumbles can still do serious damage to your home. You may not be able to predict when an earthquake might strike, but you can take action to better understand their impact on your home.
Damage to the Foundation
There are two main types of waves emitted by earthquakes: body waves, which happen deep underground, and surface waves, which travel along the surface of the Earth. The surface waves are responsible for the lion’s share of damage to homes. Proximity to the epicenter of the earthquake can make these waves increasingly more destructive. The closer your home is to the fault line, the more damage you may sustain.
Perimeter concrete foundations are at risk in the event of an earthquake. That’s because of the movement that naturally occurs as the ground shifts. Brick chimneys may topple, unbraced walls may collapse, and, if a home isn’t properly tethered to its foundation, the entire structure may fall off.
Brick structures might seem like they’re more earthquake-resistant than wood homes, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, brick homes crumble easily when the ground below quakes. This sometimes leaves the upper portion of a home without stability, eventually leading to the collapse of the building entirely. Of course, wood homes aren’t entirely invulnerable to earthquakes, either. If they’re positioned on unstable grounds or near fault lines, wood homes are just as capable of collapsing as brick houses.
Most modern plumbing pipes are actually made of plastic tubing. The material is flexible and built to withstand the rumbling and shaking associated with earthquakes. Unfortunately, though, many older houses still rely on copper or galvanized steel pipes for plumbing. These rigid materials are especially vulnerable to seismic activity. A burst pipe or toppled water heater only adds to the chaos of surviving an earthquake.
In some cases, earthquake damage isn’t immediately obvious. You may walk around your home and believe your property escaped unharmed. If your main water line is damaged, however, the quality of the water flowing from your taps may suffer. Keep a close eye on the smell, taste, and color of your tap water in the days and weeks following an earthquake. Discoloration and bad smells can indicate that you have a broken pipe.
Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer
In the aftermath of an earthquake, it’s easy to overlook the potential for carbon monoxide to leak. As pipes become dislodged by the earthquake, they may leak natural gas or carbon monoxide into homes. Often known as the silent killer, carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can be fatal if inhaled in large amounts. Checking your vents for carbon monoxide leaks is vital in the hours and days following an earthquake.
Be on the lookout for signs of carbon monoxide poisoning in your family, too. Symptoms include nausea, dizziness and headaches. These relatively minor side effects are often confused for the common cold, so be sure to ventilate the home if anyone inside is experiencing symptoms. If the side effects disappear as fresh air is circulated, you may well have a carbon monoxide leak inside.
How to Prepare Your Home
While you may not be able to anticipate an earthquake’s precise timing, there are some preventative steps you can take to minimize the impact a quake has on your home. Start by familiarizing yourself with the shut-off valves around your property. In case an earthquake causes pipes to burst, you’ll want to know exactly where to go to shut off the water. You’ll save yourself a serious headache if you can prevent contaminated water from ever entering your taps in the first place. Gas lines, too, should be shut off for similar reasons.
If you have any leaky pipes around the house, take action now to prevent serious damage in the event of an earthquake. Earthquakes have a way of exacerbating existing issues around the house. Even the most minor of leaks can turn into major flooding if an earthquake occurs. By staying on top of leaks in the present, you reduce the risk of a catastrophe if an earthquake strikes.
If you live in a seismic zone, where earthquakes tend to focus, then you can consider buying earthquake insurance for your home. In case of the disaster, the company will cover your losses. Make sure to get familiarized with the details of the contract.
Aftershocks can be nearly as damaging as the earthquake itself. Homeowners owe it to themselves to conduct a thorough property inspection after shockwaves have died down. Start by looking for any damp spots around the house. Aftershocks reverberate through the ground, frequently causing pipes to burst. If you spot any wetness on the floor in the bathroom or kitchen, you may very well have a burst pipe on your hands.
Bubbling faucets, gurgling toilets and dripping water behind the walls may indicate further issues. Keep an eye on your water pressure – fluctuations may be a further sign of burst pipes. It’s also a good idea to monitor your water meter in the days and weeks following an earthquake. Broken pipes may be the culprit behind unexplained spikes in water usage.
While you’re inspecting your property from top to bottom, head outside to see how the earthquake impacted your yard. Puddles, wet spots and sinkholes could all signify underground pipe leaks. Bad smells may also be a red flag – they occur when your sewer line has a leak. You’ll want this issue fixed as soon as possible, as sewage leaks may attract rodents. Underground seepage can also impact the health of your plants and lawn, too, so be mindful of any spots that seem to suddenly burst to life.
Schedule a Diagnostic Service Appointment
There’s no such thing as being too careful after an earthquake has occurred. Call on plumbing experts for help identifying possible damage caused by seismic activity. You may not be able to predict an earthquake’s impact, but you can call on the professionals for support in the aftermath. Secure the health and safety of your property by scheduling a diagnostic service appointment as soon after an earthquake as possible.
About the Author
Butch Allen is an Expert Plumber with Roto-Rooter Charlotte. He prides himself on his eye for earthquake damages that might otherwise go unnoticed. Schedule your appointment with Butch and his team now by dialing 704-535-5303.