Everyone has heard of the “big one” - the ultimate earthquake whose impending strike will decimate cities and regress civilizations. There is a local version of this legend in almost every state - both Washington and California states each reside on major fault lines. While the extreme versions of earthquake-driven disaster as depicted in Hollywood movies might be pure fiction, it is important for rental housing professionals and landlords to address this risk no matter how remote. Even though the construction industry has made tremendous progress in making homes earthquake-resistant, one major weakness remains, especially for homes constructed before 1995 - water heaters are either not strapped properly or at all.

Why are water heaters not properly secured?
Before the 1994 Northridge earthquake, water heaters were generally secured with one strap of plumbers’ tape. This turned out to be insufficient to hold the tanks upright during the earthquake. So, experts modified the recommendation to secure both the top and bottom rather than just the middle, and to use heavy-gauge metal strapping.

Seismic Straps Seismic straps are a requirement for water heaters in areas that may be subject to earthquakes. In a number of states, it is recommended that water heaters be strapped so that they do not shift about during a quake. Naturally, legal requirements vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and from state to state. It is important to remember that you should always read the manufacturer’s installation recommendation if you’re setting up your own water heater.

“it is recommended that water heaters be strapped”

So, do you need seismic straps on your water heater? It depends. For example, they are required by law in California and Washington, which makes sense since the states are earthquake-prone. The Uniform Plumbing Code requires that water heaters be strapped on both the lower one-third and the top one-third of the tank. However, numerous building jurisdictions, as well as the state’s Architects Office also require a third or even fourth strap for heaters up to 100 gallons in volume. A quick call to your local building department should provide you with enough information on the number of water heater straps required in your area of residence.