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Why You Need Earthquake Straps for Water Heaters

Water heater steel restraint

When building in locations prone to severe weather conditions or destructive natural events, it’s important to understand the risks and dangers posed by the improper installation of materials.

Earthquakes can quickly expose infrastructural flaws and weaknesses that might have gone undetected under ordinary circumstances. The resulting failures in building components and utility lines can compound the effects of natural disasters and lead to property damage, injuries and death.

A staple fixture in most commercial and residential properties, water heaters are particularly susceptible to the effects of earthquakes. If they aren’t secured properly, there can be huge consequences. Find out how this type of natural disaster often impacts water heaters and what you can do to make sure your installations can withstand seismic shakes.

How Earthquakes Can Cause Water Heater Damage

Seismic oscillations and ground acceleration triggered by a major quake can destabilize an unsecured water heater and cause it to tip over. The massive size and weight of the tumbling fixture can surely damage its surroundings upon impact, but an even greater concern is the secondary risk of fire.

A falling water heater can pull forcefully on and rupture supply lines, leaking combustible gas into the air. The small pilot flame of the water heater itself could ignite the released gas, triggering a fire that rapidly spreads and consumes surrounding structures.

Case study: California fires connected to water heater earthquake damage

In the immediate aftermath of the 6.7-magnitude Northridge quake that struck the San Fernando Valley in 1994, officials counted at least 110 fires blazing across the affected region. They traced a number of these fires to gas ignitions caused by toppled water heaters. In some cases, water heaters broke through the straps meant to restrain them due to:

  • The use of inadequate strapping material, such as plumber’s tape.
  • An insufficient number of straps installed, or straps installed at incorrect locations around the water heater.
  • The improper installation of anchors into drywall, as opposed to wooden studs.

Code Requirements for Water Heater Restraints

Since the lessons of the 1994 Northridge and 1989 Loma Prieta quakes, experts have updated building codes to include more stringent requirements for safety in seismic zones.

The California state legislature even passed a law requiring the bracing of all new water heater installations and existing water heaters at the time of property sale. Now, according to California Plumbing Code Section 507.2, “all water heaters shall be supported and strapped to prevent movement during an earthquake.”

In addition to California and Alaska, areas of Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii also fall under the Uniform Codes' seismic zones 3 and 4, where water heaters are specifically required to be anchored. Always be sure to review your state’s building codes carefully before installation, as they may vary from state to state.

Finding the Right Water Heater Straps and Restraints

As a busy and responsible construction professional, you can’t afford to waste company time on inferior materials that contribute to subpar installations. Nor can you afford to compromise on the building code and safety standards of the projects you oversee. In the event of a major earthquake and its aftermath, a faulty water heater installation could cause catastrophic damage. Failure to comply with the bracing requirements mandated by law could even result in the filing of costly liability suits against your firm.

water heater restraint

HoldRite Water Heater Restraints

HoldRite offers the most tested, approved, and recognized water heater restraints in the market. All restraint types — which include various galvanized steel restraints and a soft-belt style water heater strap option — are independently lab-tested and meet and exceed code requirements for seismic safety. They’re all also IAMPO listed and California accepted.

In addition to bracing water heaters with earthquake straps, safety experts recommend installing corrugated supply lines that can flex and bend with the motion of a quake. The HoldRite Quick Flex™ Connector series offers flexible, stainless steel water supply lines that are ideal for water heater installations in seismic zones.

flex connector

Whether you are installing a new water heater or retrofitting an existing installation, make sure you have the right water heater restraints to properly support your installation. HoldRite solutions are designed to provide the durable, proven and approved water heater accessories you need.

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