Safety First! The Importance of Earthquake Straps for Water Heaters

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. Fires, floods, and 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 emergencies and lead to property damage, injuries, and loss of life.

Water Heaters and the Danger of Ignition Fires

A staple fixture in most commercial and residential properties, water heaters are particularly susceptible to the effects of earthquakes. 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.

Lessons Learned About Earthquake Straps

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

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. In addition, the California state legislature has passed a law requiring the bracing of all new water heater installations and existing water heaters at the time of property sale.

Challenges and Concerns

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.

The HoldRite Quick Strap® Solution

HoldRite is a leading manufacturer of water heater accessories, secondary pipe supports and firestop systems. Hundreds of millions of HoldRite products are installed into a wide variety of residential and commercial construction projects.

The HoldRite Quick Strap series offers the most tested, approved, and recognized water heater restraints in the market. All models in the Quick Strap series are independently lab-tested and meet and exceed code requirements for seismic safety. All Quick Strap models are:

  • IAMPO Listed
  • Approved by the City of Los Angeles
  • California Accepted

HoldRite Quick Strap Installation Tips

When securing a water heater to the wall with earthquake straps, follow these recommended guidelines:

  • Position the water heater snug against the wall to prevent it from tipping backward during a quake. If needed, fill the extra space between the water heater and the wall with a wooden block bolted into the wall studs. The best place to locate your water heater is directly in front of t 2” x 4” wall stud.
  • The patented Quick Link™ System provides secure frontal attachment, no need to struggle wrapping the strap around the tank as HoldRite’s Quick Strap secures at the front center of the tank for ease of installation.
  • Position straps around the upper one-third and lower one-third sections of the water heater, as specified by UPC 508.2.
  • Anchor the straps to wall studs, if you are installing against the drywall.

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.

Whether you are installing a new water heater or retrofitting an existing installation, you can count on HoldRite to provide the durable, proven, and approved water heater accessories that you need for a successful installation.