Earthquakes And Water Heaters: Are Your Rental Properties Ready?

Are the water heaters in your rental housing earthquake ready and and legally secured in the event of an earthquake?

Are the water heaters in your rental housing earthquake ready and and legally secured in the event of an earthquake?

Everyone has heard of the “big one,” the big earthquake that could strike but few think of the water heater in their rental property when this subject comes up. The recent small earthquake southeast of Hillsboro, Oregon, got some rental property owners thinking about the issue.

While the extreme versions of earthquake-driven “big one” 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 in California, 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.

Steve Gemmell of Earthquake Tech says, “Installing seismically activated gas shut off valves has become standard practice along with strapping water heaters down to keep them in place during earthquakes here in the Pacific Northwest. These are both great ways to keep your rentals intact, preventing fire and water damage which can end up totaling your property if not costing thousands in damage.”

Seismic straps for water heaters recommended In some states

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.

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. Oregon Plumbing Specialty Code (OPSC) requires water heaters to be anchored or strapped in seismic categories C, D, E, and F.

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.


Bottom line, since a water heater system is crucial you should always make sure any and all installations and repairs are done by experienced and licensed professionals.

Depending on the area of residence, type and number of straps, strapping and bracing a water heater will typically cost between $100 and $150 or more.

As we’ve seen, even though money is the first thing everyone thinks about when discussing the true cost of a failed water heater, there’s more to it than that. The time spent deciding what to do, as well as the stress of the problem itself are also important factors. Why? Because, ultimately, you won’t just be fixing a burning problem; you’ll be buying peace of mind and a sound sleep, as well.

About Earthquake Tech:

Owner Steve Gemmell says the company is a dedicated seismic retrofit contractor in Portland with core values of progressive thinking, quality craftsmanship, referrals from our clients, and attention to detail.

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