How to earthquake proof your furniture

Whenever we stare a natural phenomenon in the face, like say, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake, we often wonder, “how can I keep my family safe?”

As I type this, I would estimate that there are no less than a quarter of a million articles hitting the web right now about being prepared for earthquakes. And so here I won’t echo the pundits’ cry for stockpiling food and water, having an emergency phone tree set up, and keeping your gas tank at least half full.  But I will mention one of the most overlooked, most dangerous, and yet easiest to avoid hazards in the home when it comes to tremors: bookshelves, dressers, and other high furniture.

It takes a big quake to topple a building, but it doesn’t take one to tip over furniture, especially that top heavy shelf, loaded with board books in the kids’ room.

A quick safety install will help you sleep better at night. Most new furniture purchased today comes with these kits included in the assembly hardware. But if not, the hardware is super easy to find. Some of you may already have.

Here’s the basic hardware needed:

Wall Anchor – This style is available in the hardware section in nearly department store, and at just about every hardware store I’ve ever been to. You can certainly find it in the big box stores too. This is hands down the best, easiest to install, and one of the strongest drywall anchors out there. They usually come packaged with corresponding screws. Plus – it’s minimally invasive, which means if you remove it, patching the hole with plaster is piece of cake. For anyone who’s ever struggled with drywall installs, this is a godsend.

Straps or Brackets – There are a lot of different kinds of both straps and brackets on the market. When I’m talking about brackets, I’m talking about a simple “L” bracket, with one end that mounts to the top to the furniture, and the other to the wall. Straps do the same thing and in fact, they might be the easiest way to go. Straps from an old backpack or duffel bag can be cut to length, singed at the ends to avoid fraying, and used just as well. Whether you buy or make the strap, I recommend using a nail to poke pilot holes through both ends where the screws will go. This will keep the strap from twisting around the screw when you install.

Screws – As most of the wall anchors come with screws, you should have what you need for the wall. When attaching the strap or bracket to the furniture however, a wood screw is best. You should choose one that is slightly shorter that the panel your screwing into is thick. I recommend drilling a hole that is smaller then the screw. This will avoid the wood from cracking, and will ease screwing. Be careful not to drill all the way through the panel. Also avoid making a hole that is the same size or larger than the screw itself as this will prevent it from getting any bite into the wood. If this happens, simply stick a toothpick or two into the hole, and break it off clean at the surface of the panel. This will fill the hole enough to make the screw go in tightly.

Final steps – Once your wall anchor is installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and you’ve made your pilot hole in the furniture, you’re ready to tie the two together. Use washers as these will prevent the screws from slipping through the bracket or through the pilot holes you made in the strap.

Tighten everything snug. The holes in both the dry wall, wood or press-board furniture can easily strip if over tightened.

And that should do it.

A bit of a disclaimer here – I’m no expert and please don’t take my suggestions as gospel. The procedure above is simply something I’ve done in my home, that if nothing else, helps me sleep at night knowing I’ve lessened the risk for my family. The risk is not gone. But it is less.

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