How to Check for Damage After an Earthquake

Many of us are wondering if our houses have suffered any damages from earthquakes, but what do we look for in this case? Will damages show up later?house_earthquake_crack-300x336

We gathered some information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Here is a checklist on what to look for inside and outside your house to see if it had suffered damages from the earthquake.

1. Check The External House Structure:

• Survey all portions of your house to see if any part collapsed or sustained damage.

• Check to see if the house shifted on its foundation, or fell away from the foundation in any place.

• Check to see if the house is noticeably leaning, or looks tilted from a distance.

• Look for severe cracks or openings, especially around outdoor steps or porches.

• If inside the house, check to see if you are experiencing seriously increased vibrations from passing trucks and buses.

• Look for cracks in external walls. Check to see if existing cracks in the walls are getting bigger.

• Check to see if mortars are separating from the blocks.

• Look for sink holes or large divots in the ground next to the foundation.

2. Check The Chimneys:

• Look for cracks between the chimney and the exterior wall or the roof.

• Look for cracks in the liner.

• Check to see if there is unexplained debris in the fireplace.

3. Check Utilities:

• Check to see if power lines to your house are noticeably sagging.

• Check to see if hot water heater is leaning or tilted.

• Check to see if all the water connections, dry-pipes, toilets, faucets are secure.

4. Check the Inside Of the House:

• Check to see if doors and windows are harder to open, and if doors do not shut properly.

• Check to see if the roof is leaking. Look for water damage to the ceiling.

• Check to see if the furnace has shifted in any way, and if ducts and exhaust pipes are connected and undamaged.

• If inside the house, check to see if you are experiencing unexplained draftiness. Look for cracks in the walls, poorly aligned window frames, and loosened exterior siding. They can all let in breezes.

• Check to see if the floor is separated from walls or stairwells inside the house.

• Look for cracks between walls and built-in fixtures such as lights, cupboards or bookcases.

• Look for gaps around plumbing pipes that exit the foundation wall.

According to FEMA, the effects of an earthquake are sometimes slow to appear. Residents are urged to inspect their homes for damages that may have just come to light. Officials said walls can separate and cracks start to form weeks after the earthquake strikes.

FEMA officials said earthquake damages can be subtle as well. If not fixed in time, cracks between the walls can allow water to leak in and cause serious problems in the future, for example, rotting wood or a problem with mold. A structure that has shifted from its foundation leaves unsupported areas weakened and liable to break away.

Among the more immediate areas of concern are loss of electrical power or electrical shorts, damaged natural gas lines, or fractured water and waste systems. If any of these conditions should exist the services should be immediately terminated until such time as the respective utility provider can make the required repairs.

Once you have made your “laypersons” inspection and there is no immediate danger then we suggest that you proceed by contacting one of a variety of trained professionals who will be prepared to make a comprehensive investigation of the space and identify areas in need of repair. Among the most valuable resources are civil or structural engineers. They are particularly helpful in the case of a structure whose integrity has been seriously diminished. They will not only be prepared to identify a problem, but will also be qualified to propose a suitable repair. These individuals can be found in the yellow pages under engineers – “civil” or “structural”.

Home Inspectors offer a more general report covering a variety of subjects. Many of these inspectors have engineering backgrounds or are building professionals with years of hands-on experience in construction.  After a building is inspected, a written report is issued. Typically these reports offer a narrative description of the condition of the property and more often than not are accompanied by repair recommendations except in those cases where, because of the magnitude or nature of the problem, the inspector is not able to propose a repair. In this case he will recommend the appropriate specialist, an engineer for example. The cost of a home inspection will range anywhere from $200 to $500 depending upon the inspection company and the complexity of the home.

Local Building Inspectors are also qualified to make these same sorts of inspections but, because of the municipal demands placed upon them, are less likely to be available on an immediate basis. General Building Contractors may be consulted for minor repairs (typically at no charge) in the form of an estimate. Although, we believe that in most cases a General Building Contractor will be your ultimate source for repairs, we do not recommend that a General Contractor be employed to inspect or suggest repairs where major damage has occurred.