Water Heater

Unsecured water heaters often fall over, rupturing rigid water and gas connections. If your water heater does not have two straps that wrap completely around it and are screwed into the studs or masonry of the wall, then it is not properly braced. This illustration shows one method of bracing a water heater. Bracing kits are available that make this process simple. Also, have a plumber install flexible (corrugated) copper water connectors, if not already done.

Protected source of water – or a puddle

Fresh water after a disaster may be as close as your water heater – provided, of course, that it remains standing upright. A typical water heater holds 30 to 50 gallons of water. However, this supply of water is extremely vulnerable to the ground undulation (swells and rolls) and ground acceleration of earthquakes, causing them to tip over.

You can protect this valuable resource by securing your water heater to the wall studs.

Changes to strapping recommendations

Your tank may be strapped, but incorrectly, as old methods are no longer recommended. Experts have modified the recommended procedure for strapping water heaters because many tanks broke through their strapping in both the 1989 Loma Prieta (San Francisco) and the 1994 Northridge (Los Angeles) earthquakes. Experts recommend these two important changes:

  1. Secure both the top and the bottom, rather than just the top or just the middle, of the hot water tank.
  2. Use heavy-gauge metal strapping rather than plumber’s tape. Many water heaters in both the 1989 and the 1994 earthquakes broke through the plumber’s tape that was intended to keep them secure. The thin metal in plumber’s tape has been found to be too brittle to be effective.

Securing your hot water tank

Secure your water heater.

  • There should be very little space between the water heater and the wall. If there is more than 1 or 2 inches, attach a wooden block to the wall studs with long lag screws (see illustration on page 20). The purpose is to prevent the heater from tipping backwards.
  • Wrap the heavy-gauge metal strapping 1½ times around the tank. Start by placing the strapping at the back of the tank. Bring it to the front and then take it back to the wall (see illustration below).
  • Secure this strapping to the wall studs or the wood block using several 1/4″ x 3″ or longer lag screws with oversized washers. If you are securing it directly into concrete, use 1/4″ expansion bolts in place of the screws.
  • Replace all copper and metal piping with flexible natural gas and water line connectors.

Commercially available kits like this one come complete with the strapping, lag screws, washers, spacers, and tension bolts. These kits can be purchased at many local hardware stores, and are recommended.

Make sure the strap wraps around the water heater 1 1/2 times! Water heaters are an excellent supply of emergency water. Water can be accessed from the drain spout – this is made easier by connecting a garden hose to the drain spout. Open a faucet somewhere in the house to allow the water to drain easier. Make sure the electricity or natural gas is shut off before opening the drain.

Another Solution for Water Heaters

The Problem

If water heaters are not properly braced, they can topple over during an earthquake causing:

  • Broken gas lines and gas leaks
  • Fires causing major damage to homes
  • Broken water lines and flooding

The unbraced water heater in this home fell during an earthquake; the resulting fire destroyed the home.
Source: California Seismic Safety Commission

How to Identify

  • Is the water heater free-standing?
  • Are there straps or other types of restraints securing the water heater?
  • Are there straps or restraints bolted to the studs?
  • If the water heater is secured, was it completed properly using updated recommendations?
  • Are there flexible pipes for water and gas connected to the water heater?

This unstrapped water heater tipped over during the 1984 Morgan Hill Earthquake. Fortunately gas and water lines were not ruptured.
Source: California Seismic Safety Commission


  • Replacing a water heater after an earthquake can cost more than $500.
  • Repairing fire damage and flooding damage can cost several thousand dollars, including the entire cost of your home!
  • Check with your local Building Department for details of local requirements.
  • Know where your main water valve is so that you can shut it off if you have a water leak.
  • Know where your main gas valve is so that you can shut it off if you hear or smell a gas leak.

Water heaters must be braced (securely attached) to the studs in a wall. California law requires water heaters to be braced at the time of sale, or when a new water heater is installed.

The Solution

There are recommended solutions – all relatively inexpensive.

  • Purchase and install a strap kit or bracing kit from your local hardware store. Be sure the kit is certified by the State Architect.

Other options include:

  • Have a licensed plumber strap your water heater according to code.
  • Use metal tubing or heavy metal strapping and lag screws and washers to secure the water heater to the wall studs.

The gas and water lines should also have flexible pipes. These are safer than rigid pipes during an earthquake.

Be sure to check the straps once a year. They may come loose due to vibrations, or other causes.

One Method of Water Heater Bracing. Straps and screws visible with water heater in a garage installation. You may need to add wood blocking.

How-to Resources

  • Your local home improvement store
  • How to Brace Your Water Heater, City of Los Angeles, Department of Building & Safety, Information Bulletin #P/PC 2002-003, June 14, 1999.
  • Guidelines for Earthquake Bracing of Residential Water Heaters, Department of General Services, Division of State Architect, August 11, 2004.
  • How to Secure Your Water Heater, Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, 2003.