All Shook Up: How to Protect Your Home’s HVAC Unit from the Next Arden-Arcade Earthquake

how to protect home from earthquake arden arcadeEarthquakes are a fact of life in California. This year alone, Arden-Arcade has experienced two quakes. While neither were large enough to pose much danger, that doesn’t mean that the next one won’t. And anyone that’s experienced a major quake knows how much damage they can cause. Damage to a home’s foundation, walls, and roof can cause tens of thousands of dollars. With HVAC and electrical systems factored in, homeowners without insurance can spend as much as $30,000 in home repairs after a major shaking.

Some homes can be reinforced with steel frames and by securing walls to foundations, but sometimes there’s little else that can be done to safeguard our homes. Luckily, when it comes to our HVAC systems, there are some things we can do to protect it from potentially costly damages. With a little help from a local expert, homeowners can improve their HVAC systems, and associated plumbing lines, to withstand a natural disaster like a major quake.

How an Earthquake Damages Your Heating and Cooling Systems

Feeling the ground move beneath your feet can be pretty scary and, if you’re like me, your first thought is going to be the safety of your family. After that, you’ll start thinking about your home. Not only can the structure of your house be affected by seismic activity, but your HVAC system can too. Earthquakes can cause damage to your heating and cooling system by:

  • Moving the HVAC unit: The seismic activity in an earthquake can displace even the heaviest of units off its pad. This is a danger for the condensing part of your unit that’s usually mounted on a concrete slab outside your home. You should also be concerned with the indoor unit that may not be securely mounted inside a closet or attic space. If either is knocked off balance, the fan can shift or components inside your unit may move and break.
  • Damaging the exterior HVAC components: Depending on what type of unit is installed in your home, it can have any number of exterior components, like a refrigerant line, gas line, condensate piping, or electrical conduit. These can be damaged by a shifting unit, or even the seismic activity itself—it can jar loose conduits that hold electrical wiring or gas and refrigerant pipes from wall and floor-mounted brackets. When this happens, breaks and leaks can occur. These aren’t only detrimental to the performance of your HVAC system, but can also pose a health risk to your family should refrigerant or gas leak into your home.

How to Prevent Earthquake HVAC Damage

While we don’t expect a big one to hit any time soon, it’s always best to be prepared. In fact, Arden-Arcade has about a 34% chance of experiencing a major quake in the next 50 years, but there are equipment and methods that can be used to reinforce your HVAC system to make sure it’s earthquake ready. Some ways to equip your system so it’s protected during a quake are:

  • Vibration isolators: These are spring-type devices installed at the bottom of your unit that allow it to absorb some movement so the internal components aren’t damaged in a quake. This feature can also be installed on the fan housing inside a large HVAC unit, but in areas prone to seismic activity such as Arden-Arcade, vibration isolation on the unit itself is essential to prevent the entire unit from being affected by seismic shaking. This isn’t a standard part of a unit, so if you’re in the process of replacing yours, talk to your HVAC installer about including isolators.
  • Restraint brackets or seismic snubbers: These are brackets that go on the corners of your HVAC unit to help support the vibration isolators. They’re designed to reduce the shock to equipment from seismic vibrations. You can also ask your local HVAC professional about retrofitting these on your existing home unit.
  • Flex-line piping: The condensate and gas piping from your HVAC system is made of a rigid material that can crack and break if bounced around during an earthquake. That’s why it’s recommended that a flexible piece of piping is inserted into this line to absorb vibrations for the rigid pipe so it doesn’t break. It’s best to consult an HVAC professional about installing these lines on your existing unit.
  • Seismic certification: You should also ensure that your HVAC equipment has a seismic certification. This certification, issued by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) to manufacturers, is a voluntary certification that confirms the unit has been tested to withstand certain seismic conditions.

Checking and Repairing Your HVAC System After a Quake

Even after reinforcing your HVAC system and its components, like any major weather or geological event, a severe earthquake can still cause damage. While the largest earthquake to ever hit Arden-Arcade was a 4.4 magnitude one in 1978, it’s best to do a post-quake check of all your systems, no matter how big or small the shaking. Things to check for are:

  • Cracks and dents: Once you have ensured that your unit hasn’t shifted or fallen off its pad, it should be inspected for cracks and dents to piping and coils. Refrigerant and gas leaks can go unnoticed for some time, leaking harmful substances into your home. Any water or condensate lines should also be checked to avoid water damage.
  • Ductwork leaks: Don’t forget to check the ductwork associated with your HVAC system to make sure there aren’t air leaks. Rigid, triangular ducts can be rattled during a quake, causing the joints and sealing to weaken. If you aren’t quite sure what you’re looking for, it’s best to have your local HVAC expert out to take a look.
  • Insurance coverage: Lastly, don’t forget to check your insurance to see what you are and aren’t covered for in the event of an earthquake. In recent years, rates and coverage for earthquake insurance have improved, but it’s always best to make sure there are no hidden loopholes that could leave you in a bind.

Preparing for a natural disaster isn’t terribly fun to think about. But should the unthinkable happen, it’ll be much easier to handle knowing that you already took all the necessary precautions. Also, consider that by investing a little into your HVAC system now to reinforce it could save you a lot down the road in either insurance premiums or major damages. Arden-Arcade is a great place to live, but we, unfortunately, have to deal with tremors from time to time. Earthquake proofing your HVAC and its components will give you one less thing to worry about in the event that a big one hits.

Contact the trusted HVAC experts at Bell Brothers to discuss retrofitting your system, or installing a new one that’s designed to stand up to quakes.