How and Why to Strap Your Water Heater to the Wall

We recommend that you have a professional plumber install your water heater and strap it correctly.

Besides great weather, beaches, and movie stars, California is certainly known for its earthquakes. And because of that, California state law requires that any new or used water heater sold on or after July 1, 1991 to be strapped securely to a wall.

NO exceptions are allowed for any home, public building, or multi-family property, including office buildings, apartment or condominium complexes or public spaces. Why? Because if an earthquake hits and that water heater falls over, there’s a serious potential for both water damage and a fire that could endanger the building and people in it, who may be trapped by debris or left unconscious after the quake.

Important Note: A water heater can be a fantastic source of clean water after an earthquake, providing 30 to 50 gallons of fresh water to drink and cook with after disaster strikes. Unfortunately only about 30% of Californians are prepared with an emergency survival kit in their homes or offices, which means your water heater could come in handy. BUT, and that’s a big BUT, only if that water is still in the heater, not spilled all over the ground and rendered useless…(yet another reason to follow the law and secure your water heater to the wall).

Perhaps your tank has been secured to the wall for years. Job done, right? Not so fast. Experts have modified the old recommended procedure for strapping water heaters, thanks to the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco and the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles. Those quakes caused many tanks to break through their strapping and consequently, improvements were made to the strapping requirements.

Our recommendation is to have your water heater professionally installed by a licensed, bonded and insured plumber (we’re happy to give you a recommendation!), who will be aware of the proper installation requirements and secure the water heater. They will also install flexible, or corrugated, copper water connectors and flexible gas cables as well, which is important for earthquake safety.

If you are going to try to do it yourself, please heed these rules:

  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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. Replace all copper and metal piping with flexible natural gas and water line connectors.

Don’t forget, not only could a water heater cost $500 or more to replace after an earthquake or disaster, think of the replacement costs for your Orange County home if a fire broke out or your home was flooded due to your water heater not being strapped properly!

And remember, immediate, professional attention after water damage or flooding is absolutely necessary to achieving the best results in cleanup. Don’t hesitate—call us now for an estimate!


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