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Water Heater Straps: Do You Need Them?

 
 

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Water heater straps, also known as earthquake straps, are required in many areas of the United States. They are designed to secure the water heater from toppling over in case of an earthquake. Water heater straps are inexpensive and easy to install, and even if they are not required in your state, they are well worth the investment.

Earthquakes can cause significant damage and having your water heater secured from horizontal displacement can prevent a bad situation from turning even worse. This article will explain the things you should know about water heater straps. We'll even show you a few of our favorites.


Earthquake Readings

What are Water Heater Straps?

As we mentioned above, water heater straps are designed to prevent your water heater from toppling over in the event of an earthquake. Water heater straps are often made of metal or heavy cloth webbing, similar to a seat belt. Each end of the strap is anchored to the wall to prevent the water heater from moving. 

Water heater straps are installed in pairs to provide even more support. One strap is positioned near the top, while the other is lower towards the bottom. They are frequently called earthquake straps, water heater restraining straps, and seismic straps.

Do Water Heaters Need to Be Strapped Down?

When we think of an earthquake, you probably think of California or Alaska, but there are many other states in the US that are prone to earthquake activity. If you've ever experienced a major quake, you're familiar with just how much property damage they can deliver.

But, it might surprise you to know the the majority of injuries and deaths are not actually caused by the earthquake itself, but rather from falling objects and/or structural damage. By anchoring large, heavy objects, such as a water heater, you can prevent them from shifting position, sliding off a water heater stand, or completely toppling over.

A water heater that hasn't been properly secured can cause a tremendous amount of damage after an earthquake. It can break the gas line and cause a gas leak, which could result in a fire or other health risks. It could also break the water line, and create unnecessary flooding. Not to mention, since water heaters weigh roughly 500 pounds when full, they can cause major injuries if you are nearby when one tumbles to the floor.

Another consideration, is in the event of a major disaster, your water heater may be the only source of fresh water available. If it's secured in place with water heater straps you'll most likely be able to protect this valuable resource from the swells, rolls and ground movement that occur during and after a earthquake. 50-gallons of fresh water will go a long way when recovering from a disaster.

How Much Do Water Heater Straps Cost?

Water heater straps are very inexpensive and when you consider the amount of protection they provide, they are well worth the minimal investment. Like everything, the price is based on material quality, additional features, and the brand. But, you should be able to purchase a quality set of earthquake straps for under $50.

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Water Heater Strapping Requirements

Water heater strapping requirements have changed over the last few decades. If you have an older water heater that's currently strapped in place, it may no longer meet the current recommendations.

In the past, very little guidance was provided and plumbers/homeowners would often use one single "strap" positioned either at the top or middle of the tank. In addition, the "strap" frequently consisted of metal plumbers tape which was too thin and brittle to be effective.

The 1989 San Francisco (Loma Prieta) and 1994 Los Angeles (Northridge) earthquakes caused experts to take a close look at the recommendations because so many water heaters broke through their strapping, and caused fires.

Today, plumbing codes in most states have been updated to provide more specific guidelines for the usage of water heater straps. Although, surprisingly, there aren't national regulations for the types of materials used for water heater straps. There are both nylon and metal ones available, so you should check your state's plumbing codes to make sure the one you purchase meets the requirements.

When installing, one strap is placed along the lower third of the water heater, and the second is on the upper third. Both straps need to encompass the entire body and be bolted to wall studs. The bolts need to be at least 3-inches long and 1/4-inch diameter. The water heater should be firmly against the wall, and you should not be able to move it when it is strapped in place.

Firefighter FR-80 Soft Belt Style Water Heater Earthquake Strap Up to 80 Gal

How to Install Water Heater Straps

Installing water heater straps is a fairly straightforward process and you should be able to do it yourself. Here's the step-by-step directions and video for the American Society of Home Inspectors in the Bay Area. Please remember, that each state may have slightly different plumbing codes for this process.

  • Mark the studs where you'll mount the straps. Make sure that the studs are in a location that won't interfere with the water heater's gas or electrical connections.
  • Drill holes in the studs. You should drill two holes in each of the studs for the strap mounting screws.
  • Attach the strap fasteners to the studs using the bolts that came with your kit.
  • Wrap the right top strap around the front of the water heater and hold it in place. Then, bring the left strap up to meet it and align the two with the cinching brackets from the kit. Repeat the process for the lower straps.
  • Tighten the straps by tightening the cinching bracket. You may need to use an adjustable wrench to do this, so make sure the straps are routed correctly and won't interfere with the water heater's connection outlets in any way.
  • The water heater should be securely against the wall with very little space between the wall and the heater to prevent the heater from tipping backwards. Use wooden blocks if necessary.

Watch the Video


Buying Guide: Water Heater Straps

There's a few things to consider when shopping for water heater straps. Here's an overview of each of the factors you should keep in mind, and why they matter:

Material

Water heater straps can be made out of several different types of material. Cloth, for example, is one of the most common types of straps you'll find on the market. These are, obviously, softer than metal straps and have no sharp edges, which means your risk of cutting yourself during installation is low. In addition, they tend to be easier to install.

The other major type of material used is galvanized steel. These are a bit stronger than their cloth counterparts. However, it's unclear if they provide any extra protection except in the most extreme situations.

That being said, galvanized steel water heater straps are available for about the same price as the cloth straps, which means that you don't actually need to spend extra to get the benefits of the heavier-duty material. 

Size 

Water heater straps are not a one-size-fits-all product, so it's important to verify the straps you want to purchase will support your water heater's size. Since the average water heater size is 50-gallons, many water heater straps are designed to fit water heaters up to 55-gallons.

However, if you own a larger tank, such as 80-gallons, you'll need to pay close attention that the straps you purchase will fit your water heater. NEVER jimmy-rig your water heater straps to fit your heater, doing so will defeat the purpose of securing your heater in the event of an earthquake.

Components

Most water heater strap kits come with everything you need, including the properly sized bolts. Make sure your kit includes all the components needed to get the job done, without needing to run to the hardware store.

Code Compliance

Although most water heater straps available are designed to satisfy the requirements of national codes, it's still a good idea to verify that they meet the codes in your area. It's important to remember that if you live in an area that's prone to earthquakes, the requirements may be more strict.

Everflow GWHSE55 Seismic Water Heater Restraining Strap, Galvanized Steel, 55 gallon

Best Water Heater Straps

There are two water heater straps that stand out above the rest. One uses galvanized steel for the strapping material and the other cloth.

Everflow Seismic Water Heater Restraining Straps

This set of galvanized steel water heater straps from Everflow is an excellent choice for any homeowner with a water heater of up to 55-gallons. It includes everything you need to complete the installation and they are code compliant.

Features:

  • Galvanized steel construction
  • Complies with the requirements of both the Residential Building Code and the Uniform Plumbing Code
  • Includes 2 adjustable straps, brackets, screws, nuts, and washers
  • Fits water heaters up to 55-gallons in size
Everflow GWHSE55 Seismic Water Heater Restraining Strap, Galvanized Steel, 55 gallon

Everflow Seismic Water Heater Restraining Straps


Firefighter FR-80 Soft Belt Water Heater Straps

The water heater strap kit by Firefighter is a great option for homeowners who are looking for soft water heater straps that work on smaller and larger heaters. They're affordable, easy to install, and fit water heaters that are as large as 80-gallons. In addition, the material used for the straps is highly resistant to fire, rust, and rot, which means they should last a very long time.

Features:

  • Code compliant
  • Fire, rust, and rot resistant
  • Easier to install than metal straps
  • Fits water heaters up to 80-gallons in size
  • Includes all necessary materials for installation
Firefighter FR-80 Soft Belt Style Water Heater Earthquake Strap Up to 80 Gal

Firefighter FR-80 Soft Belt Water Heater Straps


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