One common natural disaster that homeowners face is an earthquake. According to data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), approximately 20,000 earthquakes occur per year. That’s about 55 tremors per day.

When a major earthquake hits a local community, the first thing that homeowners usually do is to see if they and everyone else in the household are safe and unharmed. Then, they direct their attention to putting everything back in place, such as rehanging displaced photo frames and cleaning up the mess left by fallen objects. They rarely think about assessing their property for structural damage, unless the damage is too obvious to miss.

If an earthquake strikes your area, you need to do a quick structural check – even if the house looks OK at first glance. By assessing the structural integrity of your house, you’ll know if your residential property is still safe to live in – or is just one shake away from a collapse.

Here’s how to check your home for possible structural damages:

Inspect the Foundation

Assessing the foundation of your house is an important first step. Determine if the earthquake has shifted the connection of your home to the foundation. A broken or weak connection could cause the property (or a portion of it) to fall off or collapse. This may lead to fires or serious injuries.

If you notice that the foundation is partially off, don’t stay there any longer. Check in with a professional to determine the risk and seriousness of the damage.

How exactly should you check the foundation? Look at the size of the crack. If the earthquake produces cracks that are an inch or half an inch wide, consider those as red flags.

Apart from cracks, look at the angle of your home’s foundation. Be wary if the house looks tilted, leaning or bowing.

Check Your Utilities

After an earthquake, find out if the electrical transmission lines of your house are sagging noticeably. Then, check if the faucets, pipes and water connections are secure. If you come across problems, don’t hesitate to get in touch with an electrical and plumbing company for repairs.

Assess Your Rooftop

Stand back from your home, inspect your roofing from all sides and look for obvious damage or changes. Ask yourself these guide questions:

  • Are there humps that become apparent after the earthquake?
  • Is the rooftop bowing or sagging in one place?
  • Is the roof’s ridgeline straight?

Don’t forget to look for damaged trusses, rafters and roof framing. Once you’ve determined the extent and severity of the damage, check with a roofing contractor and ask about having your roof repaired.

Inspect Your Fireplace and Chimney

See if the chimney looks bowed or unusually leaning on one side. Also, determine if both the fireplace and the chimney have stone, brick or block cracks. As much as possible, don’t use an electrical fireplace if the earthquake has damaged it or knocked out the power in your house because this could lead to a fire.

Assess the Exterior Walls

Do a visual inspection and see if your house’s exterior walls are wavy, damaged or bowed. If you’re unsure how to do this, pull a yarn or some other string down the length of your exterior wall to determine if it’s straight. Then, use a level to find out if the walls are tilted or leaning to a particular side.

Check Your Yard

Your home may have suffered structural damage if you find evidence of soil movement in your backyard. Cracks running through your garden or lawn are a warning sign that your home may have sustained possible damage from the earthquake.

Inspect Your Home Interior

Once you’ve finished assessing the outside of your house, you should check the inside your home for possible structural problems.

Some warning signs you need to keep an eye out for are the following:

  • Ceilings look damaged or sagging
  • Doors and windows are stuck shut, have unsightly gaps or are difficult to open and close properly
  • Walls inside the house are bowed or leaning
  • Plaster or drywall has cracks

Do a Visual Assessment of Your Attic

The attic is the next place you need to check. Keep your eyes peeled for cracked or broken trusses and rafters. Also, look for loose or broken nails and hardware. If you notice that the rafter is pulling loose from the ridge board, there’s a good chance the roof may collapse even from a tiny jolt.

Once you’ve finished your preliminary structural damage check, you should get in touch with your local emergency management agencies for further assistance. If you are going to inspect the inside of your home, take extra caution. You could also consult a professional, such as a structural engineer or a local building department personnel, to help you with this visual inspection.