One of the most important things you can do to quickly improve your family’s safety in a large earthquake is to secure heavy furniture. (If the physical structure of your home is unsound that would be even more important, but that typically requires a lot of time and money to correct. This blog focuses on bang-for-the-buck: things you can do quickly without breaking the bank.) Start by identifying all the items in your home which are tall enough to tip over and heavy enough to cause injury, and take care of the most hazardous ones first. In our home this was a set of bunk beds — they posed the highest risk because our kids spend so much time in them.
There are a number of different systems you can use for this job, giving you a choice of cables with screws, straps with hook-and-loop fasteners, and straps with buckles. If you think for a moment about the inevitable result of putting kids in close proximity to buckles or Velcro®, you’ll know why I chose to use something with screws for this job. An all-metal attachment system seems appropriate for another reason as well: Children may be in the bunk beds when an earthquake hits, so it’s important to be really sure they don’t tip over.
We’ll let a series of photos tell the step-by-step story, with just enough description to make the installation procedure clear. (To see more detail you can click on each photo to enlarge it.) Of course when you do an installation yourself you’ll want to walk through the complete process and determine each part’s final location before you go crazy with the drill, to make sure you’re putting all your holes in the right places. The product shown here is Wizard Industry’s Secure Quick Furniture Straps, in this case the version made for wood studs.
Step 2: To be extra-safe we’re going to use two attachment points, each of which will tie the bunk beds to the wall using a cable and bracket. (They are sold in pairs because this is the typical way to use them.) Each of the attachment points must be located over a wall stud in order to have the necessary strength. You can get a “stud finder” in any hardware or building-supply store which will help you find the approximate location of studs inside the wall. The photo illustrates the pencil marks that show where the stud is.
Step 3: Stud finders are a great invention, but my experience is that in an old house with lath-and-plaster instead of drywall, the stud finder is not always completely reliable. I usually have to drill some probe holes to determine the precise location of each stud. It’s important to get the location quite accurate, because when you put screws in later you want them close to the center of the stud to ensure maximum strength.
Step 4: Once we know where the exact center of the stud is, it’s time to drill pilot holes (the four holes in a vertical line) for the screws that will hold the bracket. Use the bracket as a template to mark the holes for drilling, and use the appropriate size drill bit for your screws. If the holes are too small you’ll have a really tough time driving the screws in all the way, but if the holes are too large the screws will pull loose during a strong tremor.
Step 8: Once the patching is smoothed out, the wall starts to look normal again. Don’t rush this step, because you’ll be looking at the results for years. Your significant other will be looking at it for years too, so consider yourself warned.
Step 10: The posts of the bunk bed are fitted with pins which keep them aligned, but in the bouncing of a big earthquake the posts could still separate. Even if they didn’t completely separate, there is a possibility of them crushing little fingers so we’re going to do something about that.
Step 11: Screwing a splice plate across the joint prevents separation of the posts. Put a splice plate on at least 2 opposite corners. I did 3 of the 4 corners to be a little safer, but left the fourth corner clear for aesthetic reasons. There are no screws in the two center holes because they would have hit the pins inside, and the pins are handling most of the load so 2 screws should be enough.
Step 12: We drill a pair of holes in a support beam of the top bunk at each bracket location (4 holes in total). Be sure to do this in a heavy main structural member, because all the force is going to be concentrated right at this point during an earthquake.
Step 13: Everything comes together in the last step. The cable is threaded through one hole of the beam, then through the metal bracket on the wall, and back through the other hole in the beam. Then each end of the cable goes through a hole in the cylinder, and the Allen screws are tightened down all the way to lock the whole assembly together. This process is repeated at the other attachment point. A careful selection of bracket location (plan ahead!) allowed these cables to pass through two large pieces of wood for extra strength.
Now that the bed is secured, this is what the room will look like after an earthquake. No, wait, we haven’t had a quake yet. This must be the before picture. Unless the furniture tips over, it can be hard to tell the difference.
Here is my rating on this system:
- These brackets are no harder to install than any other system. Most of your time will be spent futzing around determining the exact locations of the attachments to the wall and patching up holes afterwards, and that will be pretty much the same no matter what type of bracket you choose.
- The design allows a little bit of play between the furniture and the wall, which is essential.
- If it is necessary to move the beds you can remove and replace the brackets without damaging anything, but it takes an Allen wrench to get them off. This is nice because little fingers won’t be tempted to unhook anything and leave the beds in a dangerously unsecured state.
- Nothing is glued to the outside of the furniture, so once installed you can hardly tell they are there. Of course, this depends to a large degree on the design of the particular item of furniture; this system will be perfect for some things and not so good for others.
- I have no test results, but the system appears to be quite secure so long as you follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. The cable looks strong enough that I would expect the wooden studs in the wall to fail before the cable does. Another possible failure mode would be for the screws to break, but because there are 4 screws in each bracket, you would have to experience complete failure of at least 4 screws before both cables could break loose.
- The cost is higher than for competing systems (about $30 including shipping), but you’re not going to need very many of these and the price seems reasonable for what you’re getting.
Overall, I consider these mandatory for children’s bunk beds (because the kids cannot unfasten them), and they’d also work well for any item where drilling a couple of holes in the back would be preferable to gluing straps onto the outside.