Q: There is a question that has perplexed me for some time. We have done a low-budget remodel of our garage to turn it into usable office, art and storage space. Now comes the time to look into purchasing cabinets and shelves so that we can get boxes off the floor and actually finish moving into our house.

We have a lot of books that we’d like access to. If we were not on the Hayward Fault, I’d jump ahead and just put bookshelves up on the ample wall space we have.

However, I know this could be a foolish and dangerous solution, and yet I don’t know what else to do. Closed cabinets with locks? Some kind of strap scenario for books on the shelves?

Floor space isn’t an option here; we’ve maxed out with desks and such.

I would appreciate any tips or leads on this.

A: We remember well California’s Loma Prieta quake of Oct. 17, 1989. We both lived in nearby Alameda.

Bill, who was then working graveyard shifts, was just finishing a good day’s sleep. The quake jolted him out of bed. Kevin was on the road 10 minutes away from home anticipating watching the Giants-A’s World Series game being broadcast from Candlestick Park. Then, at 5:04 p.m., earth moved. Lucky for us we suffered no damage – physical or property – from the quake.

That’s not to say that earthquake preparedness should be ignored, and you will be well served if you take a few precautions.

The greatest danger during a quake isn’t from books and other heavy items flying off shelves. Rather, the danger is from the book-laden cabinets falling over. Neither of us would relish being near a 3-foot by 6-foot bookcase, loaded with books, when it fell. The damage to life and limb, not to mention property, could be substantial.

We recommend that whatever style you choose – open shelves or cabinets – make sure you fasten them firmly to the walls. Whether you go with custom-made bookshelves, pre-made bookcases or cabinets with doors, screw them to the studs (the vertical framing members of the walls).

Screws should penetrate the studs at least 1 1/2 inches. Make sure to account for the thickness of the back of the bookcase and any drywall that must be penetrated. Two-inch screws should do the job. Use wood screws, not drywall screws, which are brittle and have a tendency to snap.

Cabinets can be attached in a couple of ways. Either drill a hole through the back of the carcass and screw them directly to the wall or attach “L” brackets to the top of the carcass and attach the brackets to the studs. This will prevent the shelves themselves from falling over in all but the most severe quakes.

Although we have never used them, a number of ingenious earthquake safety brackets and straps are available at home centers and hardware stores. For a look at these devices, go to www.safetycentral.com/earprep.html.

For an added measure of security we’d suggest you screw a 1-inch by 2-inch piece of wood on each shelf to act as a stop for the books. Precut 1-by-2s are available at lumberyards and home centers.

All you have to do is cut them to length, paint or stain, and screw one to each shelf. This will prevent books from sliding off the shelf during any earth movement. Of course, the stops should be adjusted on each shelf to correspond to the width of the books stored on the shelf. Give yourself about an inch between the spine of the book and the top to allow for easier removal.

Tip of the week: Before securing your shelves or doing any other earthquake preparedness work, check your water heater. Make certain it is secured to framing with two bands of galvanized plumber’s tape or other suitable strapping.


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