Rumble under the patio: outside earthquake damage to look for

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On November 30, 2017, an earthquake shook the area of Dover, Delaware. Rumblings of the quake, which measured 4.1 on the Richter scale, were felt in a very large radius from the epicenter. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), even a “light” earthquake warrants a check of your home, landscape and patio for damages (check out FEMA’s website for vital information about post-earthquake actions). Here are some places around the patio to look for damage.

People first

After an earthquake, no matter how small, first assess any human injuries. Light earthquakes can still topple tall, top-heavy furniture pieces. Make sure everyone is safe before looking for damage inside or outside your home after a minor or light earthquake.

Home and Hardscape

After carefully assessing the home’s structural integrity, take a walk around the patio and look for any damage. Take notes. Be careful. Large, heavy elements in the patio area like chimneys, trees, or pergolas can topple if damaged. Being extremely careful and on the watch for  aftershocks, observe any cracks or signs of damage. Take detailed notes.

Check an outdoor kitchen’s appliances and a patio’s fire elements. Ruptured gas lines will emit a rotten eggs odor. Conduct a “sniff test” around the outdoor kitchen. If you smell a small odor of gas, check the pilot lights or supply valve. Call the utility company’s 24-hour hotline for help. If you smell a strong odor of gas, evacuate the area and call 911 immediately. Check any outdoor fire elements for damage to the mortar or bricks. Call an inspector for advice if you detect cracks in chimneys or in other masonry. Minor cracks may not need immediate repair, but structural cracks are a toppling hazard and need to be addressed as soon as possible.

After the kitchen area, check the pool deck and pool. Pool decking, tile, heaters, supply lines and filter systems all need to be assessed for damages after an earthquake. Observe water levels and pool chemistry over the next several days and weeks. Any major changes may indicate a structural problem and will need to be inspected by a professional.

Lastly take inventory of any flammable liquids like cleaning products, gasoline or painting supplies. Note where they are stored. Move them away from any toppling hazards like chimneys, trees or masonry walls.

Keep checking

It may take weeks for damage to appear, it’s best to make a regular check of the patio area during the months following an earthquake. While minor or light earthquakes aren’t likely to incur much damage on most outdoor living spaces, unforeseen effects may still surface. When in doubt, call a home inspector.

The good news: if your patio or other paved areas are made of interlocking concrete paving stones - or “pavers” for short - they’ll probably be in good shape after a bit of earth shaking.

Patio pavers are installed on a more flexible surface with no mortar. Unlike more rigid materials like asphalt or poured concrete (whether decorative or not), the patio pavers’ base moves as the earth moves, saving the pavers from the force of a “light” earthquake (qualified as registering between 2.5 and 5.4 on the Richter scale).

The main point is to stay safe. A small earthquake is a good reminder to inspect for safety during those times when all is quiet, and the only rumblings you feel is the stampede of familiar, fun-loving feet on the patio.