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Robert Lamoureux: Earthquakes are the talk of the SCV

Your Home Improvements

Posted: September 3, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: September 3, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Hi Robert,
Our home is 10 years old. Given all of the earthquakes that are going on throughout the country and not knowing construction, I want to know if my house is safe. I read about having your house bolted down, but isn’t it already bolted down if it’s only 10 years old? Thanks,
Ash K.

Hi Ash,
Your house is fine.

At 10 years old, you have a moment frame, which gives you added resistance against earthquakes. 

Moment frames protect against the moment of inertia when a building is subjected to high winds or earthquakes. These frames help the home to flex and give a little and then return to their original shape. With newer construction, moment frames are installed somewhere in your home, generally around the garage door. They have “hold-down” straps and are bolted every three feet. 

For added safety, you want to make sure all heavy cabinets are secured to studs so they don’t fall over in case of an earthquake. Stud finders are available at your local hardware store. All you need are “L” brackets and lag bolts to hold anything large securely in place. 

Make sure all televisions are fastened to a shelf or walls. You don’t want TV’s landing on anybody. Falling televisions have been known to be fatal. 

I would recommend any large mirrors be attached to the walls with mirror brackets screwed into the wall. 

Also, familiarize yourself with where your gas meter is located and how to turn it off. Leave it alone unless you smell gas. Gas is actually odorless but a chemical called mercaptan is added to the gas which gives it the distinctive smell we all know.

Have plenty of flashlights on hand and, if you have the means, it’s also a good idea to have a backup generator so you can have some power in case of an emergency.

Dear Robert,
Our homeowner’s association sits on a large parcel of land and there is now a problem with lifting concrete on the pathways. We’re thinking about breaking up the concrete and putting in stepping stones. Can you think of a downside to this idea? I’d like to get your take on it. Personally, I’d hate to lose the trees, but the roots are tearing up the concrete and making it unsightly and dangerous to walk. I’m a fan. Thank you,
Ellen C.

Hi Ellen,
I would contact your insurance carrier and see what they have to say. Some carriers will require you remove stepping stones and replace them with concrete.

I’ve seen how some properties will do exactly as you are describing, to keep the trees and save the expense of concrete repair, and the carrier will go on a loss prevention walk and demand the stepping stones be taken out. 

The times, they are a changin’. Stepping stones had always been fine, if installed correctly; but lately, they are being replaced with full concrete runs.

Hi Robert,
Our gate closes too slowly in our parking garage. The gate opens at a good speed, stays open for 10 seconds and then takes nine seconds to fully close. We are concerned that this is enough time for someone to sneak into our garage and get inside our building. How do we adjust the operator to make it close faster?  Thank you,
Gary S.

Hi Gary,
I understand there are many security issues these days, but unfortunately, the manufacturer rates those gates at a given closing speed for safety purposes. You don’t want that gate coming down too fast. If the gate closes too fast, by the time the vehicle reaches the loop detector or photo eye which stops it, and then sends a signal back to the open relay to open the gate, you’ve sustained vehicle damage and possibly gate damage as well. 

In all situations regarding gate opening and closing speeds, you always want to follow factory recommendations. Yes, it can be altered. You can change the gears if you want, but this will also change your warranty from “yes” to “absolutely not.”      

If you’re concerned with intruders, tell your residents to go through the gate, stop, and watch in the rearview mirror until it fully closes. If they are on a ramp and can’t fully see out of their rearview mirror, then you can install convex mirrors.  

As far as the duration of what we call the hold-open time, the industry standard is about 10 seconds. Some people set it at zero, so when you pass the safety’s the gate will close. This is not a smart idea.  Don’t change the manufacturer’s recommendations on the close or hold open time.

Hey Robert,
We have these big green Edison transformer boxes that are rusted and are in bad shape. They are an eyesore. We’ve contacted Edison over and over. We get bottomless promises, but no action. Are we legally allowed to paint the boxes? 
Anthony M.

Hi Anthony,
Sure, you can paint them. You’ll want to get them cleaned up really well and prepped.

 Conform to their colors and don’t paint over any of their numbers or any of the identification tags. Tape over everything as necessary beforehand. They’ll probably thank you for doing it. 

Hey Robert,
This is more of a question of curiosity than a how-to. My neighbor had a driveway put in a few weeks ago. The contractor put down a mesh on top of the sand and then poured the concrete over the mesh. Why would you want the mesh at the bottom of the concrete? Shouldn’t it be in the middle to help hold the concrete together? Thank you,
Stefan M.

Hi Stefan,
You’re correct.

Mesh is put in the middle of the concrete, and there are two ways to achieve that.

The mesh can be placed on dobies which are 2” square blocks that hold the mesh up off of the ground.

Or, mesh hooks can be used as the screeting or leveling the concrete, occurs.

You’ll see the screeters hook onto the mesh and pull it up into the center of the concrete.

Usually, the old-timers will do it this way. I prefer this way to the dobies because you don’t step on the suspended mesh while working. 

The mesh will not keep the concrete from cracking, but it will keep it from splitting apart. 

 We have designed a custom, full-color The Signal/Your Home Improvements T-shirt we will give you if we answer your question. The T-shirt is available to be picked up at our office.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contacting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia.

His opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor, after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Send your questions to


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