Matt Springer has been giving presentations around San Francisco about home earthquake preparedness since 2008 (for more information about the presentation, go to his earthquake preparedness website). This blog is devoted to posts ranging from technical "how-to" articles to more philosophical "should-you" topics. New articles will be posted at most about once a month, so people who subscribe won't be subjected to lots of e-mail.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Are Command Picture Hanging Strips as good as maze picture hooks for quake-proof picture hanging?

(Note for e-mail subscribers; rather than read this in the e-mail message, please click on the title and go to the actual blog article so that the embedded videos will work; they may be large blank spaces in your e-mail message)

(Videos may or may not play on iPads; this is a recurrent problem with blogger blogs and iOS.  Reading on a computer is recommended.) 

Wall hooks are great for holding up pictures as long as gravity is free to do its job.  However, during earthquakes when the wall is shaking up and down, pictures have an annoying and sometimes destructive tendency to jump off of the hooks and come crashing down.  (Although amazingly, some of them stayed on their hooks during the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake.)  When it comes to preventing pictures from jumping off of their hooks, the gold standard is the “maze” pictures hooks that trap the wire in a zigzag slot.  I’ve written about these terrific but simple devices before.  However, the maze picture hooks have some disadvantages.  They still allow the picture to jump around a lot, potentially causing other problems (I tend to put dabs of quake putty at the lower corners to stabilize them).  Furthermore, these plastic hooks are so thick that they cause the picture to lean forward at an extreme angle, especially smaller pictures.  This is also somewhat ameliorated by the thick gobs of quake putty to push the lower corners away from the wall but then the whole picture is sticking out rather than being flush with the wall (see the example photos of some pictures in my home).  (However, the putty can leave shiny marks on matte flat wall paint.)

I’ve been experimenting recently with 3M's Command Picture Hanging Strips that are essentially a version of Velcro composed of two identical rows of interlocking plastic hooks, on those amazing now-you-stick-it-now-you-don’t adhesive strips that lose their adhesion when you pull the tab.  They are nice because the picture is flush against the wall rather than hanging out at the top (see example photos below of more pictures in my home).  They also have the advantage of not requiring any holes in the wall, a bonus for renters and for anyone who likes to keep their walls intact.  These are extremely strong and advertise that four pairs of large strips will hold up a 16 lb picture.  However, I presume this rating applies to vertical stability on stationary walls, so what would happen if the wall was shaking violently in an earthquake?

I finally did the experiment, just for you, lucky Quaketips Readers.  Because I don’t really have time to hang up pictures and sit around waiting for major earthquakes to strike, I attached pictures to a painted piece of drywall and simulated an earthquake using my low-tech-but-effective “armquake” technique; that is, holding the board in my arms and shaking it violently.  I shook it at a magnitude of 10 on the Matt Springer Scale.  (The Matt Springer Scale has only one value, 10, corresponding to shaking a new bottle of salad dressing before use.  In extreme cases, it can go to 11, but I didn’t want to sprain my elbow.)

The verdict?

I’m impressed.

First of all, here’s how the experiment was done.  I wanted to come as close as I could to the actual situation of a picture hung on my wall.  If these strips could fail, it could be where one half of the mutant Velcro meets its other half, or it could be where the whole assembly meets the picture or the wall.  Therefore, I actually went to the hardware store, bought a real piece of drywall, painted it with a primer coat and then the same flat interior wall paint that I have on the walls of my home.

The first thing to try was to nail a standard picture hook into the wall and put a relatively light picture with a wire on the hook, and...ARMQUAKE!  Watch the video and see what happens to all these pictures on hooks in an earthquake.  If the result surprises you, well... please read every other article in my blog, you need this!


Then I nailed a maze picture hook into the wall and put the same picture on there.  ARMQUAKE!  Hey, the picture is still there!  Good thing this actually works.  However, it certainly bounced around, and as I mentioned, the maze hook has the disadvantage of pushing relatively small frames far out from the wall at their tops, leading to a very tilted picture that might be annoying to some.  (By the way, the fact that I’m mostly out of the picture in these videos is not an amateur mistake on my part; I’m not the important part of the videos!)


I then attached a very small framed picture to the drywall with four pairs of medium size Command Picture Hanging Strips.  (This picture is about 1 lb.)  I did it the way they recommend: clicked together the four pairs, attached them to the picture (two at top, two about 2/3 of the way down), pressed the picture to the drywall for 30 seconds, removed the picture, pushed the wall-mounted strips against the wall another 30 seconds, then replaced the picture and waited overnight for the bond to fully strengthen.  And then...ARMQUAKE!   And the picture was still there.  I shook and shook the thing in all directions and it simply did not budge.  (In case you are curious what the rattling sound is in the video, it's not that the frame is loose in its attachment to the wall; there is a loose piece inside the picture.)




Ok, how about a bigger picture.  I tried the same framed picture that I used for the hook demonstrations above, although I had to remove the screw eyes and the picture wire from the back to allow the picture to lay flush against the wall, a requirement for the use of these Command strips.  This one is about 2 lb; I used the medium strips again.  I didn't make a video of this one, but after the ARMQUAKE, the picture had not moved.

I didn’t have a larger picture that I wanted to risk falling down, so I took a cutting board that is about 3 lb and used four pairs of large Command strips to attach it to the wall.  (That’s right, I created a wall-mounted cutting board and I suppose it could be useful for chopping very sticky food.)  Check out the video...ARMQUAKE!   A big armquake, in fact.  But the cutting board did not budge from the wall.


How about even large pictures?  I would hesitate to hang giant or very heavy items with the Command Strips; that is not their intended purpose.  If you have something heavy enough that you would have bolted a maze picture hook to a wall stud rather than nailing it into the drywall, you probably should not use these command strips for that object.  However, let’s at least take it up another couple of pounds.  I didn’t have a convenient heavier object to hang on the drywall, but I cleverly took this one step further because I DID have a heavier object to hang on the cutting board: the drywall!  Yep, by holding and shaking the cutting board instead of the drywall, the ~5 lb drywall is effectively a picture hanging on the cutting board by the same Command Strips.  I didn’t bother to make a video of this one, but after my big ARMQUAKE, the drywall was still stuck to the cutting board.

So there you have it.  I can’t guarantee that pictures hung with these Command strips won’t fall in an earthquake, and my testing is by no means exhaustive.  I also did not shake the thing for minutes, just seconds, so it’s possible that extended shaking could dislodge them, although I think that is unlikely because the shaking did not loosen the attachments in the slightest.  All I can really report is that, under some representative shaking conditions, these Command strips performed admirably.  I also would not go by their recommended load limits for 4 pairs (up to 4 lbs. for small strips, 12 lbs. for medium strips, and 16 lb for large strips) because those rating assume no shaking.  Instead, I suggest that people be very conservative; I’ve been using 4 medium strips for small light pictures in my home, and 4 large strips for the larger objects in my test (I hadn’t wanted to put up larger pictures until I ran these tests).  If you have a very large or heavy picture (no, I don’t know where to make the cut-off), and don’t feel confident that the Command strips will hold it, it’s probably still best to use the maze picture hook and possibly bolt it to a wall stud; you will have to assess the individual situation and use your judgment.  If you use a maze hook, and want to stick the lower corners of the picture to the wall to stabilize it, I suggest cutting two small pieces of one of the many "gripper pad" products on the market and using those instead of quake putty (see photo at right for example); they are less likely to leave a mark on the paint years later (although I have not done a longterm test).

For a few extra tips on how to safely remove those strips from painted walls without damage, see my first note in the Comments section at the bottom of this article.  I should mention that I have no financial interests in 3M or Command products (or maze picture hooks, putty, Gripeez, or cutting boards for that matter).


Well, that turned out to be a very useful exercise.  And I even managed to invent the wall-mounted cutting board.  Why would I want a wall-mounted cutting board, you ask?  To chop walnuts, of course!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Should I stay or should I go?...the inevitable dilemma about staying in the building during an earthquake

This month, we are taking a break from the actual preparedness issues and will instead delve further into this annoyingly counter-intuitive recommendation to not run out of buildings during earthquakes.

Monday, April 18, 2011

An amazing story from the past, AND more about hanging pictures that won’t come crashing down (the wired and non-wired varieties)

Even though I don’t plan on posting very often so  I don’t add to the e-mail overload of people who subscribe, it just makes sense to post something on April 18th, the anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906.  There are two items on today’s plate: first a link to a then-young woman’s amazing description of what she experienced in the 1906 quake, and then I wanted to discuss a bit more about hanging pictures on the walls safely.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Important information about the recurring "Triangle of Life" e-mail spam

Thoughts about the much-publicized North American earthquake prediction for late March 2011

"Why the heck do you live in that place with earthquakes??"

A blog is launched; opening thoughts

This is my first experience authoring a blog, and there will probably be a few technical bumps along the way.  Earthquake safety is an important topic in a place like the San Francisco Bay Area, and I hope that the information and occasional thoughts and tips here will be of interest to people who are trying to maximize their safety in our occasionally moving region.

It's important to remember that even though we live in a place that is subject to earthquakes, which are occasionally pretty big, most of the risks associated with California earthquakes can be minimized by taking some precautions ahead of time.  Just like one knows not to go jogging alone in the middle of the night in a dark park in a dangerous part of town, one should know what to do and not to do in regions subject to natural disasters.

I'm kick-starting this blog with a few entries in a row, first introductory and then a few entries that have already been on my website.  After that, I'll post occasionally; perhaps even relatively rarely so that I don't add to people's e-mail burdens.  I've got no idea about how many people will be signing on to this, but welcome to those that do!

-Matt Springer

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