During this post, I want to put major disasters such as floods and wildfires aside and take a look at some common household emergencies that you may be likely to encounter at some time.
While these kinds of emergencies may not quite cause the same amount of damage to your home as something like a hurricane might, they can still cause a massive inconvenience as well as being expensive.
When these kinds of emergencies happen, especially for the first time, it can be a little scary. You start thinking things like, “Well what do I do now?” or “Should I call someone or try to fix it?”
The correct answer to those questions depends on the actual emergency itself so without waiting any longer, let’s take a look at how to deal with common home emergencies that you may face.
1. Leaky Ceiling
If the ceiling is dripping, gather buckets, pots, pans and anything else that will catch water and place them under the Leake to prevent water damage.
Head up into your crawlspace or attic and find the source of the leak which could be anything from a broken pipe to a damaged roof underlayment. Remember that the leak may not actually even be near the source of the problem, so this will require some patience.
If you cannot narrow down the source, call in an experienced professional. Meanwhile, get ready to patch and repair your ceiling. Bottom line is these types of home emergencies are best to be dealt with right away.
2. Mice in the Home
If you believe that you have mice getting into the home, get a flashlight and carefully inspect both outside and inside your home. You are looking for three things:
- Signs of chewing/nests
- Any tiny crevices that mice may be using.
If you find evidence of mice, cover any crevices with sealant or wire mesh to prevent further rodent problems and set a series of traps to try and get rid of the mice in the house.
If they continue to appear or you continue to see evidence that they are getting into the home, call up a professional inspector before they start causing structural damage.
3. Power Outages
If you don’t have a flashlight handy, get your phone out for light and make sure that everyone is OK. Look out the window to check whether nearby homes and streetlights are out or if it is just your homes power.
If they still have power, check your breakers to see if there was an overload or other problem that caused the shutdown. If everyone has lost power, call up your power company (or visit online) to document the power loss and get information about repair times.
If the outage is going to last at least several hours, start making plans to put refrigerator or freezer perishables on ice or toss them out.
Check out our guide here for getting through a power outage.
4. Toilet Overflowing
When a toilets can’t stop running and cannot drain properly, it overflows. The first thing you need to do is stop the flow of water by turning off the valve in the back of the toilet near the wall. This will shut down the water.
Clean up any standing water before it causes any damage and then look for the source of the problems.
To do this, you first need to look for any issues with the fill tube and float that may keep the toilet running, then you can look for any clogs and other issues that are keeping the toilet from draining.
5. Burst/Broken Pipes
Every home has a main water valve which is often located either near the front of the property or in the basement. It is this valve that controls the flow of water. If the leak is bad, you need to turn this valve off immediately to prevent any expensive water damage from occurring.
Inspect the pipes to find out which one is damaged and needs to be replaced. If it is freezing water that has caused your pipes to burst, you should also consider pipe insulation. The pipes that are most at risk of freezing are those which are in unheated spaces such as basements, lofts, garages, and those located in exterior walls.
Here are some simple steps that you can take to prevent your water pipes from freezing as the temperature drops.
- Garage Doors – Keep your garage doors closed especially if there are water pipes in the garage. Not only is it good for security reasons it will also help to keep the temperature inside the garage warmer.
- Kitchen and Bathroom Cabinet Doors – Keeping the kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors open under the sinks during the night will help to allow the warmer air to circulate around the pipes.
- Run Your Taps – It is much harder for a pipe to freeze if the water is running. For this reason you need to get into the habit of turning them on and off regularly. You can also leave them on a constant trickle but keep an eye on usage if you are on a water meter.
- Thermostat – During really cold weather, be sure to keep your thermostat set at the same temperature both day and night. If you lower the temperature at night it may lead to colder loft temperatures which in turn will lead to more vulnerable pipes.
- Leave Heat on When Going Away – If you are planning on going away you should leave the heat on in your home. Set it on low and have a friend or neighbor check on the property regularly. If you are going to be away from the property long-term you should always turn off the water at the stopcock and consider draining down the system so there is no water left in the pipes.
- Add Insulation – If you haven’t already done so, add insulation to the loft, basement, and crawl spaces. You should also seal any cracks around windows, doors, and sill plates to prevent draughts. Wrap any pipes that are in cold areas with pipe sponge covers. If the water tank is in a cold area such as the loft be sure to insulate that too.
- Internal Stopcock or Valve – Find where your property’s internal stopcock or valve is located incase it is needed in an emergency and understand how to open and close it. These are usually fitted under the kitchen sink and can be closed by turning it clockwise.
- Loft Hatch – If tanks or pipes are in the loft space, leaving the loft hatch open will allow the warmer air to circulate.
Thawing Frozen Pipes
If a water pipe has already burst, turn off the stopcock immediately and contact a qualified plumber. You can minimise flooding by opening all taps once the water has been shut off and soaking up all escaping water from the burst pipe with thick towels. Turn off the taps once the pipe has been repaired.
If the pipes have not burst but are just frozen you can try thawing them out yourself with the following:
- Turn on the taps – you need the water to be able to flow through as you melt the ice plug. Running water through the pipe will help to melt the ice.
- Apply heat to frozen section – Never use anything that has an open flame as you could end up doing more damage than good. Instead, use an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, a hair dryer, portable space heater, or even towels wrapped around the pipe that have been soaked in hot water. Keep applying the heat until water pressure is restored. Check all taps are running freely incase other pipes have also frozen.
Always call in a qualified plumber if you are unable to locate the frozen section or thaw it yourself.
6. Grease Fires
Never use water to try and put out a grease fire. It will splash the grease around and often makes things much worse.
Instead, look around for a handy metal lid from a nearby pot. Cover the fire with the lid until it suffocates and dies down. Carefully remove the hot lid to observe the damage.
If you don’t have a lid handy, carefully douse the fire with baking soda. Check out our post here for more on grease fires.
7. Gas Leak
Gas leaks can be incredibly dangerous. A flame or even a small spark is all it takes to cause a fire or even an explosion. If you smell gas or suspect there is a gas leak, make sure that you do all of the following:
- Don’t smoke or light any matches
- Don’t turn anything electrical on or off
- Open all doors and windows to air out the room
- Turn off the gas supply at the meter
- Contact your licensed gas fitter to repair the leak and ensure your house is fit to be inhabited again
Home emergencies are a pain but you shouldn’t allow them to strike fear into your heart. Following the simple steps above while waiting for your tradie to show up will help keep you safe and put you well on the path to getting things sorted.