Home repair problems are never fun, but they’re especially frustrating during the holidays. If calling a repair person for a home emergency on a week day is expensive, and it often is, calling one on a holiday can double or even triple the cost. But there are ways to help stop a problem in its tracks, so that you can attempt a repair or wait until a better time to call for assistance. (Read: Do You Have a Home Emergency Plan?)
Here’s what you need to know to get a handle on a plumbing, gas, or electrical problem right away:
Stop a Plumbing Flood Quickly
Of all the problems that can happen inside your home, a plumbing disaster, such as a broken pipe or flooding toilet, can make the biggest mess in the shortest amount of time.
If you’ve got a flood, you’ll need to shut the water off before it gets worse. Most modern sinks and toilets have a water shutoff valve, which looks like a small knob, on the water supply lines within easy reach. On sinks, the shutoff will be under the basin or inside the cabinet. On toilets, the shutoff is behind the tank near the floor.
If you don't have a shutoff, and some older fixtures don’t, you’ll need to shut off the main water supply to the whole house, to stop the flood. You can usually find this in a basement or crawlspace under the house. It may look like a knob, or it could be a lever. (Read: How to Shut Off the Water)
With the water flow stopped, you can call a plumber without worrying about having a major home emergency by the time he arrives.
Smell Gas? This is a True Home Emergency
The smell of gas inside your home is definitely cause for alarm. If you’ve got a gas leak, turning off the supply is the quickest way to keep your home and family safe and prevent a fire. However, it’s critical to attend to a gas leak immediately, or else evacuate the house and call for help from another location. With a heavy gas leak, something as small as clothing static, a light switch being turned on or off, or telephone call can create enough of a spark to ignite the gas. If you smell a lot of gas, leave the house with your family and all of your pets, and call the fire department from someplace else.
If the gas leak is slight, you can shut it off and wait for help. As with your water supply, your gas line should have shutoffs in different areas to stop the flow of gas, although an older house may only have one. Look for a knob or lever on the gas line, and turn it to shut off the gas. You should have a shutoff at every appliance, such as your furnace, small gas stoves, the kitchen range, and at a gas dryer.
As for the main shutoff, you probably have two. Avoid the shutoff that’s on the gas meter itself, as that’s for professional use only. Instead, locate the shutoff on the gas line as it comes out of the meter toward your house.
Once the flow of gas has stopped, call your utility company to report the emergency. If you smell gas near a furnace, an HVAC repair person might be able to make the necessary repair.
Reset a Breaker to Restore the Lights
With all of the extra lights and extra space heaters running through the holidays, it’s not uncommon for a breaker to trip. Resetting a breaker is easy. But you’ll also need to address the reason it happened. It's what we call preventive home maintenance, where you want to fix the source of potential problems to avoid problems and costly repairs in the future.
When you open the door on your breaker panel, you’ll see columns of black switches. These are your breakers, and each breaker represents an electrical circuit in your home. If you’re lucky, every breaker will be labeled, such as “kitchen” and “living room.” Unfortunately, not all breaker boxes are labeled. But you’ll still be able to identify the breaker that’s tripped, just by sight.
Most of the breaker switches will be flipped in the same direction. The breaker that’s tripped will be the one that’s flipped in the opposite direction from all of the rest. Some breakers also have a visible red or orange marker that’s only visible when the breaker is tripped. Once you locate the one that needs to be reset, it’s time to figure out why it tripped.
If you plugged in any new appliance, such as a space heater, that’s probably the source. Unplugging it will probably resolve the problem. Sometimes even a vacuum cleaner can cause a circuit to overload, which trips the breaker. Unplug anything new, then return to the breaker box and flip the switch back in the opposite direction. Power will be restored. If the breaker trips again, leave it off. You’ll need to call an electrician to figure out why.
Stopping a home emergency can help you protect your home and family before the problem gets worse. And knowing how gives you the choice of waiting until after the holiday to call for a repair. That can save you a lot of money on a service call. (Read: Home Repair or Home Band Aid)
The best time to identify and become familiar with your water and gas shutoffs and the breaker box is before you need to use them. Take some time now to locate them and learn how they operate before an emergency happens.