What To Do in a Plumbing Emergency
Your visiting aunt yells out from the guest bathroom that there is no more hot water.
You’re serving pie to your guests when your father-in-law points to the ceiling and says, “Hey, is that a new water stain?”
A plumbing emergency can strike without warning. This is especially true in the winter months when temperatures and weather patterns fluctuate. Not only can frozen pipes, backed up sewers and gas leaks occur without warning, but not taking immediate action can prove to be detrimental to the rest of your home. In the event of a plumbing emergency, it’s essential to take the proper steps in order to minimize damages.
Knowing what to do in a plumbing emergency requires you to know what an emergency is. The best rule of thumb is to call a plumber when you find water damage with an undefined source or when you come across a plumbing problem that you aren’t 100% sure of how to handle.
When water is pouring out of your pipes or fist impulse might be to run away from the problem. From the get-go, you need to stay calm and act quickly. Often, by taking some of the actions outlined below, you can prevent serious damage to floors and furniture while waiting for a plumber.
While you should always call a plumber if you’re uncertain about how to repair something or if you’re dealing with an emergency, there are some small fixes you can handle until the plumber arrives.
If you keep a few supplies on hand, such as a pipe wrench, plunger, sewer snake, and plumbing tool kit, you can handle things like dripping faucets, clogged drains and stuck valves without too much of a problem. Just keep your plumber’s number handy should you find yourself in trouble.
Here are some plumbing emergency tips to help you get through a situation:
Rule #1: Learn to Shut Off the Water
When you first discover a leak or plumbing problem, shut off the water to prevent further damage. A small leak can mean thousands of dollars in structural damage if left untreated. Importantly, don’t be in the dark when it comes to knowing the location of the main water valve and every emergency shut-off valve in your house. It’s easy, but if you prefer to have a pro show you how, many plumbers will check emergency shut-off valves at no charge.
If only one fixture is causing the problem, shut it off first by turning the valve clockwise. Do the same for the main valve in the event of a leaking pipe or other water emergency.
Along with shutting off the water, you might also open drains and spigots attached to your pipes. After the water supply has been turned off, there may still be water in the pipes that can flood through cracks or worsen a clog. The best way to open the pipes is to turn on exterior water spigots, if possible.
Tip: Take lots of pictures and detailed notes about any flooding for insurance.
Plumbing fact: The word “plumber” comes from the Latin word “plumbum,” which means “lead.”
Don’t Put a Hot Water Leak on the Back Burner
Water heaters are notoriously difficult to fix. Sometimes they’re downright dangerous. If you are going to brave the hazards of the basement on your own, be sure to turn off the unit before touching anything else. That said, even an apparently simple task like testing the temperature can prove challenging, if not downright hazardous. Failing to properly remove and replace the valve, for example, can lead to a sudden outpouring of searing hot water.
If you want to avoid burns, property damage and overall devastation, stay away from the water heater and leave the job to the professionals at J&A South Park.
Tip: Set your hot water heater to no hotter than 125°F. Why? Because it takes water at a temperature of 140°F just seconds to burn your skin. Water at 160°F will scald you in just half a second.
Plumbing Fact: Copper piping, the world’s Number One material used for plumbing, is the same material Egyptians used to lay their pipes some 3000 years ago.
Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Plunge
Always turn off the water first. Then use a plunger to try to remove the obstruction. Even in a clogged sink, you can plunge the drain and often fix the problem. Plungers work best when you plunge rhythmically 10-20 times to build up pressure in the pipe. If the sink is draining slowly, you can use a liquid drainer cleaner. Beyond this point, you will probably want to call a plumber.
Plumbing Fact: Since 1963, there has been enough copper piping installed in American homes to wrap around the Earth 200 times – about 5.3 million miles worth.
Don’t Just Jiggle
If you’re tired of jiggling the handle to make a toilet behave after flushing, it might be time to replace its inner workings. Toilets typically run when the flapper valve that lets water pass from tank to bowel no longer fits properly, the float is imbalanced or the fill tube comes loose. Toilet repair kits for most models require little effort to install.
Om occasion, toilets run for more complex reasons. If you’ve replaced all the parts indicated above, you may still have sediment’s that affecting proper flushing and filling.
Higher water bills could also indicate a silent leak. To detect a small leak, add a few drops of food coloring to the upper tank and wait 15 to 20 minutes. Look in the bowl for any hit of color. If you see tinted water, your flapper valve isn’t working properly.
Plumbing Fact: An invisible leak in the toilet will waste up to 15 gallons of water a day or 5,475 gallons a year.
Water’s Last Stand
As tempting as it might be to just leave any standing water until a professional arrives, Don’t! it only takes mold 24 to 48 hours to colonize and begin to cause a problem in your home. You also don’t want added damage to your flooring, drywall or even pictures that can be affected by an increase of moisture. Use a wet/dry shop vacuum, a mop, a towel, whatever you have at hand (but NOT a regular vacuum) to clean up any standing water. Then, turn on any fans, open the doors and air the room out.
Plumbing Fact: In a typical household, toilet flushing constitutes up to 38% of all water-use in the home.
Tackling Small Leaks
If you discover a small leak that’s easily identified, stop it as best as possible. Keeping some plumber’s tape in your toolbox will make this chore a lot easier. This is a special kind of tape that seals leaky pipes until they can be repaired or replaced. You can also stuff rags and towels around pipes or put buckets under dripping leaks as so as they are potted – this is a great way to ensure your problem is addressed safely.
Leaking faucets are annoying, but they typically aren’t an emergency right away. One thing that can quickly turn a drip into a full-blown leak, however, is to use a wrench on its shut-off valve. When leaks are small, shut off the water with your hands only. Wrenches can break valves and even stick them in an open position.
You should turn off the water to your home if you can’t turn off the faucet’s valve by hand. When the water is off, assess the leak. If you’re familiar with the faucet and its inner-workings, it’s safe to attempt a repair. If you’re not sure, call a plumber to avoid a real emergency.
Plumbing Fact: Think a leaky faucet is no big deal? Think again. A faucet that drips just once per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water per year.
Avoid Frozen Pipes
One of the more stressful winter plumbing experiences, and one of the most common, is frozen pipes. When water freezes, it expands, which can cause your pipes to crack or even burst. When they unfreeze, and the water flows again, you’ll have a serious leak in need of immediate attention.
You can prevent this by taking a few small precautions:
- Run a miniscule amount of water through various faucets on nights when it will get below freezing. The running water should prevent ice from forming.
- Insulate pipes on the exterior of your home or in your garage with towels, blankets or store-bought pipe insulators.
- Open cupboard doors to allow your home’s heat into these places to help warm the pipes.
Plumbing Fact: Albert Einstein was named an honorary member of the Plumbers and Steamfitters Union after saying publicly that he would become a plumber if he had to do it all over again.
Thaw Pipes if They Freeze
So, what if your pipes do freeze?
You’ll know that your pipes have frozen if the flow of water to your sink has stopped. But don’t immediately panic. Sometimes, the frozen pipes don’t crack or burst. Try safely thawing your pipes and then inspect them for damage.
First, turn off the main water valve. If there’s damage and the water is still on, you’ll have water gushing into your home when the ice melts. Next, wrap the pipes with thermostatically controlled heat tape to quickly thaw a troubled spot. You can also use a hair dryer, space heater or other heating device.
Carefully inspect the pipes for damage. If you don’t see anything, turn the water back on and check for leaks. If there are no indications of damage, resume normal activities.
If you spot damage, call J&A South Park to handle the problem before turning the water back on.
Plumbing Fact: In 1939, Al Moen invented the single-handle faucet that can control hot and cold water in just one turn.
Have Issues Repaired Right Away
This is more of a preventive maintenance tip.
Many homeowners tend to ignore minor plumbing problems because they’re not a big threat at the start. A leaky faucet is annoying, but is it really causing a lot of damage? It more than likely is.
The water released from a faucet can wear away fixtures and pipes. It can also promote mildew and mold growth, which can be a dangerous health issue. Just assume that minor problems could turn into major issues and have them repaired before they get worse.
Plumbing Fact: The Tremont Hotel in Boston became the nation’s first hotel to incorporate indoor plumbing in 1829.
Speaking of preventive maintenance, one way to prevent costly repairs to your home is follow a regular maintenance schedule.
Because many issues with your pipes sneak up on you, a thorough inspection is the key to catching small problems before they grow. Hidden leaks in sink drains or below water heaters are more than just a nuisance; over time, they can cause structural damage. Water that seeps into sheetrock or plaster contributes to mold. Porous tile or wood flooring can discolor or warp when wet.
Plumbing Fact: The world’s most famous plumbers are probably video game superstars Mario and Luigi of the popular Super Mario Brothers series.