What to Do in a Plumbing Emergency

Published On December 22, 2019

Plumbing emergencies are unfamiliar and unexpected and can easily cause panic. This is especially true if the water is rising or collecting fast, or if you can’t immediately identify the source of the leak.

But plumbing problems shouldn’t catch you off-guard. Planning for such developments ahead of time can keep you in control of the situation if and when the unexpected happens.

When plumbing difficulties develop, here’s how you should proceed …

1. Turn off the water

This seems obvious. But you’d be surprised how many people forget to do this when plumbing chaos descends. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the situation and react with emotion instead of common sense. 

In anticipation of future emergencies, you should locate all the water valves in your house. This includes the main water valve and all the secondary valves that can cut the water flow to specific fixtures or areas. 

You can perform these explorations on your own. Or, you can ask a plumber to take a trip around your property with you. A plumber can help you find the valves, explain which water sources each one controls and show you how to turn them off (and back on) if you’re uncertain how to do this.

Not only is this information valuable, but the time you spend doing it will plant a seed in your mind and help you remember what to do if a plumbing catastrophe strikes. 

If large-scale flooding occurs, or you can’t identify they source of the outflow, you should always shut off the main water valve. If the source of the leak is in front of you, in the bathroom or kitchen for example, you can shut off the secondary valve that feeds water directly to the sink or toilet. 

2. Call for help and let them know you need it quickly

You should have your plumber or plumbing contractor’s phone number listed in your emergency contacts. You never know what time of day or night an emergency might occur. Therefore, you should speak to your plumber or plumbing company to make sure you understand how to initiate contact outside of normal business hours.

The shortest response time possible is vital when you have a plumbing emergency. There should be no confusion about where or who you must call to get help right away.  

When you speak with your plumber or contractor, try to give them as much detailed information about your situation as you can. If you’re calling on a cellphone, take it with you as you tour your home and examine the areas where water is gushing, rushing or pooling. That way, you can answer any questions they might have about the specific nature of your problem. 

3. Shut down the water heater (if you’ve turned off the main valve)

Anytime you turn off the main water valve, you should shut down your water heater soon after to avoid possible damage. Heating elements in water heaters shouldn’t be left to run when water is no longer being supplied, since doing so can cause the element to burn out. 

Under some circumstances, leaving the heater on could lead to a worrisome build-up of pressure in the tank. If the relief valve malfunctions, this could lead to an explosion. 

This occurrence is not likely. But it is both possible and preventable.

Before you shut a gas water heater down, you must turn off the gas supply first. If you have an electric water heater, shut off the electricity at the circuit breaker before doing anything else.

4. Drain the water from your system

Shutting the main water valve won’t remove water that is already inside the pipes. To do that, you should turn on your outdoor spigots, preferably with hoses attached to drain the water away from your home’s foundation. 

Theoretically, you could drain the water by turning your faucets on inside and letting them run dry. But the smartest strategy is to drain your water pipes outside of the house. If you do it inside, you may make things worse by inadvertently feeding the source of the leak.

5. Plug or wrap any continuing leaks if you can

It can take a while for water to completely drain from your system. Consequently, leaking may continue even after you’ve opened your outdoor spigots.

When leaks occur, you shouldn’t be completely helpless. Be sure to keep some plumber’s tape and/or epoxy around your home at all times, in anticipation of future complications. These products will help you stop some types of small leaks, even if they are only a temporary solution. Towels or rags wrapped around a small or slowing leak may also dampen the flow of water until your plumber arrives.

Keeping Your Cool When the Chips are Down

Plumbing emergencies are not for the faint of heart. However, when you are well-prepared and know what must be done, they can be handled smoothly, safely and with a minimum of stress. 

Your plumber is the one who will make the final repairs. But it’s up to you to hold things together until he or she can arrive. 

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