There are many small home emergencies that left untended can quickly become big home emergencies. Don’t panic, however. There are solutions.
Q: What kinds of plumbing emergencies could possibly occur?
A: If a water pipe were to break in the house, a homeowner should know where the main water shut-off is located so they can terminate the water at that point. Normally this is located outside the home in the front or rear where there is a hose bib connection. If a homeowner cannot find it because it is not exposed and accessible, we suggest calling the local water department (you find that phone number on the water bill statement).
In the case where the water leak is at a specific plumbing fixture, the best approach is to shut off the water immediately at that location. All plumbing fixtures, including toilets, sinks and basins, have shut-off valves located under the fixture against the wall. If a bathtub or shower is leaking, it is necessary to shut the water off at the main water shut-off and call your plumber.
A leaking water heater can be shut off at the top right pipe leading into the water heater. For safety reasons, the gas must also be shut off at the water heater; that valve is usually found on the gas piping at the lower left side of the water heater.
Q: What if I smell gas and suspect a leak?
A: If you have an idea where the smell is coming from, such as a water heater, stove, oven, gas dryer or furnace, you can turn the gas off at the appliance. These valves are located within three feet of the appliance on the gas piping system.
Gas valves, called gas cocks, have a straight blade-type handle and are on when the handle is parallel with the pipe and off when the handle is perpendicular to the pipe. Therefore, only a 1/4 turn is required to turn gas cocks off.
If you have no idea where the gas leak is coming from, it is always best to turn the complete system off and call the gas company. The main gas shut-off valve is located on the inlet side of the gas meter. In most cases, this valve is on the vertical pipe left of the meter. It is necessary to use a crescent or pipe wrench to turn this valve off, again, making the handle perpendicular to the pipe with a quarter turn. You may want to hang a crescent wrench next to the main valve to avoid searching for the tool in an emergency. If you have any questions about the location of the gas main, call your gas company.
Q: What should I do about an overflowing toilet?
A: First, turn off the water at the valve under the toilet. If it’s a case of too much paper or other matter causing a stoppage, a plunger should work. If the toilet is not operating because the sewer is stopped up, a homeowner can help prevent overflowing by opening their sewer clean-out (located outside the building) to relieve the pressure on the system. Then call your plumber or a drain-cleaning company.
Q: What if I don’t have a sewer clean-out?
A: It’s important to understand that the sewer line is the main drain which receives the waste from all plumbing fixtures in the house. When this pipe is stopped up, every plumbing fixture will be affected. Water seeks the lowest level and any water permitted to enter the plumbing system at a higher level, such as a kitchen sink, will back up at a lower fixture, such as a toilet or shower. So when this happens, do not allow any more water to run into the system from anywhere in the house until you have had a plumber clean the sewer line.
Q: What if my garbage disposal doesn’t work?
A: If the disposal makes no noise when you turn it on, press the reset button located on the bottom of the unit.
If it makes a buzzing noise but doesn’t operate, turn the unit off. Look inside and see if there is a spoon or other object inside. Usually, a small object such as a pull tab from an aluminum can, apricot pit or coin is jamming the blades and needs to be dislodged. Before putting your hand or anything else into the disposal, unplug it. A broom handle usually works very well as a prying tool to free the blades from their locked position. Try inserting the handle at an angle, catching a raised portion of the cutter blade, and using leverage to turn it clockwise or counter-clockwise. If that doesn’t work, call a plumber.
Q: What if my faucet is running too slowly?
A: If both hot and cold water are affected, probably the aerator is congested with rust and corrosion. The aerator is located on the end of the faucet spout to introduce air into the water as it come out of the faucet to prevent splashing. On newer faucets, it also restricts the water flow to conserve water.
Try unscrewing the aerator by hand or with a wrench. Disassemble all the parts, being especially careful to lay the parts out in the order they are removed. Clean the rust or corrosion from each part and reassemble in exact order. If that doesn’t work, the problem is in the faucet or the plumbing piping system and you need to call your professional plumber.
Q: What precautions should be taken in case of an earthquake?
A: As a result of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, the Uniform Plumbing Code (in California) requires that all water heaters be earthquake strapped. This will reduce the likelihood of a water heater breaking away during an earthquake, breaking water and gas pipes which could lead to serious property damage and loss of life, according to State of California guidelines with an approved earthquake installation kit.
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