6 Household Emergencies and How to Handle Them

Crisis # 1: Help! I smell gas!

Solution: Extinguish any open flames such as cigarettes, candles, kerosene lamps, or heaters immediately. Open windows and doors for ventilation. Don't touch electrical switches. If the odor is faint, and near a gas appliance (range, clothes dryer, hot water heater) check the pilot light. If it has blown, relight carefully using long wooden matches according to manufacturer's instructions. If the pilot light is on and you are certain the gas is coming from a particular appliance, turn its gas supply off immediately. Shut-off valves are usually located where the gas supply pipe connects to the appliance. If the smell of gas persists, leave, and call the gas company's emergency phone number.

Crisis # 2: What if the lights go out?

Solution: Check the neighbor's house to see if they're dark too. If so, light some candles or a flashlight and turn on a portable radio for information. It's a blackout. If you your house is dark your problem is probably a blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker. Electric power comes into a house or apartment through a main service panel or 'fuse box' usually located in the basement or utility room. Open the service panel - if you find rows of round, glass-faced devices, the panel has fuses. If there are rows of black switches, you have circuit breakers. These can be reset quickly and easily. The tripped switch on a breaker is easily identified because it doesn't line up with the others on the panel (it's between on and off). To restore power, turn the breaker switch to off and then back to on. A blown fuse must be replaced and requires more work, especially if you don't know which fuse services which room. Before you have a problem, you should label each fuse for the room it services and purchase replacement fuses. Find the proper size by taking one from a non-essential circuit (not the refrigerator!) to the store for comparison; never substitute with a higher amperage fuse. Do this during the day since power will go out. You can tell when most fuses are blown when they appear burnt through the glass. (Some fuses have a spring inside which looks contracted if it is blown, stretched if it is OK.)

You should also invest in an electrical tester to periodically check your light sources for their voltage. Electrical testers are an affordable way to make your electrical tasks less hazardous.

Crisis # 3: The faucet is flooding the kitchen!

Solution: You can often fix a leaky faucet by replacing the round rubber washer inside the handle. Unscrew the handle with a wrench. Then bring the worn washer to your hardware store for an exact replacement. If a washer (also called a ring seal because it's shaped like a ring) lets go when the water is running, you may not be able to turn the water off. The only solution is to shut off the water supply. You will find a shut-off valve beneath the sink, where the pipe comes out of the wall. Since some older homes or apartments don't have shut-off valves, you must turn off the main valve - at the water meter, which is usually in the utility room, basement, or outdoors near the house. (You should locate your water and gas supply meters when you move in, and label them with red tape for quick fixes.) Repairing a faucet isn't hard, but there are many types, and few have interchangeable parts.

An older faucet containing a rubber washer is the most common. The faucet handle usually comes out from the top of the valve, which is between the sink itself and the handle. To dismantle, wrap masking tape (to protect chrome plating) around the nut between handle and valve, then loosen the nut with a pair of large pliers or a wrench. When the nut is loose, screw the handle all the way off. Slide the nut off. Then pop the handle back on the valve and turn in the direction to turn on the water, and the whole assembly should come out. Take the unit to a hardware store to find a washer to replace the worn one exactly. Then reassemble the fixture, tightening the cap nut with a wrench.

Avoid a flood by using flood sensors which will warn you of a threatening flood.

Crisis # 4: How do I clear a clogged drain?

Solution: An obstruction in a drain can be removed quickly with a chemical drain cleaner or a plunger. Crystalline or liquid chemical drain cleaners are toxic and harsh, so wear rubber gloves. First, use a small bowl to bail out as much standing water as you can. Then read the label carefully to learn how much time is required for the chemical to work. Follow the directions exactly, and when the drain runs free, flush it with water to remove residue. The suction action of a plunger can force a clogged drain open. Place the rubber cup over the drain, making sure it is covered by water. Press down firmly, and jerk up quickly to dislodge the obstruction. Use some muscle when you pull up and out - that's what does the dislodging. If your clog is in the bathroom sink, plug the sink's overflow opening with a rag.

Crisis # 5: What do I do about a leak in the roof?

Solution: With a flashlight, look for the source of the drip in the attic roof or top floor ceiling. Mark the spot with a crayon or marker and place buckets beneath it. If your attic is unfloored, place a board over the floor joists (beams) and set buckets on the board (not between the ceiling beams). Remove any insulation from between the roof rafters or in the floor; spread it out to dry. Call a roofing contractor to repair an attic leak, a carpenter for a leak in top floor ceiling.

Crisis # 6: What can I do when the hot water stops?

Solution: Look for the water heater in your basement or utility room. If yours is a gas heater, look to see if the pilot light (inside a door, on a lower side) is on. If not, turn off the gas at the master control valve (near the base) and open all windows to clear gas from the air. Call your gas or utility company to relight the pilot. Your hot water should soon return. If your heater is electric, look inside the fuse box - for a blown fuse or an open circuit breaker.

Crises happen, that’s why you should consistently monitor your household appliances, electrical units, and water heater. Electrical Basics has a variety of electrical testers, flood sensors, and other electrical supplies online. Our electrical supply store will help you cover the basics. Order online today!  

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