12 Common Home Emergencies and How to Deal with Them
When a home emergency happens for the first time, homeowners can get a little paralyzed. Questions like, "What do I do now?" or "Should I call someone or try to fix it?" are common. The best response always depends on the problem at hand, so let's take a look at frequent household emergencies and your best response.
Grease Fire in the Kitchen
Home emergencies are best planned out before the case of an emergency. Never use water to put out a grease fire – it splashes the grease around and often makes things worse. Instead, look around for a handy metal lid from a nearby pot (a wok lid, for example, is ideal). Cover the fire with the lid until it suffocates and dies down. Then carefully remove the hot lid to observe the damage. If a lid is not around, carefully douse the fire with baking soda. Sorry, but your food is probably finished. Plus: How to Prevent Home Fires
Burst and Broken Pipes
Your home has a main water valve – often in the basement or near the front of the house – that controls the flow of water: If you have a bad leak, you need to turn this valve off immediately to prevent expensive water damage (this is also a good preventative step if you are leaving the house during winter). Then inspect the pipes to find out what is damaged and needs to be replaced. If freezing water caused your pipes to burst, you should also consider pipe insulation.
Remember to shut down electrical power to your furnace before taking a look inside. If you have a gas furnace, check to see if the pilot light has gone out and needs to be re-ignited. If the pilot light isn't the problem, look for signs of damaged wiring or burnt out switches and sensors to narrow down the problem. Make sure the fan and motor are also working. If any of these components have failed, call a professional about a repair date.
Toilets typically overflow when they can't stop running and cannot drain properly. First, stop the flow by turning off the valve in the back of the toilet near the wall, which shuts down water. Quickly mop up standing water before it causes any damage, then look for the source of the problems. First look for issues with the fill tube and float that may keep the toilet running, then look for clogs and other issues that are keeping the toilet from draining.
Pull on thick gloves and carefully inspect the damage. Pick up any glass shards and remove any jagged, dangerous edges while noting the extent of the damage. You can seal the window by taking a trash bag and cutting it with scissors to fit the window opening. Tape several layers of this bag plastic to the window's frame with duct tape. Window repair professionals typically offer same-day repairs if you don't have enough time for a DIY project.
Pull out your phone for a guiding light and make sure everyone is OK. Then check nearby homes and streetlights: If they still have power, you should check your breakers to see if there was an overload or other problem that caused the shutdown. If everyone has lost power, call up your power company (or visit online) to document the power loss and get information about repair times. If the outage is going to last at least several hours, start making plans to put refrigerator or freezer perishables on ice or toss them out.
Confirmed Mice in the House
Grab a flashlight and carefully inspect the perimeter both outside and inside your home. Look for three things: Droppings (a sign that mice are sticking around), signs of chewing/nests and any tiny crevices that mice may be using. Cover crevices with sealant or wire mesh to prevent further rodent problems and set a series of traps to get rid of mice in the house. If mice continue to appear, call up a professional inspector before they start causing structural damage.
If you notice trails of ants, remove the ants and thoroughly clean everywhere they've been with a vinegar spray to remove their trail scents. Then start looking for cracks and gaps in windows, doors, floorboards and other areas the ants may be emerging from. If you can't narrow it down, set up ant traps and call a professional to see if you have a nearby nest. Remember, large black carpenter ants are a more serious threat to your home than other species and should be removed quickly.
Some light smoking is expected with brand new ovens or ovens with spilled oils or food. Clean the oven compartment thoroughly, making sure any oil or chemical residue is removed. For worse smoking problems, switch the oven off and open up windows around the house to encourage air flow (this is also a good time to see how sensitive your smoke detector is). If your oven is overcooking food, make sure the timer controls are working. Plus: Stove Repair
Leaking Water Heater
Check your temperature and pressure valve, a small faucet toward the top of the hot water heater. If the tank develops pressure issues, water will be evacuated from this valve: It's not a leak, but it is a sign that you need to check wiring and settings. Real leaks from a broken valve or cracked tank are more serious: Shut down your water supply and consider your options. Repairs typically require fully draining the tank, which at least gives you an excuse to clean out any sediment at the same time.
If the ceiling is dripping, prevent water damage by gathering buckets or plastic sheets under the leak. Then climb to your crawlspace or attic and track down the source of the leak: This could be anything from a broken pipe to a damaged roof underlayment and the leak may be far from the source of the problem, so this requires some patience. If you cannot narrow down the source, call in an experienced professional. Meanwhile, get ready to patch and repair your ceiling. Bottom line is these types of home emergencies are best to be dealt with right away. Plus: 12 Roof Repair Tips
Modern vehicles often have spare tires stowed away under trunks or in other locations: If you need to get somewhere and have a jack handy, you can replace the flat tire immediately. However, when you have time take a close look at your flat tire to search for signs of damage. Sealing a flat tire and reinflating it with a repair kit will work to get your car to a shop, but it's a temporary fix until you can plan for a replacement.