Plumbing Panic: Small Problem or Potential Crisis?

Amanda Bell
Written by Amanda Bell
Updated April 8, 2016
Shower head with running water
Follow these steps before calling a professional in a plumbing emergency. (Photo by Katelin Kinney)

Have a plumbing problem? Ask yourself these questions to determine if you should call an emergency plumber or not.

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Rushing water in your basement means you’re probably rushing to call a plumber. But not every leaky faucet or clogged pipe warrants an after-hours call to a professional, which can sometimes cost you double the amount of a standard service call. If you can de-escalate the situation on your own, you may be able to save some money by waiting to call during regular business hours. The next time a plumbing problem arises, ask yourself these questions to determine if it’s a real crisis or if it can wait, then try our expert tips to make an action plan for future emergencies.

Do you need to use it immediately?

Yes: If you have no water or working toilets, your basement’s flooding, or your pipes froze and then burst, call a pro ASAP! No: Hold off on the emergency service if you just have a leaky toilet or faucet that you can avoid using for the time being.

Can you shut off the water?

Yes: If you have a minor leak and you can shut off the water valve (located somewhere between the water meter and your house), the problem can wait.No: If turning off the main valve isn’t possible or the individual toilet or faucet fixture is broken, call for emergency service. 

Will doing nothing cause more damage?

Yes: Call a plumber! Never let a problem go unfixed for fear of emergency repair costs if it threatens to cause expensive collateral damage. For example, a serious bathroom leak can lead to thousands of dollars in repairs to damaged floors, walls and ceilings.No: If buckets, rags and other measures can quell a slow leak, wait to call until regular business hours.

Is it your problem to fix?

Yes: If your utility provider has documented no other water main incidents in your area and you’ve determined from the above questions that your situation is an emergency, call a plumber stat!No: Call your water company, who can tell you if the problem affects more than just your home or if it’s an isolated issue. If the water company or local utility caused the problem, such as low or no water pressure due to an issue with the city water supply, they should correct it. However, if it affects just your home, you’re likely on the hook for any maintenance costs. Examples include repairing or replacing the sewer on your property.

Before It Becomes an Emergency:

• Keep an organized maintenance schedule. Make a notebook and list your main plumbing, heating and cooling appliances on a cover sheet with a tab for each one that requires maintenance. Or, you can store this information on a note-taking app like Evernote, which also lets you make to-dos and checklists. • Set up a plumbing consultation. Some plumbing companies offer complementary consultations, where they show you how to shut off your water and natural gas in case of emergency. Others offer this service for a small fee.• Label your valves. Put ID tags on all water and natural gas shut-offs so you know can easily find them.• Develop a relationship with a plumbing company before you have an emergency. Often if you have a maintenance plan with a company, they’ll reward your loyalty by doing emergency work at a discount.

Sources: Mike Petrov, owner of Peace of Mind Plumbing & Heating in Ridgefield Park, New Jersey; Robbie Woodward, operations manager of Hull Plumbing in Oklahoma City

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