What to Do During These 5 Common Home Emergencies

Kristi Pahr
Written by Kristi Pahr
Updated November 8, 2021
Toddler playing with toilet paper in the bathroom
New Africa – stock.adobe.com

Here’s what to do when bad luck strikes and you’re left holding the plunger

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Homeownership, while it can be amazing, also comes with stressors you likely never had to deal with as a renter. When you were renting, if you had a leak, you called your landlord. If you had a clogged toilet, you called your landlord. If you had rodents, you, yep, called your landlord. As a homeowner, you are the landlord, and it’s suddenly your responsibility to deal with the various home emergencies that crop up.

You might be wondering whether you should try a DIY solution and risk making the problem worse, or call in the pros to handle it. The good news is, the most common home emergencies can usually be dealt with pretty easily. We’ll walk you through a step-by-step guide to what to do when your house stops cooperating.

Clogged Toilet

Clogged toilets, unfortunately, are a fact of life, especially if you have a curious toddler who likes flushing their toys or a preschooler who hasn’t mastered the art of using the correct amount of toilet paper.

Sometimes you can fix a clogged toilet as simply as 1-2-3. Give it a couple of plunges with your plunger (which you definitely need to purchase if you don’t have one), and the clog will clear. 

Other times though, it’s not quite so simple. If the clog is deep in the pipes or a plunger isn’t doing the trick, you can try a pipe snake. This tool, which is also known as a toilet auger, is available at home improvement stores and available in different lengths. A pipe snake is a flexible cable that slides into your pipes. They often have strong wires on the end that you can spin with a handle to help dislodge the clog.

And if that doesn’t unclog your toilet, it’s time to call in a local plumbing professional. Keep in mind that difficult-to-clear clogs can occasionally be a sign of plumbing damage that may require more extensive work to repair.

Burst Pipes

Burst pipes are a common household emergency, especially during the winter when freezing water expands in pipes and causes them to rupture. If you are experiencing a severe leak, then it’s likely that you have a burst pipe. 

The first thing you should do is turn off the water in the house. Many newer homes have a shut-off valve near the home, but if you don’t have one or can’t find it, you can always turn it off at the meter. Shutting off the water supply to the whole home will help prevent costly water damage and might help mitigate the development of mold or mildew.

Unless you have plumbing experience and own the specific tools needed to repair a burst pipe, this project is best left to the professionals. Many plumbers offer emergency service for late-night, weekend, or holiday problems for an extra fee.

Power Outage

Whether it’s from a spring thunderstorm or heavy snow and ice, most of us will lose power in our homes at some point. When that happens, it helps to have a stash of flashlights and lanterns in an accessible place, as well as fresh batteries. A generator is also a great investment if you live in an area prone to power outages.

Suppose you have determined that the power outage is widespread. In that case, there’s not much you can do but wait for the power company to make the repair which, depending on the cause, can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several days if your outage is caused by widespread bad weather. If the outage is confined to your home and your neighbors still have power, it’s time to check your circuit breakers. 

Open the panel to your circuit breaker box and check that all the breakers are in the “on” position, meaning that none of them have been tripped. If they look fine, and it’s safe to go outside, check the exterior of your home for damage. Limbs or other debris can fall on power lines, causing a blackout. 

If you find damage to your outdoor lines, do not touch them. Do not try to remove the debris. Call your local power company, and then they will send technicians to deal with the damage. In the meantime, don’t open your fridge or freezer unless you absolutely have to, and try to enjoy the ambiance of a candlelit home.

HVAC Failure

Woman wrapped in a blanket drinking hot tea
gpointstudio – stock.adobe.com

If your air conditioner goes out in the middle of July or your furnace bites the bullet in February, it’s not just inconvenient, it could be life-threatening, depending on the weather. That’s why calling in a professional HVAC tech is the best course of action. If you don’t have prior experience with the HVAC system, tinkering with it can cause more damage and expose you to dangerous temperatures. 

If your furnace is gas-powered, you can check that the pilot light is lit and, if it’s something you’ve done before, attempt to relight it. If not, turn off the gas at the cut-off and call in the pros to help.

Broken Windows

If you have a broken window, the most important step is to get the glass shards cleaned up quickly to avoid injury. While wearing thick gloves, remove any dangerous pieces of glass from the frame and the area below the window. Using heavy-duty trash bags, cut several layers to fit the window and affix it with duct tape.

Many window repair services offer same-day repairs, or if you feel like tackling a DIY project, head to your favorite home improvement store with your window measurements and get started.

As a homeowner, you’re bound to face at least one of these home emergencies, if not all of them, at some point. As long as you’re prepared and know what steps to take to mitigate the damage, you’ll be fine. Keep a list of your favorite local contractors and repair pros handy, so you know who to call when the inevitable happens.

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