Since leaving college, Paul has worked in a variety of roles, including: painter and decorator, general handyman, and freelance writer.
If you haven't dealt with a plumbing emergency yet, then you almost certainly will, as unfortunately they are surprisingly common occurrences. I've dealt with numerous examples in my time, both in the course of managing properties, as well as in my own home. It is very important to understand how to respond when an emergency happens, so that you can minimize any damage and quickly find an effective remedy.
What is a plumbing emergency?
A plumbing emergency typically involves the discovery of some form of flooding or water damage. Perhaps you come home to discover that the floor of your kitchen or bathroom is covered in water, or find the ceiling of your living room sagging and dripping, or pieces of soggy dry wall becoming detached in the kitchen. As water damage usually only gets worse if left alone, some sort of immediate action needs to be taken.
4 Things to Do When Dealing With Plumbing Emergencies
- Shut off the Water
- Identify the Problem
- Fix the Problem Yourself (Depending on the Issue)
- Call a Plumber
I will explain each of the above points in more detail. Please read on.
1. Shut Off the Water
Shutting off the nearest water source is usually the first thing that you should do, if you want to minimize water damage.
For toilets, this can be achieved by turning the valve at the base or behind the commode. For most other emergencies, especially larger scale ones, you will need to turn off the main water valve. For domestic properties, they can often be found on an exterior wall of your home, near the outdoor water meter, and they are usually shut off by turning clockwise.
After you've turned off the main shut-off valve, you may also want to turn on all of the faucets. This drains away any water left within the plumbing pipes and diverts excess water in the pipes away from the location of a possible plumbing leak.
2. Identify the Problem
Assessing what is causing the issue can range in level of difficulty. The nature of the problem may be pretty obvious, or it may require the assessment of a professional.
If the problem is a leak, you may be able to stifle it through the use of plumber's tape, or by wrapping around old towels, creating a temporarily solution until a plumber arrives, or giving you time to come up with a permanent solution.
4 Common Causes of Plumbing Emergencies
- Overflowing Toilet. Clogs are typically formed by things like paper, human waste, and other small items such as children's toys. Using a plunger to clear the clog often works. Failing that, a closet auger can dislodge the blockage.
- Clogged Drain. Showers and sinks can easily become blocked up by substances such as grease, soap, dirt, and human hair. Plunging can sometimes clear clogs. Other methods might include using a plumber's snake, or pouring caustic drain cleaners down the drain to dissolve the blockage.
- Frozen Pipes. A common winter problem in colder climes, frozen water can cause pipes to split open or break. A pipe can be thawed with a hair dryer operating on a low heat setting. Wrapping pipes to insulate them can be effective at preventing this issue.
- Broken Pipes. Broken or leaking pipes can cause serious water damage and will need to be repaired or replaced. They can be difficult to locate if they are concealed by walls. If you believe that you have a broken pipe, you should shut off the water and call a plumber.
- Leaking Water Heater. If the water heater is leaking, making strange noises, or has stopped working, then it should be manually shut it off. I would recommend against taking any further action yourself. Faulty water heaters generally require the attention of a professional.
3. Fix the Problem Yourself (Depending on the Issue)
If you have a good collection of plumbing tools, as well as some confidence and experience, then you may be able to resolve some issues yourself and save yourself some money. If you do intend to take a DIY approach then below are some tools I would recommend having access to in the event of an emergency.
10 Must-Have Plumbing Tools for an Emergency
- Plunger - can be used to deal with blockages of all types of drains, as well as to unclog toilets.
- Adjustable Wrench - versatile tool used to tackle hex-shaped nuts, you will likely require several different sizes of adjustable wrench.
- Pipe Wrench - used to tighten and loosen threaded pipes, fittings and nuts, as well as for gripping and holding.
- Basin Wrench - for tightening and loosening nuts that hold sink faucets in place.
- Plumber's Snake/ Hand Auger - used to clear clogs in drains when plunging doesn't work.
- Closet Auger - a form of plumber's snake that's designed specifically for tackling toilets.
- Tongue-and-Groove Pliers - great for pulling, grabbing, holding, twisting, tightening and loosening things.
- Hacksaw - versatile saw that can cut through metal or plastic pipes, nuts and bolts, screws, and hardware.
- Tubing Cutter - used to cut copper pipes.
- Propane Torch - needed for soldering copper pipes and fittings.
It all depends on the nature of the problem. Many problems require advanced skills and experience, or specialist tools and machinery. You should also bear in mind that you can make a problem worse, or risk personal injury, if you don't know what you are doing. If in doubt, call a plumber.
4. Call a Plumber
There are many issues that require the services of a plumbing professional. If that's the case, then you should call them in as quickly as possible. While you are waiting for the plumber to arrive, it's a good idea to mop up any excess water with a mop, towels, or paper towels.
Be aware that emergency plumbers may often just return the water supply to the home, or create a temporary fix for blockages or other problems. They may need to return the following day or later to create permanent solutions.
Costs may also be a factor when considering the timing of calling in a plumber. Emergency plumbers are more expensive, so it is preferable to seek the services of a plumber during regular hours, when possible.
After The Emergency: Dealing With Plumbing Costs
Once the immediate situation has been dealt with, you should call your insurance company. Homeowners insurance or property insurance policies often have provision for plumbing events and may provide partial or full coverage for the expense of repair. The cost of calling out an emergency plumber will often not be covered, however.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2019 Paul Goodman
Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on May 10, 2020:
Practicle tips. Interesting.