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How to Deal With a Plumbing Emergency

Since leaving college, Paul has worked in a variety of roles, including: painter and decorator, general handyman, and freelance writer.

Want to know how to deal with a plumbing emergency? Read my tips below.

Want to know how to deal with a plumbing emergency? Read my tips below.

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 vitally 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?

Plumbing emergencies can take numerous forms, below are some typical situations which could be considered examples:

  • Flooding: Any form of flooding or serious water damage can be considered an emergency. 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 drywall have become detached in the kitchen. As water damage usually only gets worse if left alone, and safety and hygiene can be compromised, some sort of immediate action needs to be taken.
  • Risk of burst pipes: A common example of this is pipes freezing up during the colder months. Without a plumber taking action to ameliorate the problem, there is a strong chance of pipes bursting and flooding occurring and/or losing water supply.
  • Any form of sewerage leak or backup: This constitutes a serious threat to health and needs to be tackled immediately. Depending upon the nature of the problem, this might just mean a pipe needs or unblocking, or piping needs replacing.
  • No functioning toilets: Whatever the cause, it's a health and hygiene issue that needs a speedy resolution.
  • No running water: Without water to clean, flush, or drink, human safety and wellbeing is compromised. There are numerous reasons why there might be no water, including burst or clogged pipes, and a plumber should be able to diagnose the problem and fix it.
  • Hot water heater failure: If the heater is producing water that is too hot or too cold, leaking, or noisy, it may well need immediate attention from a plumber. A heater that is producing water that has an odd color or smell may also require professional help, although this particular issue can sometimes be resolved by flushing the tank.
  • Gas leaks: These are dangerous, creating the potential for explosions, fires, and other serious problems, they require immediate action.

4 Things to Do When Dealing With Plumbing Emergencies

  1. Shut off the Water
  2. Identify the Problem
  3. Fix the Problem Yourself (Depending on the Issue)
  4. 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 temporary solution until a plumber arrives, or giving you time to come up with a permanent solution.

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 Essential 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: a 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 initially 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 provisions 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, though.

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.