Home emergencies are not something we think about every day. No one wants to deal with a home maintenance disaster, but do you know what to do when a pipe bursts or sewage backs up in your home? Every homeowner should know a few basics to maintain and protect their biggest investment. The purpose of the following checklist is to help you take steps to minimize a home emergency and assess any damage.

The single most important thing to remember is to put safety first and second is to act fast! After the issue is under control you may also want to document any damage and contact your insurance agent.

How to deal with the most common water-related home emergencies:

Burst pipe or major water leak:

  • Stop the water flow by turning off the main water valve (usually in your basement or utility room).
  • Next, turn on the faucet in the lowest level of the home to rid pipes of all water.
  • Don’t delay cleanup! The longer things stay wet the more likely for permanent damage – remove water & dry out.
  • If a toilet is leaking use its turn-off valve first & if it won’t close then shut off the main water valve.
  • If it’s a hot water leak try turning off the valve on the water heater.

Flooded basement:

  • Keep dry until you turn off electrical power – put on boots before wading through water.
  • Turn off the main power to the breaker box – if unreachable call the utility company to cut power to the home.
  • Take caution in flood waters which may contain toxins from stored belongings.
  • Don’t delay cleanup! The longer things stay wet the more likely for permanent damage – remove water & dry out.
  • If flood damage isn’t covered by your homeowner’s insurance DON’T report it – it may still go on record as a claim.

Sewage backup:   

  • Homes with basements and in low-lying areas are most vulnerable.
  • Unblocking any visibly blocked individual drains is a good start.
  • In the basement floor drain & laundry tub, place a screw or plug.
  • Block the main line with test plug – insert an inflatable test plug & inflate with a bicycle pump.
  • Shut off the main water supply.
  • Call a plumber to help clear lines and determine if the city lines are an issue. NOTE: The Cleary Company can help with a referral!

Leaking roof:

  • Act fast to minimize water damage but wait until after a storm to climb on a roof. Wet roofs are slippery!
  • Quick fix – bandage large areas with a plastic tarp, screw plywood over the hole & secure over the roof ridge with 2x4s or lath nailed to the roof.
  • Small holes can be patched with flashing or extra shingles or caulk.
  • Call a roofing professional for an inspection. NOTE: The Cleary Company can help with a referral!

How to deal with the most common nature-related home emergencies:

Electrical storm:

  • Unplug sensitive electronics for protection from power surges.
  • If your home is hit by lighting don’t wait for flames, call 911 to dispatch the fire department ASAP because fires can hide in the walls.
  • Protect yourself from lightning by avoiding contact with electrical appliances, and landline phones.
  • Do not shower or bathe.

Power outage:

  • Always keep a flashlight handy and loaded with good batteries.
  • Prepare for surges – unplug all electronics & small appliances, major appliances can be turned off at the breaker box, turn the thermostat heat down (or cooling up) and leave on one light so you know when power is restored. And when power returns DO NOT turn everything on at once.
  • Be aware if lights are noticeably dimmer or brighter after power returns, turn off the main supply at the breaker box & call the electric utility.

Tornado or high winds:

  • Move to a protected interior room on the lowest floor of the house as far as possible from exterior walls & windows.
  • Use pillows, cushions & blankets to protect yourself from flying debris.
  • Ignore the myths – DO NOT open windows AND the southwest corner is not always the safest place to take cover.
  • After the storm passes do an exterior review of the home to check for damages.

Wild animal invasion:

  • Raccoons and squirrels can do a lot of damage quickly.
  • If found inside the home – isolate the varmint in a room, open the window and exterior doors and then leave the room. Most will find their way out on their own.
  • Outside the home – if they are a nuisance or creating conflict try to control & deter first, not difficult but requires persistence.
  • DO NOT CHASE! OR set your dog or cat after them – these two options can result in smelly messes and/or a trip to the vet.
  • Set a trap. However, per Ohio DNR regulations, it is unlawful to relocate off your property, they must be euthanized.
  • Visit Ohio Department of Natural Resources website for tips & strategies on nuisance wildlife.
  • Call a professional if needed. NOTE: The Cleary Company can help with a referral!

How to deal with dangerous home emergencies:

Carbon monoxide alert:

  • CO poisoning is leading cause of accidental death in US!
  • If an alarm sounds and anyone is experiencing flu like symptoms, get everyone outside fast, then call 911 to dispatch the fire department.
  • Never ignore an alarm! Open doors & windows, and turn off all sources of CO, like gas appliances, furnace, water heater, kerosene heater and small engines or vehicles.
  • Contact the gas utility company to inspect your gas lines

Kitchen fire:  

  • A small kitchen extinguisher kept under the sink is highly recommended.
  • For a small countertop appliance – unplug and pour baking soda onto fire.
  • On a stovetop – turn off burner & smother flames with a lid or baking soda.
  • NEVER use water on a grease fire.
  • For an oven – do not open the door, leave closed and turn off the heat.
  • Keep in mind fires that seem to be out can reignite – keep an eye on the area of the fire for several minutes after the fire appears to be out.
  • AND if the fire spreads – get everyone out & call 911 immediately!

Dead furnace:

  • Check airflow? Preventative maintenance is key – check furnace filter monthly and change as needed when clogged.
  • Power on? Check the circuit breaker, even a gas furnace needs power for the thermostat, fan motor and valves.
  • Gas valve on? The handle should be parallel to gas pipe.
  • Exterior exhaust pipe clear? Sometimes heavy snow can cover up exhaust vent to the outside.
  • Does thermostat need to be reset? Turn it down, then turn it back up.
  • Still not working call an HVAC professional NOTE: The Cleary Company can help with a referral!

Check out familyhandyman.com for a list of more home emergencies and how to deal with them!