9 practical tips for avoiding plumbing emergencies

Plumbing emergencies in the home usually involve flooding, freezing, foul smells – and potentially fatal electric shocks. Here are a few practical tips on how to avoid these emergencies.

But, remember that these tips will just help you avoid emergencies once things start to go wrong. If you find yourself in any of these situations, it's still a good idea to call in a plumber to make sure that everything is up to snuff even after an emergency has been avoided.

  • To staunch water flooding out of a broken pipe, shut off the main water valve.
  • Water and electricity are a deadly combination. Stay away from leaking or flooded water if there is any likelihood that it has come into contact with an electrical circuit. If you can reach the switchboard without touching the water, turn off the household power switch and disable the circuits.
  • Plug an electric pump into a socket that's equipped with a safety switch, if possible. Don't use a gas- or diesel-driven water pump inside, as it will build up hazardous fumes.
  • Wear rubber boots and gloves if the leak is in a drain line or has been contaminated with sewage. Thoroughly disinfect an area after it has been cleaned and allowed to dry.
  • When a washing machine or dish-washer overflows, build a dam around the spillage with beach towels or other large absorbent materials. This will confine the water, making it easier to mop up.
  • A strong smell of sewage from a fixture in a bathroom, kitchen or laundry room may indicate that water in the trap in the waste pipe has dried up. Pour some water into the floor drain and wait to see if the smell goes away. If it doesn't, you may have more serious problems. Call in a licensed plumber immediately.
  • If very low temperatures threaten to freeze pipes, leave the taps trickling a little bit until the weather warms up. Take the wind-chill factor into account when deciding if the temperature will fall below freezing.
  • Frozen pipes are best thawed gently. A hair dryer set on "High" will do the trick. Don't use a heat gun or, worse, a propane torch. They will melt the ice quickly but, just as quickly, they will convert the water to steam and blow the pipe apart.
  • Start thawing the ice in a frozen pipe from the side closest to a tap, so the ice melt will have somewhere to drain. (Make sure you open the tap first, of course.) Gradually work your way from the tap side back into the frozen area.

Keep these practical tips in mind and you'll be able to avoid these sorts of plumbing emergencies. But even after you've averted a plumbing emergency, if you're unsure about your plumbing don't hesitate to call in a plumber to make sure everything's all right.

9 practical tips for avoiding plumbing emergencies
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