Damage control for a house flood

Water, water everywhere? For wet disasters of all kinds, here's what you can do.

Damage control for a house flood

Overflows

If your home falls victim to a broken pipe or an overflowing washing machine or dishwasher, taking these steps immediately will minimize the damage:

  • Turn off the main water-shutoff valve.
  • To prevent electrical shock, shut off electricity to the flooded area, but only if you can get to the service panel without having to step through the floodwater. Wading through water that's in contact with electrical outlets or appliances can give you a severe, possibly deadly, shock.
  • Wear rubber boots and gloves if the leak was in a drain line or has been mixed with sewage. Disinfect the area thoroughly after it has been cleaned and allowed to dry.
  • Try to mop up the water as quickly as possible to prevent damage to floors (and ceilings in lower levels of the house).
  • Repairing or replacing a broken pipe is a job for a plumber, but in an emergency patch a pipe however you can.
  • While your burst pipe is fresh on your mind, inspect the rest of your home's pipes and hosing. Broken washing-machine hoses are a common cause of household flooding. Standard rubber hoses weaken and crack with age and can eventually burst. To avoid what could be a costly problem, replace washer hoses every two years or so.

Save the floors

  • If a washing machine or dishwasher floods, use beach towels and other large absorbent materials to build a dam around the spillage. Confining the water this way makes it easier to mop up.
  • When it looks like a toilet is about to spill over, stand back and trust the toilet's design. If the toilet overflows, remove the tank lid and push the flush-valve flapper or tank ball into the valve seat at the bottom of the tank to stop the flow of water into the bowl. Turn off the toilet's shutoff valve or the main shutoff valve. Bail out excess water, if possible, or just wait. Water will slowly leak through even the worst clog, and the water level in the bowl will drop slowly to the point where you can begin plunging.
  • When a pipe breaks or an appliance floods, your first job is to stop the water flow. This means quickly turning off the nearest valve feeding water to the problem area  or even the main water valve supplying the house, if need be. Identify and mark all such valves in your house now so you won't have to search for the right one in an emergency. To shut valves off, turn them clockwise. Or, if they're lever valves, turn the handle perpendicular to the pipe.
  • Periodically check shutoff valves to make sure they open and close freely.

When that ring goes down the drain

  • The ring you drop down the drain is not lost forever. It will wash down the drainpipe and stop in the bottom of the U-shaped trap. Some traps have a plug on the bottom that you can unscrew to retrieve valuables.
  • Put a bucket underneath the plug before removing it — the trap is filled with water.
  • If there's no plug, use the bucket anyway, then loosen the large nuts above and below the trap with a pipe wrench to remove the entire trap.
  • Empty the water into the bucket, fish out the item and then replace the trap.
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