Broken pipes can be caused by many different things. Sometimes they break just because they are old, but more typically, they have cracked or been jarred loose by vibrations in the house. An earthquake or remodeling work might be one reasons why pipes finally break, but even a steady stream of trucks traveling down the street can shake loose pipes or create a fracture in a toilet tank.
When a plumbing emergency does happen, the most important thing to remember is to deal with the emergency in a logical step by step fashion.
Protecting the kids and pets
Many ago, our upstairs toilet tank cracked in the middle of the night, quietly filling the rafters between the two floors with water. The noise of the water running down the hall woke up one of our children, who sounded the alarm just minutes before the family room ceiling exploded in a 20 foot cascade of mud and plaster.
Before dealing with any plumbing emergency, think about the safety of your loved ones first. If the leak is considerable, shoo the pets and kids in the room furthest away from the water and give the oldest kid the job of keeping everyone put. Not only are you placing the kids out of harm’s way, they are out of your way while you’re trying to deal with the plumbing and the mess.
Move the non replaceables and shut off the water
If there are two adults in the house, one can shut off the water while the second moves non replaceable valuables out of the area such as family bibles and photographs.
How to shut off the water depends on where the leak is coming from. If it’s a broken toilet or sink, the water can be shut off at the water supply valve. The water supply valve is usually beneath the sink or toilet, and typically rests at the base of a thin pipe which reaches from the floor to beneath the fixture. These pipes aren’t always obvious and may even be located in an undersink cabinet. Shut off both hot and cold supply valves by rotating them counter clockwise. If the valve is jammed, try using a wet washcloth to get a better grip.
If the plumbing leak is originating elsewhere, the main water supply will have to be shut off to the house. Newer houses have water shut off valves near the cold water intake pipe, where the plumbing enters the house from outdoors. It may be located outside in warm climates or inside in cold climates. Some water shut off valves are located just before the plumbing reaches the water heater, and may even be painted red. Close the shut off valve by turning it counter clockwise.
Older houses do not have water shut off valves, and property owners must shut off the water supply at the street. The water meter is typically located in front of the house, underneath a small metal cover that reads “Water Company.” There are usually two lids to remove before reaching the water valve. Some valves have a lever while others have a small wheel; turn this clockwise to shut off the main water supply to the house.
Once the water has been shut off, try to minimize the damage resulting from the water. Remove valuable artwork, bric a brac , electronics and furniture out of the way as quickly as possible. Dry off wooden tabletops, legs, and frames to prevent water damage.
Don’t try to get everything out of the room, just the things that are valuable and would be hard to replace or restore.
Call Disaster Cleanup
In the yellow pages, you will find a listing of disaster cleanup services who are professionals in minimizing the damage to your home. These folks will do it all ~ lifting the rest of the furniture & rugs out of the house, rolling up carpets and pads, vacuuming out the water and cleaning up fallen debris, preventing the growth of mold, and running commercial fans to dry out the house. Disaster cleanup teams can be on the spot within the hour. Don’t let the potential cost scare you off ~ many homeowner policies cover disaster response, knowing that a speedy cleanup results in reduced damage to the house.
Call your insurance agent
First thing in the morning, call your insurance and start the process for filing a claim. A claims adjuster will usually arrive after a few hours to assess the damage and start the paperwork. Our insurance company covered the cost of the disaster team, and had even assigned a value to our time in lessening potential damage to furniture and antiques by dragging things out of harms way.
The total damage to our home was only $5000 ~ according to our claims adjuster, our quick thinking prevented the damage from being in the tens of thousands.
The best way to handle any sort of plumbing emergency in your home, whether it’s broken pipes or a cracked toilet tank, is to be prepared before it happens. Taking a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the plumbing system in your home, noting the location of all shut off valves, and calling your insurance agent for up to date information, are important steps in preventing a plumbing emergency from turning into a disaster.