The worst thing you can do as a homeowner is to have an emergency situation and not know how to handle it. If there is water flooding your house, the quicker you can turn the water main off, the less damage you will need to fix later. Every minute you are running around, looking for the water shut-off valve, will be gallons of water that are destroying your floors, drywall, furniture and your life.
PREPARE FOR THE REPAIR:
You might not have all of these. It isn’t uncommon for older homes to have an oil furnace, but your home might not. You might be hooked to the city sewer system which means you won’t have a septic tank. So go through your house and make a master list of all of your utilities and where they are.
Water Shut-off: There are a couple options for a water shut-off valve for your home. There is usually a water main out by the road. You will usually find a rectangle box in the ground with a plastic lid. Inside there will be a meter and a small rectangular valve that allows you to turn off the entire water main for your property. You will need to use this valve to shut the water off if a pipe bursts somewhere outside of the house. You can buy a special tool that is made specifically for turning that valve. There is also going to be a place in your house where the water line comes in that will also have a valve. This is usually going to be the easier place to turn the water off if a pipe bursts inside the house. If there is a leak or your house is flooding, the faster you can shut the water off, the less damage it will do. Each individual plumbing fixture in your house will have it’s own water shut-off valve as well. If your kitchen sink faucet breaks and starts spewing water, you can just turn off the water to that faucet by using the valve under the sink.
Gas Shut-off: This is an important one. If you have a gas leak in your house, you better know where the gas meter is and how to turn it off quickly. Generally, you will have a gas meter right next to your house somewhere and it will have a rectangular valve just like the water main. You can use the same tool for the water main to turn off the gas meter or you can get a special combo tool to use for both your gas meter and water main. Each individual gas fixture will also have it’s own shut-off. If your furnace is leaking gas, you can just shut off the valve that is next to the furnace. Since gas is quite a bit more dangerous than water, it’s not a bad idea to go turn the meter off as well just in case. Call a plumber and he can determine if it’s leaking anywhere else before turning the meter back on.
Electrical Panel: It’s very important to know where your electrical panel is in case of an emergency. Especially if something catastrophic happens and you might have a gas leak at the same time. You don’t want something sparking, blowing your house to kingdom come. The electrical panel could be just about anywhere in your home, but the first spot to look would be the garage or basement. If it’s not there, try the laundry room or a bedroom. It is possible that it’s outside and if this is the case, you’ll want to make sure it’s in a weather resistant box with a lock. Make sure you have easy access to the key, because you will want to be able to get into the panel fast.
The second part of this is to make sure your electrical panel is labelled. There will be a sheet adhered to the back of the door on the panel where you can write what each breaker is for. A lot of panels have changed so the label is inaccurate or they were never filled out in the first place. You want to be able to get in the panel and turn off the correct breaker and if the panel is not labelled correctly, you could turn off the wrong breaker and still be in danger. If the label is incorrect, you can hit it with some white-out or get some new stickers to put over them so they are correct.
Oil Tank: Oil furnaces started becoming a viable heating method in the 1930’s and really became common after World War II. These furnaces replaced wood and coal burning heating methods and gave people the luxury of being able to heat their home without having to constantly check and stoke the fire. The furnace is installed in the house and a tank is either installed in the basement or buried somewhere on the property. The tank holds oil which is piped into the house to fuel the furnace. You could get an oil leak and need to repair the tank or you could upgrade your home to a more efficient heating method and will need to decommission the tank. Gas and electric heating is the most common method these days but there are still a surprising amount of oil furnaces out there.
Propane Tank: Another less common fuel method for heating a home and running appliances is propane. It’s more common for people who live in rural areas that don’t have access to a municipal power grid. A number of appliances as well as heating can be fueled with propane so you can make your solar or wind power go further. Houses that are connected to the power grid can still have propane tanks as well and just like your gas pipes, there could be a leak and you will need to turn it off quickly to ensure the house doesn’t fill with gas.
Septic Tank: Having an emergency with your septic tank can not only be dangerous, but it can be smelly. Of course, a lot of homes in the city are hooked to the municipal sewer system, but it’s very common for houses in rural areas to have a septic tank on the property. If something goes wrong with the septic tank, it could back up into your house or it could leak out into your property making your yard a disgusting swamp of human waste. Knowing where your septic tank is will help expedite the process of finding and repairing the problem. One thing to do is to find a septic company to come out and regularly service your septic system. It will work better and be less likely to break down. Then, if there is a repair emergency, the septic company will already be familiar with your system.
Just taking a few minutes to walk around your home and make a mental note of where all of your utilities are located could be the difference between a minor repair and some major damage. It is also safer to be able to turn off the gas or cut the power to an area of your house that it damaged.
Another thing to consider if you want to be prepared for a repair or emergency around your home is what tools are essential to all homeowners.