Plumbing Emergencies

Dealing With Plumbing Emergencies At Home

Plumbing emergencies are, from one perspective, neglect of your plumbing that has bloomed into a serious consequence. The underlying causes of most problems which reach emergency status are problems that should have been given attention long before they erupted into emergencies.

A “plumbing emergency” usually translates to a flood, or water running where it doesn’t belong, although it can include some other problems. In the majority of cases, the first consideration is to stop the flow of water. If you had to shut the water off to the entire house right now, would you be able to walk right to the main supply valve? Part of emergency preparedness is to know, above all, where the main valve is on the supply line leading into the house.

If you are on a municipal water distribution branch, your water enters your house from the street side, and a water meter is connected to it just inside the wall. If you have your own well, the supply line likely enters the house from the direction of the well. Locate the valve on this line. Closing this will turn off the water supply to the home.

A proper plumbing setup will include other valves, as well. At the very least, each individual fixture – refrigerator with ice maker, sink, washer, etc., should have its own cutoff valve. There may also be cutoff valves on entire branches of the supply pipe (i.e.: the lines leading to a second floor lavatory, or the lines leading to the master bedroom lavatory, or the wet bar). With multiple cutoffs, the location of the leak can give you choices as to which valves to close.

The cutoff for a sink will be directly underneath the sink. The toilet cutoff is behind the tank at the end of the supply pipe, which may approach from the floor or from within the wall. If the individual fixture is the source of the problem, closing its valve can minimize the inconvenience while the repair is being made.

If the main water supply must be shut off for more than a few minutes, turn off the heating supply to the water heater as well, either by switching the gas valve to “OFF”, or by tripping the circuit breaker for the appliance. This will keep the water heater from continuously heating the same water, and eliminate the possibility of it overheating.

Sometimes a fixture will appear to be leaking when the only trouble is a clogged drain. Clear the drain and the symptoms (wet floor, dripping) should disappear.

A frozen pipe is another common plumbing emergency. If a pipe freezes, it may also crack. Steel and copper pipes can tolerate precious little expansion, while PVC is much more forgiving. If the pipe has not split, and it is metal, thawing it will not take much time. Heat it slowly, by tying a hot water bag to it and warming the bag occasionally. Alternately, shine a bulb on the coldest part of the pipe. This method may take up to a couple of hours, but heating it slowly will minimize the chance that it will rupture. Never apply a flame to a pipe which has frozen. The combination of ice and rapidly expanding, heating water can stress the metal and weaken it. If the water is brought to the boiling point in the midst of ice, the pressure could burst the pipe.

If the frozen pipe has cracked, make sure the water supply has been turned off, then cut out the offending portion and replace it. Wrap insulating tape around the repaired pipe to prevent it from refreezing. As a general principle, never leave your home unheated in cold weather. If you must leave it empty and cannot supply a heat source, drain the entire system of water.

If hot water becomes scalding, or produces steam, not only can closing the faucet cause burns, but the pressure in the hot water supply line can increase to dangerous levels. Leave the faucet running and remove the heat source to the water heater. Only close the faucet again when the running hot water has cooled to the touch. Call a plumber to diagnose and repair the problem with the water heater.

At times, a water heater will drip and get the floor wet. It is possible that the tank is sweating. On very hot days, and when a considerable amount of hot water has been used, the large volume of incoming cold water can produce enough condensation to drip down to the floor. This does not constitute an emergency. If, however, the volume of water coming from the heater is too great for condensation, or if it is constant and not dependent on usage and weather conditions, it is likely that the inner tank has cracked, which is not a serviceable problem. Once the water heater tank is cracked, it is time to install a new one. It is a good idea to keep important keepsakes far enough away from any water heater, or on a higher plane, on the chance that a leaking water heater goes undiscovered for any length of time.

Careful attention should be paid to the operation of all your plumbing appliances. If you remain aware of conditions affecting all aspects of your home’s plumbing any of these emergency problems can be avoided. The important thing to keep in the back of your mind, while maintaining your home’s plumbing systems, is what to do if any of these situations does occur.

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