Do-It-Yourself Emergency Plumbing and HVAC for Your Home

Posted on November 12, 2012

A Good Service-oriented Business knows that there is no such thing as a Non-Emergency Call.

Have you ever experienced:

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  • No heat, with winter temperatures below freezing
  • No air conditioning, with summer temperatures in the triple digits
  • A stopped-up toilet
  • Broken pipes due to a record freeze
  • No hot water with a house full of guests
  • Or an unwanted wading pool in the basement

It is always an Emergency when the breakdown occurs for the customer because it is an inconvenience and it always seems to occur at exactly the wrong time.  But some of the calls that we recieve are more than inconvenience, they can cause major property damage and even death!  That is why good service contractors emphasize speed of service.  It is our goal to get to every customer promptly, but especially the emergency calls!  Unfortunately, that is not always possible.  So home owners need to know some basic first aid until more thorough help can arrive.  

Here are a few things you can do before you place that service call:

  • Furnace or boiler failure. There is no experience more chilling than waking up in the middle of winter and seeing your breath!  Besides being cold, it can sometimes cost more to get a service technician out in the middle of the night. And, repairs can often take a day or two, which puts your pipes in jeopardy of freezing.

  • First, take a look outside to make sure there’s not a general power outage in your neighborhood.
  • Now check to be sure your furnace is plugged into an electrical outlet.
  • Next, check the fuse or circuit breaker to the heating system’s electrical line.  If the fuse is blown, replace it, or flick the circuit breaker back to the on position.
  • Once you’re assured that the power is on, check the thermostat to make sure nobody turned the dial way down.  Look to be sure that the thermostat system switch is in the “heat” position.  If it’s a programmable unit, make sure the thermostat is programmed correctly.
  • Finally, check to be sure the furnace filter access door is completly closed.
  • If none of these bear out, you may have a more serious problem. Time to call a professional!

Hopefully, a service technician will be on his way before you know it.  Sometimes, though, it may take a day or two to fix your system. Depending on how severe the weather is, you need to decide whether to seek other shelter or tough it out with extra blankets and space heaters.  Whatever you do, don’t try to generate heat by turning on your cooking stove. Appliances are not intended for space heating and are dangerous when used for that purpose.

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    Frozen pipes. Water pipes can burst from a household accident, long-term corrosion or, most commonly, freezing.  Most freezes occur in crawl spaces or areas such as exterior walls or basements, where cold air enters through cracks. Even though the room temperature might be well above freezing, a constant thin stream of cold air is all it takes to freeze a pipe.

  • The first step you need to take is to turn off the water shutoff valve leading into the house.  Usually this is located near a wall where the municipal water line enters your house.
  • Next time you use a plumber, ask him to hang tags on your household lines to identify water and gas shutoffs.  Some companies do this without being asked, but most do not provide this service.
  • A faint gas odor may indicate nothing more than a burned out pilot light to an appliance. Check the water heater or any other appliances in the vicinity to see if the pilot is out. (An absence of hot water is another big hint.)
  • A more powerful odor spells big danger. Turn off the shutoff valve by the gas meter to your house. Turn off all appliances, open windows and vacate the house before you call for service.
  • Gas leaks. Water leaks are a nuisance. Gas leaks can be deadly. Here is where marked shutoff valves can be of critical importance.

  • DO NOT try to light any appliance and DO NOT touch any electrical switch.
  • Turn off all appliances, open windows and vacate the house.  DO NOT light a match or a cigarette.
  • Turn off the shut off valve by the gas meter to your house and CALL A PLUMBER!

The most common cause of a major gas leak is knocking open a gas valve, or even damaging the pipe, while moving furniture. Be careful!

  • Overflowing toilet. Naturally, you want to have a plunger handy to remove any clogs caused by toilet paper or other lightweight debris.

  • If you can’t stop the water from flowing, it probably indicates a stuck valve. Lift the lid off the toilet tank and check to see if the plug is not covering the round opening at the bottom of the tank. Position the plug over the opening.  If the plug won’t move, don’t force it.
  • Check to see if the float is stuck.  Lifting the float should shut off the flow of water. 
  • If none of this works, turn off the shutoff valve to the toilet. Its handle is usually located either behind the tank or underneath it.  Then call the plumber.

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