Monday, October 16, 2017

Preparing for Plumbing Disasters

The last few weeks have been fairly busy for me. Among other things, and as a reminder that not all disasters are major, my basement flooded.

This was no small small thing, involving over three inches of water in my basement and a fair amount of property damage, but thankfully it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

1) Scout the Territory
You don’t have to be a master plumber to find the water cutoff. It's typically located in the basement or lower floor, and it may be in a crawl space, but it controls the water inflow to the house or apartment. Locate this first, so that if all else fails, you can turn the water off from there to prevent flooding and damage.

Next, find out if you have access to the city water shutoff. In most apartments you will not, and only sometimes in houses, but if you do have access it works as an emergency backup cutoff if your cutoff valve is stuck.

I keep this one handy.
These cutoffs are usually valves like you find on a spigot for a hose, either a small wheel or brass bar. They turn just like a screw -- right to close the valve, left to open it up -- but in some cases, you may need to use a special tool to shut off the water flow.

Then look at every faucet and toilet in the house. There should be a small valve that will let you cut off the water to that specific outlet. (Depending on the building codes in your area, you may only have a hot water cut off.)

One you have located these items, take pictures of them with your phone, and email them to yourself, with a note on location. This will guarantee that you can find them again later and make it easier for others. If you can, also take a note of the brand and model of your plumbing fixtures. This will let you get spare parts easily.

2) Prepare Your Tools
Suggested tools for your Emergency Plumbing Kit:
(I don't recommend using the silicone tape or Fiberfix for the long term, but they can save a lot of grief until you can get a plumber over.)
  • Paper with location of the water shut off and any notes you feel that you may need
  • Pencil
  • Tool bag or box (to hold all this)
  • For advanced users: can of PB Blaster (for stuck valves)

3) Familiarize Yourself with What is Likely to Go Wrong
In my experience, the most likely problems to arise are:
  • Leaky faucet. Usually fixable by tightening something. 
  • Burst or leaky pipe.  You may not be able to fix this yourself, but it you should be able to band-aid it until a plumber gets there, which will prevent a lot of damage. 
  • Running toilet.  This is an entire sub-set of issues. Knowing how to shut off the water until you can get it fixed can save some nasty flooding.
  • Water heater issues. Once again, you may not be up to fixing this yourself, but knowing the basics can save some hassle.

I don’t have the space to go into how to fix all of these problems, but if you prepare yourself even this much, it can give you a way to prevent damage as well as time to look up how to fix many of these problems yourself, saving a mint in plumbing bills.

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