Most of us have been there at one time or another: That moment when you’re confronted by an unexpected plumbing emergency. That was the scene in my Orland Park, Illinois home last week. I lost several precious minutes because I wasn’t immediately ready to handle a leaky water heater, and keep things under control until professional plumbing help could arrive.
So I thought I’d jot down some notes, some things I’ve learned over the last few days to ensure that I’m not caught unprepared the next time an emergency strikes. Maybe I can share some information that might help you, too, in a time of need.
In most plumbing emergencies that involve a leak, your first course of action should be obvious: Shut off the water. That often involves shutting off the main water valve to your house. If you don’t already know exactly where that main valve is, you need to find it. Equally important: You need to know how to turn off that valve. Sometimes you can turn a knob by hand; more often, you’ll need a curb valve key, and you can buy one inexpensively at your local home improvement store.
Occasionally, your water heater will be the source of the leak. Again, you’ll want to shut off the water. This can usually be done by shutting off the valve immediately over your heater. If this can’t be done, you’ll need to shut off the main valve.
Shutting off the water to your water heater is only half of what you need to do – you also need to turn off the heat. This is critical. Without cooling water, a water heater can overheat and its tanks can be severely damaged or burst – probably a much bigger problem than the leak itself. If you have an electric heater, turn it off by flipping the switch on the breaker box. For gas heaters, look to the bottom of the heater for a red-handle atop a black or yellow pipe; turning this handle 90 degrees should cut off the gas.
Once the water is shut off, and the heater is turned off, you can turn your attention to diverting the water. Again, look to the bottom of the heater. This time, you’ll want to find the drain value. Ideally, you can connect a garden hose to it, open it, and route the water out of your home. If not, find something to catch the water so it can be removed before it leaks out.
Let’s say that your water heater has already overheated; a telltale sign will be scalding hot water coming out of your faucets. This time, you’ll need to shut off the water heater’s heat as referenced above. But don’t shut off any water valves – you want that heater to cool off. Instead, open faucets around your home to provide a release for that dangerously hot water. Then waste no time before you call that emergency plumber in Orland Park, or wherever you may live.
Hopefully these suggestions will help prepare you for the day when your water heater acts up. I wish I’d been more prepared. But I can say that I did the most important thing to do in any plumbing emergency, and that’s keep your cool. I kept my head, and while I lost precious time looking things up online, I was able to calmly deal with the leak in a matter of minutes.
Here’s to hoping that this article buys you a few extra minutes, and helps you deal swiftly with your next plumbing emergency.