Be prepared for household emergencies
Posted: Thursday, January 6, 2011 8:01 pm
By: By James Carey and Morris Carey
A corroded washing machine hose, flickering light bulbs and the faint odor of natural gas are all signs of impending danger.
• A corroded washing machine hose can burst and flood a home in a matter of moments. Replace suspect hoses with the new metal braded style. Why take a chance for $5 extra?
• Lights that flicker are a sign that the electrical system is either failing or overloaded. Both can cause a fire. Disconnect everything from the blinking circuit. If the condition persists, immediately contact an electrician.
• When the smell of natural gas is present, consider it a precursor to an explosion. Immediately open all nearby windows and doors. Oh, and please, don’t light a match. Gas leaks usually occur at joints, connections and valves. Spray soapy water onto a location and wait to see if the liquid bubbles. Repeat the process until you find the leak. If you don’t find the leak or if you aren’t handy at tightening a loose fitting, immediately contact a plumber.
The first and most important step in being prepared for an emergency is knowing where and how to shut off the water, gas and power to your home. Everyone in your family should have this information.
There are usually a couple of locations where the water supply to your home can be turned off. The first is at the water main. This is a large valve with an analog or numeric gauge that is used to measure the amount of water that you consume. Although a water meter can be located virtually anywhere surrounding your home, it generally is located below grade in a concrete box with a concrete or metal lid. The box is usually located in the sidewalk or in a planter near the sidewalk. The lid can be opened by using a large screwdriver or pry bar. In most cases the lid is regularly opened and closed by the utility company to read the meter, thus it should be easy to open in the case of an emergency. If, however, the box is rarely opened, do so periodically to avoid having to struggle in an emergency.
The easiest means of turning off the water at the water main is with a water-meter wrench. It is a “T”-shaped tool with a slot located at the long end which perfectly fits the meter valve. The wench is metal and measures about 30 inches. Other wrenches can be used, but their use requires a great deal more physical strength.
A second location to turn off all the water to the house is the main water shutoff valve. This valve typically is located where the main water line enters the home. This is at the outside wall of a home or in the basement. It usually is a valve that must be turned clockwise several rotations to fully close. No tools usually are needed to operate this valve.
There is another means of turning off water — the fixture shutoff valve or “angle stop.” Unlike the two previously mentioned valves, these control flow to a given fixture and not the entire house. These valves generally are located at each plumbing fixture with the exception of a tub or shower. They are at toilets, sinks, automatic dishwashers and icemakers. A variation of this valve can be found at the clothes washer. A shutoff valve also can be found at the top of a water heater.
As with water, gas can be shut off in more than one location as well. To turn off all of the gas supplied to your home, do it at the meter (or, in the case of an individual propane supply, at the tank or the master valve nearest the home). In most cases a meter is installed that serves two purposes: 1) to measure use, and 2) to regulate gas pressure. A gas meter can be located virtually anywhere on your property. Typically it is found at an exterior side wall near the street. The easiest and smartest place to shut off the gas is the meter. A special wrench is needed to turn off the gas valve. An adjustable or open-end wrench can be used but we suggest attaching a “gas valve” wrench to the gas meter with a short length of chain. This will prevent the need to search for a wrench in the event of an emergency. Gas lines are still filled with gas even after the valve has been closed, so lines should be bled before attempting any work.
If you suspect that there is a gas leak at an appliance or if the gas to an individual appliance needs to be turned off, closing the appliance gas shutoff valve located at the appliance is a convenient method. As with the valve at the gas meter, an appliance gas shutoff valve can be turned off by rotating it 90 degrees (at a right angle to the gas line). Keep in mind that gas valves are known to leak. So, turning off the valve at an appliance may not be the solution to preventing a leak. Refer to the soapy water test noted earlier in this article. CAUTION: If you suspect a gas leak, immediately turn off the gas to the house and call your utility company or a plumber.
Electrical power is supplied to a home via a metering and disconnect panel known as the “main panel.” The main panel can contain either fuses or breakers, depending upon the age of the home. The main service often contains only one disconnect point “the main disconnect” which links to an integrated and/or separate secondary panel known as a “subpanel.” The subpanel contains breakers or fuses that control power sent to various circuits throughout your home.
Use the main disconnect at the main service to shut off power to your entire house. This is accomplished by removing the fuse or tripping the breaker. If you wish only to turn the power off to a specific circuit (as when making a repair), trip the breaker or remove the fuse for that particular circuit.
“Loose wires start fires” and can level a home in minutes. If you suspect a problem with your electrical system, call the service department of your local utility company or a qualified electrician to make an inspection.
For more home improvement tips and information, visit our website www.onthehouse.com or call our listener hot line 24/7 at 1-800-737-2474 (Ext 59).
Published in The Messenger 1.6.11