Common household emergencies can cause additional stress. In this article, we share some examples of what can happen at home when you least expect it, and tips to prepare.
10 common home emergencies
Ten common home emergencies include:
- power blackout or power failure
- blocked toilet, pipe, or drain
- broken or burst hot water system
- damaged roof, gutter, or downpipe
- locked out of home
- broken heating or air-conditioning system
- broken door or window
- gas leak
- water leak
- burst tap or shower head
These emergencies are different to disasters such as theft, flood, or fire damage, but can still cause chaos when it’s least expected, and affect many thousands of people across Australia each year. Allianz, for example, received nearly 3,700 insurance claims involving burst pipes and over 300 fusion-related claims for blackouts (full outages) or brownouts (partial outages) in the year to 30 June 2021. Additionally, nearly 300 claims were lodged with the insurer for trees causing damage to buildings or fencing over this time.
A statement from a representative of Allianz Australia said claims relating to burst pipes were more common in winter, with pipes freezing in some parts of the country during cooler weather. In summer, the insurer has historically seen “a surge in severe weather-related claims”, alongside claims involving “the odd broken window following a game of backyard cricket”. If you have a home insurance policy, the Allianz representative said it’s a great idea to conduct a policy health check. If you have lost your insurance documentation or do not have a digital copy, it may be a good idea to speak with your insurance provider so you’ve got your policy details on hand at short notice.
For more details about common home emergencies and some prevention tips, keep reading.
1. Power blackouts or power failures
The majority of power failures are caused by extreme weather, so there isn’t really much you can do to prevent this one from happening. The best you can do in the event of a power failure is to be prepared, especially since you don’t really know how long you’ll be in darkness for.
12 blackout safety tips
Here are 12 blackout-related safety tips that could help you prepare before storms hit:
- Buy a generator if you can.
- Clean up hazards like outdoor furniture.
- Trim the branches and height of any trees that could fall on your power lines. If the roots of a potentially dangerous tree are in your neighbour’s yard, you may need to ask their permission before trimming it.
- Have a family emergency plan, which tells those in your house where things like the circuit breaker or manual release for the garage door are, so they can still get in and out if there’s no power.
- Ensure that you have all the necessary supplies on hand, ready to be used at a moment’s notice: things like torches, batteries, gas-powered cooking equipment and a radio.
- Stock bottled water, since your local water treatment facility could be affected and your taps may stop working as a result.
- Stock easy-to-heat food, such as canned food.
- Have cash on hand. Debit cards may not work if power is out elsewhere.
- Unplug your computer so it doesn’t short out and fry the motherboard.
- Light candles where necessary, or have a few gas-powered lamps.
- Have non-digital activities to entertain yourself with, like board games.
- Check your home and contents insurance is enough to cover what you might need it for.
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2. Blocked toilet, pipe or drain
If your toilet and shower drains are blocked, it’s probably at least partly due to what you’re putting in there. Shower drains can get easily clogged with excess hair, which can be removed quickly and easily if you unscrew the drain cap or simply pull the hair out from the top of the drain. You may want to wear some tough gloves for this task. If you can’t see the blockage, another idea is busting out a toilet plunger to remove deeper blocks.
Pouring hot water, baking soda and vinegar into a bathroom drain can break down solid matter over time. Be careful about the quantity though, because you don’t want to burst or rust the pipe. If that doesn’t work, it may be a good idea to call a licensed professional to come out and do it for you.
3. Broken or burst hot water system
We rely on hot water more than we often think about – for showers, baths, making tea, and cleaning dishes, to name a few examples. Australian Hot Water says you can expect an electric hot water system to last between 10 and 15 years on average, while a gas system will have a slightly shorter life expectancy at around eight to 12 years. A licensed installer can help you to replace a water heater if needed.
4. Damaged roof, gutter or downpipe
A damaged roof can be quite expensive, and should only be repaired by a licensed professional, generally speaking. If your gutter or downpipe is clogged, on the other hand, you might consider fixing this yourself if you can do so safely. Ensure you fully consider and understand the risks of working at heights first, and prioritise your personal safety. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has more information about some of the risks of working with ladders, for example, to consider.
Holes can form in gutters through rust, which can eat through steel over time and cause water and grime to fall out into your yard. You could use a tube of roofing cement and a gutter scoop from Bunnings, or a similar hardware store, to fix this. Applying a liberal amount of roofing cement with a caulking gun a few inches either side of the hole to secure the metal patch you put over it might do the trick.
5. Getting locked out of home
Having a spare key in a secure location may help you to avoid getting locked out. Safe-ish places to stash a spare key can include with a trusted friend or relative, in an electrical panel protected by a combination lock, or in your work bag or school bag that you carry with you when you go out.
Places you might like to avoid leaving a spare key include under your doormat, in a pot plant, fake rock or the mailbox, on a window ledge. You should also be very cautious and careful about leaving windows open, as this might increase the likelihood of being robbed.
6. Broken heating or air-conditioning system
According to energy retailer Energy Australia, there are five common signs your heating or cooling unit could be in distress and needs to be fixed or replaced:
- The unit is running, but no or very little warm or cool air is coming out
- Your energy bills are higher than usual, which could indicate your unit is not working as efficiently as it could
- There are “strange emissions” odd sounds coming out of the device, such as odd smells, extra-loud sounds or water dripping from the unit inside the house
- The temperature is inconsistent in different parts of your house
- The device needs repairs multiple times per year.
If any of these issues are affecting your air conditioner or heater, it could be wise to call a professional so that it can be examined, and potentially removed or replaced, after you’ve safely turned the unit off.
7. Broken door or window
If you have a broken door or window, there’s a good chance it wasn’t your fault (unless it was from a game of backyard cricket or soccer). It doesn’t matter whose fault it was, though – a broken window is a possible security risk that should be fixed ASAP to prevent thieves getting into your home when you’re not there. You can find out more about the costs of replacing a broken window with Canstar.
8. Gas leak
Gas leaks can be quite dangerous. A flame or even a spark in an enclosed area full of gas can cause a fire, or even an explosion. WA-based gas supplier Kleenheat advises that a gas leak often gives off a ‘rotten egg’ smell. If you smell gas or suspect there is a gas leak in your home, Australian Gas Networks suggests you do all of the following:
- don’t smoke or light any matches or naked flames
- don’t turn anything electrical on or off, as this could cause a spark that starts a gas fire
- open all the doors and windows to air out the room
- turn off the gas supply at the meter
- contact a licensed gas fitter to repair the leak and ensure your house is fit to be inhabited again
The owner of any property is responsible for installing their gas and making sure it is maintained correctly and safely. Remember that a gas leak can also be dangerous to the people around you, so it is imperative that you follow steps to stay safe.
9. Water leak
Water leakages can cost hundreds of dollars to fix in the short-term, but if you don’t get them fixed right away, they can cause thousands of dollars in structural damage over the long-term, so responding quickly is important.
According to Queensland Urban Utilities, signs that you could have a water leak on your property include:
- dripping taps
- water pooling under your dishwasher, fridge, washing machine or laundry tub
- warped or discoloured cupboards, bench tops or walls
- a toilet cistern that is constantly running
- wet or bright green patches of grass in your yard
- water leaking from your water meter
A replacement tap can cost anywhere from around $50 up to a few hundred dollars, according to hipages. Generally you’ll need to hire a plumber before too long if you have a water leak, but you can plug it temporarily until the plumber gets there if you have the right tools. Some steps you might consider taking include:
- shutting off the water valve on that pipe (this may be under the sink)
- wiping the pipe dry with a cloth and using a putty knife to put some putty or a similar substance over the hole
- covering the newly plugged leak with rubber and tightening a clamp over it
- using water-resistant tape to cover the rubber and turning the tap back on to make sure there is still no leak
A dripping tap may just mean a washer needs replacing, but if there is a significant leak, then you may have to buy a new pipe. Unless you know how to do plumbing yourself, it is typically a good idea to hire an experienced plumber to do it for you.
10. Burst tap or showerhead
Burst taps and showerheads generally need to be replaced relatively quickly to avoid significant damage. If there’s a lot of water coming out of the tap or showerhead, turn all faucets off and consider shutting off the water to your building, if this is an option. If you are in a unit block and you aren’t sure whether or how to turn off the water switch for your whole building, phone your body corporate manager, building manager, or landlord for their advice.
Showerheads can be relatively straightforward to replace if you know what you’re doing, provided you have a new showerhead, an adjustable wrench, and some plumber’s tape. Once you’ve settled on your new showerhead, you’ll have to remove the old one, as well as any excess materials like old rubber gaskets. Wrap the threads of the pipe with a few layers of Teflon tape to make it a bit stickier, and then screw in the new showerhead.
Installing a new tap is a bit harder, but not impossible. There are some comprehensive instruction tutorial videos available on YouTube for all kinds of tap replacement situations, if you want to give it a go yourself, but in many cases it may be preferable to hire a licensed plumber to do the work instead, as this can reduce the risk of something going wrong and of a home insurance claim being denied due to unlicensed repair work.
Original author William Jolly.
Cover image source: By Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock.com