There are several types of plumbing emergencies that can occur, but the first step in all solutions is to turn off the water in the supply line that feeds the leaking pipe or fixture. If it happens that the point of the leak is hidden or there is no valve in the branch line leading to the leak, you will have to shut off water to the entire house.
If you live in a climate where there is a danger of freezing, the main shutoff valve is usually located in the ground floor. In warmer climates the valve may be located outdoors. If you have a pumped well system, shut off electricity to the pump and call a plumber.
In a case where you are unable to close the shut off valve, contact your local water authority immediately, so that water can be turned off at the main. If the water rises to the level of electrical cords and outlets, there is a possibility that it could be carrying an electrical current. Do not attempt to go near the water until you shut off electricity to the circuits affected. If you are unable to reach the breaker or fuse panel safely, have the power company shut off the electricity to your home.
In the event that a pipe leaks or breaks, or a joint loosens, immediately turn off the main shutoff valve to prevent water damage. Next, turn off your hot water heater by turning off the circuit breakers and the gas supply to the hot water heater. Failure to do so can cause the hot water heater to overheat, damage the heating elements and injure anyone who unknowingly turns on a hot water tap.
You can either make the repairs yourself or call a plumber. If one of your water-using appliances seems to be leaking, the first thing to check is the trap by which the appliance drains. If it appears to be partially clogged, this could be the problem as it is probably causing an overflow within the appliance. If the drain is clear, consult the appropriate appliance repair person.
Even with the variety of freeze- resistant pipe products available, there is still a chance that your pipes could freeze. If this happens, slowly thaw the pipe with a hair dryer, or with towels soaked in hot water. By heating the pipe slowly, you are preventing the pipe from breaking. You do not want to heat the pipe with a torch, as it could start a fire. In order to prevent frozen pipes, you should never leave your home unheated during cold weather.
When the drainpipe from a bath, sink, shower, or water-using appliance becomes clogged, turn off the tap or appliance that flows into the drain. If you are unable to remove the obstructing object with a plunger, call a plumber. Do not attempt to use a snake or other such tools, as they will only damage expensive fixtures. You should also never use a drain cleaner to open a totally clogged drain. It mixes with the water, forming a caustic solution.
A blocked toilet should be treated in much the same way as a clogged drain, with the exception of a few minor details. If a toilet overflows, you should stop the flow of water by reaching inside the toilet tank and pushing the tank stopper down into its valve seat. Hold it until the tank fills and the water stops. Next, turn off the shutoff valve underneath the toilet or turn off the main water shutoff valve. Unclog the toilet. Due to the fact that the trap is built into the toilet, if you are unable to unclog the drain with a plunger, call a plumber.
If you are unable to turn off a tap, turn it off at the shutoff valve underneath the sink. If there is no valve, turn off the main water supply shut off valve. Contact a plumber, or if you are able, do the repairs yourself. You should, however, not attempt to repair cartridge taps yourself, unless you have some experience.
If steaming water flows from a hot water faucet, do not touch the hot water faucet. Leave it running. Turn off the electricity or gas supply to the hot water heater. Let the faucet run until cold water flows from the tap (the water in the hot water heater is no longer overheated), then call a plumbing professional to repair the tap or the hot water heater’s thermostat.
Once you stop the leak, move begin to rescue whatever you can from the water-soaked area. If the damage is serious, contact your insurance agent immediately. If the damage is minor, start the clean up efforts yourself. Use a mop or a wet-dry vac to clean up the water. If you use a wet-dry vac be sure to keep the machine and its cord away from the water to avoid a shock, use a long hose and nozzle. Also, be sure to use an outlet or extension cord that is protected with a ground-fault circuit interrupter. If the water is really deep, consider using an electric sump pump or gasoline-powered trash pump.
If sewage or gray water has leaked, stop using any toilets, baths, sinks or appliances that drain into that line. And avoid any contact will spilled sewage. Make sure that you wear rubber gloves and boots. When you are through with the clean up thoroughly disinfect the area and your tools with a disinfectant or diluted bleach solution. Any furniture, carpeting, etc. that has come in contact with contaminated with sewage should be discarded.
Open windows and doors, weather permitting, run fans, dehumidifiers or air conditioners to increase air circulation and dry out the area. This will also prevent the growth of mold, mildew and fungus.
If water has seeped into the wall cavities, remove the wallboard or paneling to a point well above the water line. This will allow you to remove wet insulation and will allow the cavities between wall studs to dry. Also, it is a good idea to remove any resilient flooring that has been penetrated with water, to allow the wood sub-floor to dry. If you do not, trapped water can warp the sub-floor and cause mildew.