From burst pipes to flooded basements, sudden - and more than anything, potentially dangerous - maintenance emergencies are a nightmare for property managers and tenants alike. Most of the scenarios we will discuss present the possibility of causing serious damage to the property, and in some case even harm tenants. While the risk of encountering most plumbing and utility emergencies can often be alleviated by investing in and prioritizing preventative maintenance strategies, it’s still important to invest just as much time and energy into being prepared to handle them safely and promptly in case they were to actually happen.
This week’s advice outlines helpful tips for handling 7 maintenance-related emergency situations so that they can be resolved as quickly and safely as possible, which will protect your properties and tenants, and ultimately allow everyone involved to feel satisfied with the way their discomfort was addressed and resolved.
Emergency Scenario #1: Flooded Basement or Ground Floor
Generally caused by piping failures or harsh weather, indoor floods are just as dangerous as they are inconvenient. Not only can flood water cause major health complications - which range from the possibility of being exposed to sewage, inviting mosquitoes and parasites, and kickstarting toxic mold growth - but once it reaches outlets and hot wires, it becomes immensely dangerous as it conducts electricity and turns the space into a shock-zone. The “golden rule” to keep in mind is that letting water sit around is the worst mistake that can be made, and it’s best to get started with clean-up and repair efforts as quickly as possible, especially to salvage materials and avoid thousands of dollars worth of damage. If the cause of the flood can be easily identified as a burst pipe, the water supply must be immediately turned off. If the flood has reached exposed outlets, plugs, and wires, it’s then important to turn off power and contact a professional for the assessment of whether the area presents a serious electrical hazard. Once the area has been cleared, all furniture should be removed and put in a dry space to optimize the likelihood they can be salvaged. Pumps, wet-dry vacuums and eventually fans and dehumidifiers can be helpful with drying out the space once the majority of the water has been drained. A professional handyman should be contacted to help with removing and repairing damaged walls - especially drywall, paneling and wallpapers - insulation, and ventilating wall cavities to minimize the risk of toxic mold growth. If the flooding is unrelated to burst piping, it’s adequate to contact a professional for the assessment of whether the flood water is dangerous/toxic, and proceed with water removal and repair, to ideally consult a second expert contractor regarding how floods can be prevented in your particular case (adding insulation, creating barriers, reconfiguring basements, etc.)
Emergency Scenario #2: Bursting of Frozen Pipe
Most would agree that snow and ice are best kept outside of the home in the Winter time...but a frozen pipe that proceeds to burst makes it so they can easily find their place inside a property. In case of a burst pipe, one must immediately turn off the water supply. If the space is flooded, it’s appropriate to proceed as described above, with initial safety checks followed by water and furniture removal. It’s then fundamental to contact a professional plumber for the repair of the burst section, but also for a consultation regarding how it would be best for your case to prevent burst pipes in the future.
Emergency Scenario #3: Bursting of Water Heater
A burst water heater will try to continue re-filling, which causes serious amounts of water to continue on spilling and flooding the space. First, if the heater is electric one must shut off the breaker to power it down; gas heaters need to be shut off by utilizing the proper valve. Water supply should be turned off next, and steps to proceed with damage control should be followed accordingly to the outlined proceedures in scenario #1. It’s best to then call the manufacturer of the appliance and your insurance company to best resolve how to repair or replace the heater, and whether any items are protected under your inurance package.
Emergency Scenario #4: Pilot Light Shutting Off
Waking up to a cold house without hot water is a particularly uncomfortable experience, especially in the winter. A water heater or furnace without an active pilot light is likely what is causing the problem. Fortunately, some appliance feature ignition buttons for easily relighting the pilot light, but this must be done safely: the gas supply needs to be cut off and the area around the appliance needs to be allowed to be properly ventilated, especially when it’s easy to smell the characteristic “rotten egg” scent of natural gas lingering in the space. If the smell persists for longer than an hour, its adequate to leave the property and call the utility company for a professional to check whether there is a gas leak or any gas-related hazard. Once the space has been cleared, it is safe to proceed with attempting to light the pilot light by following the appliance instruction; we recommend to always opt for the help of a professional if one feels unsure about how to proceed the issue and whether other parts of the system should be addressed and replaced.
Emergency Scenario #5: Junction Box and Electrical Fires
Old or incorrectly set-up wiring can be responsible for sparking dangerous electrical fires. While junction boxes are supposed to help with containing sparks, they are no help if a fire actually catches on. If smoke or visible flames are spotted, the electricity must be immediately shut off, and the fire department should be alerted. If flames are burning, it would be adequate to have a Class C or multipurpose fire extinguisher at hand to try and put out the fire as long as it is safe to do so. Following the incident, it’s a good idea to contact an electrician to check on your property’s wiring to determine what caused
Emergency Scenario #6: Backed-up Septic Tank
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A backed-up septic tank will overflow and allow spilled toxic waste to flow near or even into a property, which is not just disgusting and smelly, but also dangerous and damaging. Septic waste carries bacteria and disease, and can impregnate and linger into most surfaces it touches upon contact. The best way to address this issue is to be proactive with clean-up, removing waste as it surfaces and removing - ideally disposing of - any contaminated furniture and objects. Spaces should be disinfected with a bleach solution, and a septic tank specialist should be called immediately to investigate the source of the problem.
Emergency Scenario #7: Roots Growing in Sewer Line
Tree roots are naturally attracted to the nutrients and moisture that are found within sewer lines, which they can easily sense and access when pipes are cracked or damaged by wear and time. As roots infiltrate the system and grow longer and larger, the line can be completely burst or become backed-up, which becomes visible by above-ground or in-home resurfacing of sewage. If waste floods a space, proceed as outlined in the “backed-up septic tank” scenario. To address the issue of roots, some products that are available for purchase claim to burn off and kill roots upon contact after being easily and directly poured into drains. Our experts find these to be a “bad-aid” type of solution, as they do not resolve this issue long term and make it is likely to resurface. In these situation, it is best to contact a professional to arrange the removal of the tree completely, and it is fundamental to try and avoid planting trees within 10 feet of a sewage line, or implement an underground barrier system to protect pipes.