Burst pipes. Leaks. Flooding. We all dread these things happening in our homes. Here’s how to handle a plumbing emergency if it happens to you.
Water damage can ruin your home, so you’ll need to act quickly in any case of a plumbing emergency like leaks or flooding. The best thing to do is not to panic, but to know about the basic steps you can take in the first instance. You’ll need a few basic tools and a little knowledge before you call in the pros to make any fixes permanent.
The very first thing to do in a plumbing emergency
If you do get a leak or burst pipe, make your home safe by immediately turning off the electricity at the fuse box. If water gets into sockets or electrical appliances the situation can quickly turn from an inconvenience into something more deadly. You’ll need to make sure that no water got into these places after the leak has been taken care of. If it did, make sure that everything has dried out before you turn the power back on.
Next you should turn off the water
You should also turn off the water supply in the property. Learning how to turn off the water can save a lot of time and effort if you have a burst pipe. To turn the water supply off for the whole house you’ll need to find the internal stop tap. This is usually in one of the following places:
- Under the kitchen sink
- In an airing cupboard
- In a downstairs bathroom
- Under the floorboards by your front door
- Under the stairs
- In the basement or cellar
Turn the tap clockwise to stop the water. You will then need to run the hot and cold water taps in your home to completely drain the system. This should stop any leaks in their tracks and allow any repairs to be done safely.
If you have a leak under the sink you might be better off isolating the taps rather than turning off all the water in the house. You’ll likely see red and blue isolation valves under the sink, for the hot and cold taps respectively. Turn them clockwise and do the same as you would for the main water valve. There are ways to isolate the water to places like the toilet and the washing machine too. If you aren’t confident to do these just turn off the main water supply.
Look after your valves
It’s important to know where your water valves are and to keep them well maintained. You should check them every 6 months. Try opening and closing them. If they can’t be turned easily you can apply some oil or lubricant to them. Just make sure that they aren’t completely open as this makes them more likely to seize up. Close them by up to a half turn once you’ve checked them. That should mean that they are easy to close if there is a plumbing emergency. Once the water is off you can either call in a pro or try to tackle the problem yourself with our helpful advice.
Fixing a burst pipe
It’s possible for you to make a temporary repair to a burst pipe before calling in a plumber or handyperson. However, you’ll need to have a couple of supplies and basic tools to do so.
The quickest way to stop a leak from a burst pipe is to apply a pipe repair clamp. These can be bought from some DIY or hardware stores. Some literally clamp onto the pipe with no tools needed whilst others have to be screwed on with a screwdriver. Check the instructions before buying so you’ll know what you need and what to expect.
Self fusing tape – handy in a plumbing emergency
The other way to make a quick fix to a pipe is by using self-fusing or self-amalgamating tape. This is a special type of tape that creates a watertight seal around pipes and hoses. Here’s how to use it:
- Wipe the pipe clean on either side of the hole so that the tape can bond easily.
- Cut about 20cm of tape off with a pair of scissors and remove the backing from the tape. Once the backing tape is removed you’ll need to work quickly otherwise it loses it’s stickiness.
- Stretch the cut bit of tape out to roughly twice its length. Start wrapping the tape tightly around the pipe, starting slightly away from the hole. Keep the tape tightly stretched as you’re wrapping it around the pipe, overlapping half of the tape so that it bonds to itself.
- When you reach the hole in the pipe, leave a gap where the hole is and wrap the tape over to the side of the hole. Keep on wrapping until you reach the other side of the hole. Then go back the other way with another layer of tape, this time covering the hole.
- Do this until the hole is completely sealed. Press down firmly when you reach the end so that the end of the tape bonds with itself.
Fixing leaking pipe joints
It takes pipework and soldering knowledge to completely fix a leaking pipe joint. However, plumber’s repair putty can do a remarkable job of completely sealing leaking joints.
- Dry the pipe with a cloth and then key the area that needs sealing with a wire brush.
- Put on some rubber gloves to protect your skin and fingers, then take enough putty to cover the repair. You’ll then need to roll and work the putty with your hands until it is a consistent colour all over.
- At this point, you’ll then need to quickly put the putty over the damaged area of pipe joint. Work it into the gap between the pipe and the joint to seal it up, smoothing it down as much as possible.
- Leave it for 24 hours to completely harden before turning the water back on.
What to do about leaks from water storage and tanks
If you spot water leaking from your ceiling below the loft there may be a leak in your water storage cistern or tank. If you don’t have water storage in the loft then there may be a roof problem that needs to be attended to. In either case, you’ll need to act quickly by going up to assess the situation before water damage causes a ceiling collapse.
If the water storage tank is indeed leaking you should put buckets, bowls or containers underneath the leaking areas to catch any water. It’s important to go and turn on all the taps in the house and flush the toilets. This will empty the pipes and the cistern (as long as the main stop valve is off).
The leak could be caused by a burst pipe, but it might also be the cistern itself leaking or overflowing. If the leak is coming from a hot water cylinder you’ll need to turn off the boiler. There is usually a draincock around the base of the cylinder that will allow you to drain it using a hose, but if this proves to be difficult or intimidating to do you should just call in a plumber.
Investigating any leaks helps you and the plumber
Being able to take these initial steps in the event of a plumbing emergency will save damage to your home and your possessions, and maybe even save your life in extreme cases. It also helps the plumber or handyperson when you initially describe the problem to them, as well as later when they can crack on with the repairs.
Nobody wants to get a plumbing leak – it’s an inconvenience at best and a nightmare at worst! With the help of this guide, you can tackle it head-on with confidence. Once you have, contact our handyperson team. We’ll send one of our skilled plumbers who can fix the problem for good.