According to an NRMA survey of over 1,000 people in 2015, 59% of respondents had admitted to experiencing a household ‘emergency’ at some point that required intervention from a third party, such as a locksmith.
While not quite as serious as your home getting destroyed by a weather event, these occurrences can cause a massive inconvenience as well as being expensive and often embarrassing.
We combed through the survey from NRMA insurance to present to you the 10 most common household emergencies.
Top 10 common home emergencies
The top 10 common home emergencies, according to the NRMA survey, are as follows:
- 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 showerhead
To learn more about each one, as well as how you can prevent them, read on.
1. Power blackout or power failure
The vast 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.
Bookmark our Storm Checklist, and in particular, follow these blackout-related safety tips to 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.
- 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: torches, batteries, gas-powered cooking equipment, and a radio.
- Stock bottled water, since your local water treatment facility could be affected.
- Stock easy-to-heat food such as canned food.
- Have cash on hand, since debit cards won’t work if power is out elsewhere.
- Unplug your desktop 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 things to entertain yourself with, like board games.
- Check your home and contents insurance is enough to cover rebuilding your entire home and replacing everything in it.
- And above all, be safe!
If you’re comparing home and contents insurance policies, the comparison table below displays some of the policies currently available on Canstar’s database for an Australian aged under 50, seeking cover in NSW or ACT for a cost to replace building and contents of below $550,000. Please note the table is sorted by Star Rating (highest to lowest), followed by provider name (alphabetical) and features links direct to the providers’ websites. Use Canstar’s home insurance comparison selector to view a wider range of policies.
2. Blocked toilet, pipe, or drain
If your toilet and shower drains are blocked, then it’s probably to do with what you’re putting in there. Toilets in particular aren’t meant to take anything other than what comes out of you (and toilet paper), so put anything else in the bin.
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’ll want to wear some tough gloves for this task.
Other blocked drains are also a nuisance, but you can often unblock a drain yourself relatively quickly and easily. If you can see the blockage – and you don’t mind getting your hands dirty – then put on some disposal rubber gloves and pull the blockage out by hand. If you can’t see the blockage, then bust out a toilet plunger to remove deeper blocks.
To get a little more scientific, pouring baking soda and vinegar into the drain can break down solid matter over time. Be careful about the quantity – you don’t want to burst or rust the pipe!
If that doesn’t work, then you might have 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. If you’re like me, then you can’t stand not having a hot shower.
A water heater has an average lifespan of 10-15 years, so the chances are that if yours is acting up, it might be time to get a new one. Obviously, if you are replacing a water heater, then you need to use a licensed installer.
You can also fix it yourself if you think the problem is with the heating elements. This process is quite lengthy, and we can’t fit it all in this article in just a few hundred words, so if you’re interested, check out this handy guide from familyhandyman.com
4. Damaged roof, gutter, or downpipe
A damaged roof can be quite expensive, and should only be repaired by a licensed professional. If your gutter or downpipe is simply clogged, on the other hand, this is much easier to fix on your own.
The most obvious thing to look for is leaves. Leaves can build up in droves over time, blocking the waters access to your drainage. A ladder, plastic bag, and a brush can make short work of all of the leaves up there, and doing this semi-regularly can make sure you always get the most out of your drainage.
Holes can form in gutters through rust, eating through steel and causing water and grime to fall out into your yard. This is very cheap and easy to fix. All you need is a tube of roofing cement and a gutter scoop from Bunnings. Apply a liberal amount of roofing cement with a caulking gun a few inches either side of the hole, which should do the trick.
It’s vital to remember that unless you keep your gutters clean, your insurance claim for overflowing water, mould, or structural damage could be rejected.
5. Getting locked out of home
Perhaps the most embarrassing one in this list, 1 in 3 people of the 1,000 surveyed admitted to being locked outside, either by themselves or by someone else.
Of those, 19% got locked out while taking out their rubbish, 16% got stuck after a late night out, and rather hilariously, 17% got locked out by their own kids!
And to make matters worse, 10% of people who got locked out said they were wearing their pyjamas, underwear, or nothing at all. In the era of Snapchat and YouTube, this is one way you don’t want to go viral.
The most obvious step to make sure you don’t get locked out is to hide a spare key. Do not leave a window or door open while you’re out! You might as well leave a note welcoming all robbers in the area. Safe-ish places to stash a spare key can include:
- Inside a fake rock
- In an electrical panel protected by a combination lock
- In your work bag or school bag
- Some other place a burglar wouldn’t expect. This does not include:
- Under your doormat
- In a pot plant or the mailbox
- On a window ledge
- In the lock itself
Alternatively, you can give a spare key to your neighbour, as long as they are trustworthy.
6. Broken heating or air-conditioning system
There are 4 signs your heating or cooling unit is in distress and needs to be fixed or replaced:
- The unit is running, but no or very little warm/cool air is coming out
- There are odd sounds coming out of the device
- The system doesn’t turn on at all or most of the time
- The device is leaking water
This last one in particular means you should immediately call a professional and get it removed or replaced, after you’ve safely turned the unit off.
The other three will also require professional intervention if it is too late, but you can avoid it getting to this stage if you take proper care of your device.
There are several steps you can take to prolong the life of your machine, according to Canstar Blue:
- Regularly remove and clean the filters to dislodge built-up grime and dirt
- Clean the condenser coils – turn off the machine, remove the outer casting for the outdoor component, brush the dust off the coils using a stiff brush and a suitable cleaning agent
- Regularly wipe down the exterior
- Spray an anti-bacterial solution on all the visible components
- Buy a machine with a longer lifespan
7. Broken door or window
If you have a broken door or window, then chances are it wasn’t your fault (unless you were kicking the ball in the house). It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, as you need to get it fixed ASAP unless you want to invite thieves over when you’re not there.
If you don’t want to pay a professional to fix your door or window for you, then doityourself.com has DIY instructions for fixing shattered glass in a door or window. You will need a putty knife, window putty, masking tape, a replacement pane of glass, glaziers points, safety goggles, heavy gloves, a hammer, and some nails.
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. If you smell gas or suspect there is a gas leak, absolutely make sure you do all of the following:
- Don’t smoke or light any matches
- Don’t turn anything electrical on or off
- Open all the doors and windows to air out the room
- Turn off the gas supply at the meter
- Contact your 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 the 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 the above steps!
9. Water leak
Water leakages only 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 if you find one, it is generally a good idea to plug it and replacement the leaking tap or pipe as soon as you can. A replacement tap can cost anywhere from $50 up to a few hundred dollars, but try to avoid picking the cheapest tap you see.
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:
- Shut off the water value on that pipe (this may be under the sink).
- Wipe the pipe dry with a cloth and use a putty knife to put some putty or similar substance over the hole.
- Cover the newly plugged leak with rubber and tighten a clamp over it.
- Use water-resistant tape to cover the rubber and turn the faucet back on to make sure there is still no leak.
If there is a significant leak, then the chances are you’ll have to buy a new pipe. Unless you know how to do plumbing yourself, we recommend hiring someone experienced to do it for you.
10. Burst tap or showerhead
The last common household emergency on this list is burst taps and showerheads. Similarly to other less serious water leaks, you will need to have them replaced before long to avoid significant damage.
If there’s a full-on geyser coming out of the tap or showerhead, turn all faucets off and shut off the water to your building. 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.
Showerheads are very easy to replace for anyone with a decent idea of how to do a few handyman tasks. You will need a replacement showerhead, an adjustable wrench, and plumber’s tape.
Once you’ve settled on your new showerhead, you’ll have to remove the old 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 want to give it a go yourself.