Sometimes it can feel like your house has a mind of its own. Disaster can strike at any moment, in the form of an overflowing toilet or mold in the basement. Are you prepared for the worst?
When chaos rears its ugly face in your home, don’t panic — you can handle it. Prepare first with a big cup of coffee. Put on your best work shoes, your junkiest T-shirt, and a good face mask (add a little glamor, honey, you deserve it), and jump in.
Here are some tips to help you tackle the most common household emergencies. We’ll start off small and work our way to the big problems:
Jammed Garbage Disposals
This might seem like a disaster-level problem, but anyone who’s experienced this issue for more than a day or two understands just how bad it can be. A jammed garbage disposal usually means a clogged sink as well. Standing water, food, and soap can start to be very unappealing after more than a few hours, let alone a few days. Don’t wait around for service with a sink full of dirty water — you can probably handle this on your own.
Most garbage disposals come with a self-service wrench included with the system, but if you don’t have one, no big deal. You can find the same kind of wrench at a hardware store, and it should cost less than $10.
All you need to do is clear out the cabinet space below your sink and turn your garbage disposal off entirely. Look for a small hole at the bottom of the disposal, place the wrench inside, and turn it like a crank. You can use some force — the wrench is designed to bend before breaking your disposal system. Try turning the wrench in both directions, until it twists freely both to the left and to the right.
Next, check the overload protector to see if it’s been tripped. This is a small button at the bottom of the disposal. If it’s sticking out, push it in to reset it. Now you can crawl out from under the sink!
Carefully check the grinding chamber for debris or material stuck inside the grinding teeth, and remove anything you see with tongs or pliers. This is the part of the disposal you look down into from the top of your sink — don’t put your hands inside!
Give your disposal a spin. If it’s working, congrats! You did it! If not, try the process again, but it won’t hurt to call in a professional if the disposal continues to jam after self-servicing.
Clogged pipes are no stranger to any homeowner, but they can be a real pain. Depending on the severity of a clog, you can do the dirty work yourself, or call in someone who’s being paid to deal with the problem. It’s always a great idea to give it a go yourself first.
If it’s a problem with your toilet, it’s probably because of what you’re flushing. Toilets are made for two things: what you make and toilet paper. Don’t put anything else down there unless you want trouble. That means even “flushables” like feminine hygiene products and wet wipes are not safe. Don’t trust what they say!
Sinks and tub drains tend to fall victim to hairballs more than anything else. You can usually reach right in and grab the clog in this case. (Although you probably won’t want to — glove up, girl.) If you can’t see the clog, try your plunger before you call for backup.
If your home is newer, it’s likely that regular maintenance and being choosy with what you flush will be enough to avoid major backups. Clogs in old pipes can sometimes indicate bigger problems: “Although both clay and iron are strong materials, they do have an underground enemy: tree roots. As much as we hate to say it, one answer is to remove the trees around your property that are already a problem or that will likely cause problems—especially those with big, invasive root systems,” say the plumbing pros.
The best way to avoid problems with pipes is prevention and care. Be proactive about your piping and you won’t have to roll your sleeves up too often.
Mold is creepy. It can sneak up on you — behind a toilet or in the corner of a basement. Getting rid of it can be expensive, and it can lead to serious health issues if it’s not taken care of. If you’ve found some mold in your home, you can likely take care of it without calling in the experts.
The first step to eradicating black mold is removing moisture from the problem area. If the source of moisture isn’t removed, the mold will come back. Bathrooms are often the biggest hotspot for mold in the home; consider adding some extra ventilation to your bathroom if it’s a recurring problem, and be sure to emphasize the importance of using the bathroom fan while showering or bathing to the rest of the family.
Mold on ceilings often comes from humidity from showers or kitchen skins, but can also indicate issues with your roof. If there’s a hole in your roofing, moisture can leak into your home and create conditions that promote the growth of mold. You can do a careful inspection with a ladder to make sure that this isn’t the issue. If it is, take care of it as soon as possible.
Block off the part of your house that’s got the mold problem as best as you can and be sure that you ventilate the area as much as possible to remove toxic mold spores from the air. Wear a mask and gloves at all times while cleaning mold and cover your skin to avoid contact with spores.
Use a wet sponge and soap to remove visible mold and follow with a product made specifically to kill black mold spores. You can find these at most hardware stores and supermarkets. Dispose of all sponges, gloves, masks, and other cleaning equipment immediately, placing them in a garbage bag to avoid spreading more spores in your home.
If the mold stays away after a few weeks, you’re probably in the clear. Check the area regularly, and if the mold comes back, you may need to be more aggressive about removing moisture from the area. This might mean using a dehumidifier there or installing a more powerful fan.
Leaks can be a nightmare. While the source might be small, the potential for damage is huge. Whether from your roof or your pipes, an out-of-control leak can lead to thousands of dollars worth of damage if they aren’t addressed quickly.
Usually leaks aren’t something you can fix alone, but you can temporarily block the leak until help comes. The first step is to stop the water. Look for the valve for the leaking pipe and shut it off. Make sure the leaking part of the pipe is thoroughly dried, then, using putty or another similar substance, close the hole in the pipe. You’ll want to be sure to use something that’s safe for your water to come into contact with if you’ll be drinking from the damaged pipe.
Let the sealant set, then cover the damaged part of the pipe with rubber and add a clamp. You can wrap the clamp with water-resistant tape to help reinforce the seal. Turn your water on and test the patch to make sure it’s no longer leaking.
A temporary fix can get you by, but you’ll want to get in contact with a plumber as soon as you can. A few hundred dollars for a repair will save you thousands later — it’s well worth it.
If you’re about to tackle one of these common household disasters, give yourself a pep talk and focus on the task at hand. It’s easy to panic when water is spilling out of your shower like a geyser, but remember that you’re in control of the situation. Regular upkeep with general cleaning and maintenance can help solve lots of these problems before they start, but sometimes they strike despite all of our best efforts.
Take care to keep yourself safe while you work and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Once you’ve defeated the disaster, you’ll be the household hero. It might just impress the rest of the family enough to earn you a fashionable breakfast in bed! You got this, girl.