What is the difference between a plumbing problem and a plumbing emergency? It’s important to know because emergency calls are expensive, but prolonged or severe water damage can seriously strain your pocketbook and put your health and safety at risk.
If you can identify the problem and curtail the unwanted flow of water without shutting down your entire household’s access to water, you can probably wait until you can arrange a visit by your plumber during regular working hours. But if the problem is sudden or dire, if you can’t stop the flow and don’t know the cause, call you plumber immediately.
You can help minimize property damage and potential health risks if you already know:
- where the main and auxiliary water shut-off valves are located so that you can stop the flow of water to the problem area.
- how to safely turn off your water heater.
Make sure every adult in your household has this crucial information and that all your shutoff valves are clearly labeled.
Emergency Versus Non-Emergency Plumbing Problem
The chart below will help you decide if you need an emergency visit by your plumber or can wait for normal hours of operation.
|Wet or damp wall or floor area
|You see a sudden and/or rapidly escalating problem, with accumulating water or dampness but no visible cause. You probably have a leak or a burst pipe inside a finished wall or under the floor.
|You can pinpoint the source of the wetness (most likely in areas where your pipes are exposed), turn off the water supply to that pipe and begin to dry out the affected area.
|You are 1) unable to stop the water supply to the burst pipe or fixture, or 2) need to shut off the main water supply valve, leaving your household with no water for other needs.
|You can turn off the water supply specific to the burst pipe or fixture, but can leave the main supply of water open to supply your other plumbing fixtures.
|Leaky Water Heater
|You cannot reduce the water temperature, or cannot turn off the power source or the supply of water into the tank. If the water temperature is set too high, the water pressure is too high, or the relief valve is broken or damaged, pressure may build up in the tank, leading to an explosion.
If you smell gas, it’s an emergency.
|You can turn off the water heater power source, close the supply of water coming into your heater, drain the tank, and begin to dry the affected area.
|Blocked Sewer Line
|Multiple plumbing fixtures are backing up, depositing sewage in your living space. This constitutes a health and safety risk.
|Multiple drains are flowing slowly but do clear eventually. Your sewer lines may have damage or blockages that need prompt attention.
|Higher Than Normal Water Consumption
|You see a sudden and profound increase in your water consumption (your meter is a good way to check). It probably means a leaking broken water supply line, which can lead to significant structure and/or property damage.
|You are noticing an inexplicable but moderate uptick in your water consumption. It’s your warning sign that the main water lines merit inspection.
|Hammering When Faucets Are Open
|This is almost never an emergency.
|Water hammer signals deteriorating pipe supports. An unsupported pipe is more likely to burst, so schedule an inspection to identify the problem.
If you are ever unsure whether or not your plumbing issue constitutes an emergency, we urge you to act immediately: Call for plumbing assistance or, in cases involving gas or electricity and your plumbing, call your utility or local emergency services number.