It’s all you, baby.
No backup. No spouse. No man. No handyman.
You have to prepare yourself for the worst. It’s time for a crash course in the basics of home repair. Grab those work gloves and get over your fear of spider webs. It’s time to go to work.
Maybe “repair” isn’t the right word to use. Let’s change that to damage control, because when things start going downhill they gather speed faster than you’d expect. Quick thinking and quick action will help to minimize potential harm to your home.
- Know your electric service panel
This somewhat confusing looking box controls all of the electricity flowing in and out of your house. Find the main shutoff switch and put a label on it. This is probably the biggest switch in your electric panel and probably sits alone at the top or bottom. In dire situations, you want to turn off all electricity to minimize the risk of live wires shocking you, your loved ones, future repair people. Obviously, use judgment and get out of Dodge if there’s something really bad going on and the house shows signs of collapsing on you.
In addition to the main breaker, get to know the little breakers. These guys control the electric flow to specific areas of your house. When my roof started leaking, water streamed through the recessed light fixtures. I was able to shut off the flow of energy to those specific lights because the service panel was labeled and I knew what I was looking for.
FYI, places like Angie’s List will run a Big Deal just about every year where a pro electrician will come out and identify and label each circuit breaker for you. Highly recommended if you don’t know which switch controls which room.
Don’t get fooled by the pretty photo of this electric panel. The photo crop leaves out a lot of scary looking stuff. Service panels usually look like metal insects with many many wires coming out of them. Here’s the important part: all of those little wires run through your house to power the outlets and lights. Each individual wire controls a loop, usually an individual room. The black switches inside the panel connect those individual wires to the main electric supply and that switch makes it possible to shut off electric to a specific room.
- Find your main water shutoff valve and practice using it
Somewhere in your house there’s an innocent looking pipe sticking out of the wall with a big lever attached to it. This is your water main. It brings water in from your municipal supplier, spring, or well. Some homes may have the water shutoff in an underground box around the street curb. Find yours. Call the water company if you need help locating it. They want you to know where this shutoff is and how to use it.
Your plumbing system is set up in a similar way to the electric service – one main supply will then lead to individual water supply lines. Think of the main water line as your “service panel” and the individual water pipes as your separate circuits.
The photo to the left shows a setup where hot and cold pipes are leading to a room. The gold levers sticking out from the pipes are the individual shutoff valves. Yours may be round, but they do the same job. On = water flowing. Off = no water flowing. The main shutoff valve will look something like this but have only one pipe as the water supply comes in as cold water only.
If you ever run into a situation where a pipe has burst you’ll want to turn off the supply of water to that area. The first thing you do is turn the main off, then track down the individual feed to that specific water pipe and turn that one off as well. Sometimes in older homes, there is no individual turnoff for a specific spigot, sink, or shower. In that case, turn off the main and turn on all of your faucets. You’re draining all of the water out of the system so that it can’t squirt its way out of your broken pipe.
In newer homes, there may be a shutoff for the individual room (bathroom or kitchen) and then more shutoffs to the individual water using fixtures (tub, shower, sink, or toilet).
This is another area where labels work. Tie a tag around the individual shutoff so you know which bathroom, shower, or faucet it feeds.
- Work on your fire plan
Not really dealing with a repair, but with saving lives. Have fire extinguishers in the utility room, kitchen and each bedroom. Make sure to check your fire extinguishers semi-yearly, because they do lose effectiveness. And know how to use them. The middle of a fire is not the time to read instructions.
Secondly, practice with your kids. Know where you will meet in case of fire. Have a second location in case the original location ends up being unsafe. Practice fire drills. Know how you will get out of a second story if the first story is engulfed in flames.
Have an emergency packet readily available to grab and go. This might be a backup credit card, backup ID, and a bit of cash. You want something that will get you through a couple of days of emergency living if you have to run out of the house in your pajamas.