After Hours Plumbing & Electrical Emergencies - What you can do to save yourself money!

(Our Manly article – March 2010)

There is nothing worse than being confronted in the middle of the night with a burst pipe or an overflowing sewer, or waking to a sounding smoke alarm (when there is no fire) or discovering you have no power. Although it is sometimes unavoidable to have an after hours emergency tradesperson attend your property to rectify a situation, there are some things you can do to avoid costly after hours fees and minimise damage to your property.

When we receive after hours emergency phone calls at Wolfie’s Plumbing & Electrical Services, we take the time to listen to our client and determine if there is anything that can be done to provide a temporary or permanent solution prior to our attendance. Many clients are surprised that we take this approach, but from day one our primary consideration has been to provide an efficient and cost effective solution for our clients by supporting them in the long term (rather than having a one-off after hours emergency job).

The most common after hours calls we receive for plumbing include burst hot water heaters, no hot water, blocked drains and burst pipes. On the electrical side there are blown fuses, tripping safety switches, burnt cables in the switchboard or sounding smoke alarms. Depending on the urgency of the situation some of these problems can wait till the next business day. However, if there is a problem that is dangerous (e.g. burnt electrical cables) or urgent (e.g. you have 20 guests and a blocked sewer) you will need a 24 hour emergency plumber or electrician to attend that same day.

WOLFIE’S EMERGENCY PLUMBING SUPPORT

Burst hot water heaters

  • Locate the main stopcock for your hot water heater at the bottom section of your heater (this will either be a garden type hose cock tee head or a black knob).
  • Turn off the water to your hot water heater.
  • If you cannot locate the main stopcock, you can always shut down your main water supply which is located out the front of your property (if you are in a house) or under the kitchen sink, laundry tub or in the bathroom (for a unit).
  • Locate the power board and isolate/turn off the switch for the hot water heater. If the hot water heater is gas, you should also turn off the gas supply at the hot water heater.
  • Contact your plumber first thing the next morning so they can arrange to install a new hot water heater for you.

No Hot Water

Storage hot water tank:

  • Locate your power switchboard and isolate the power to the hot water heater.
  • Check the fuse at the switchboard and see if it needs replacing (this would be for an older style switchboard).
  • Check the tank for signs of water e.g. Is the outside of the tank damp?, Is there any dripping water?, Is there water on the floor or the top of the heater?
  • If you don’t need hot water that day, contact your plumber the next business day. Otherwise, if you can’t wait for hot water, contact your emergency plumber.

Gas hot water heater:

  • If your hot water heater is gas, confirm that you have gas at your cooktop. If gas is present, follow the instructions that are on your heater to relight your heater.
  • If you have recently moved into a new property, ensure you have paid your gas bill or had the gas turned on (it sounds silly but we do receive calls where this is the case).

Instantaneous gas hot water heater:

  • Again, just follow the instructions on your heater to relight it.
  • If you are at all hesitant or you just can’t get the heater to relight, call your 24 hour emergency plumber.

Instantaneous gas / electric hot water heater:

  • Test the power point (which your heater is plugged into) to ensure it is working correctly. You can do this simply by plugging in a hairdryer.
  • If the power point is not working, locate your switchboard and check the power circuit is switched to ‘on’ and / or the fuse wire does not need replacing.
  • If there is power, it is likely there is a fault within the heater and you will need to contact your plumber.

Blocked drains i.e. sewer and stormwater

  • Ensure water or sewer is not flooding into your bathroom and/or laundry.
  • If the water / sewer is flowing from a gully outside, and as long as it is not creating a problem for neighbours or flowing down the street, it more than likely can wait till the next morning (providing that is a business day).
  • Contact your emergency plumber immediately if the water / sewer is causing damage or it is a health hazard.

Burst pipe

  • Unfortunately there isn’t too much you can do yourself to rectify a burst pipe other than to minimise water damage.
  • Locate the water meter and shut down the water supply to the property.
  • Contact your emergency plumber to repair.
 

WOLFIE’S EMERGENCY ELECTRICAL SUPPORT

Tripping safety switch

Safety switches monitor for any power straying from a circuit. Therefore the source of the fault is often found within appliances containing water (e.g. fridge or washing machine).

  • Unplug ALL appliances within your property from their power points (including sheds and at pools).
  • Re-set the safety switch.
  • If the safety switch doesn’t re-trip, then simply plug each appliance back in one at a time until the faulty appliance is identified and trips the switch.
  • If however it still trips with everything unplugged contact your electrician as the problem most likely lies within the circuit wiring.

Blown fuse / Circuit-breaker off

During the period that fuses were installed, electrical requirements were often very minimal compared to today’s standards. With this in mind it is common for a fuse to blow due to circuit overloading i.e. more power is needed than the circuit can supply.

  • Turn off appliances to reduce electrical demand.
  • Re-wire or re-set the fuse/circuit-breaker to restore power.
  • If this is likely to be a re-occurring problem for you, an electrician will be able to split or add another circuit to allow you to use more appliances at the same time.
  • The other cause of a fuse/circuit-breaker tripping is a short-circuit within an appliance or the circuit wiring. The same process of elimination as with a safety switch should be used with all appliances.

Burnt cables in switchboard

This is one after hours emergency you SHOULD NOT attempt to repair under any circumstances. If any cables coming out of a terminal or connection appear black and burnt DO NOT TOUCH. An emergency electrician should be called immediately as this is often a dangerous situation to the untrained. If ignored, a fire can be the result.

Smoke alarm sounding 

If a smoke alarm goes off without cause and the "silent" button on the alarm only works temporarily, the alarm usually requires replacement as they do not contain serviceable parts. Another common issue is the back-up battery has failed and this is generally indicated by a single "beep" every 30-60 seconds. Replace the 9 volt battery to resolve. An electrician will be able to replace/install a hard-wired smoke detector in your house or where a hard-wired alarm isn’t feasible a special 10 year battery operated detector can legally be used.

Of course if you don’t feel comfortable attempting any of the solutions mentioned, please contact your 24 hour emergency plumber or electrician and they can walk you through the steps we have discussed, or arrange to attend your property. Alternatively, call Wolfie’s Plumbing & Electrical Services for all your 24 hour plumbing and electrical support and solutions – 1300 WOLFIE (1300 965 343).

General Advice Disclaimer: Every home is different and this general advice may not be suitable to your specific circumstances. Please consider whether this general advice is suitable for you. In the case of any reasonable doubt we recommend that you seek our expert advice about your specific circumstances before acting on the general advice set out above.