Maintenance emergencies are a nightmare for property managers and tenants so this week the maintenance checkup from Keepe will discuss how to handle 7 common maintenance emergencies.
Most of the scenarios we will discuss present the possibility of causing serious damage to the property, and in some case even harm tenants.
7 common maintenance emergencies and how to resolve them
The goal is to solve the emergency as quickly and safely as possible. And with a result that both property managers and tenants will feel satisfied with the way their discomfort was addressed and resolved.
No. 1 – Flooded basement or ground floor
Generally caused by piping failures or harsh weather, indoor floods are just as dangerous as they are inconvenient.
Flood water cause major health complications. These range from being exposed to sewage, inviting mosquitoes and parasites, and kickstarting toxic mold growth. Also, once flood water reaches outlets and hot wires, it becomes immensely dangerous. It can conduct electricity and turn the space into a shock-zone.
The “golden rule” to keep in mind is that letting water sit around is the worst mistake that can be made.
Get started with clean-up and repair efforts as quickly as possible, especially to salvage materials and avoid thousands of dollars worth of damage.
If the cause of the flood can be easily identified as a burst pipe, the water supply must be immediately turned off. If the flood has reached exposed outlets, plugs, and wires, it’s then important to turn off power and contact a professional for the assessment of whether the area presents a serious electrical hazard.
Once the area has been cleared, all furniture should be removed and put in a dry space to optimize the likelihood they can be salvaged.
Pumps, wet-dry vacuums and eventually fans and dehumidifiers can be helpful with drying out the space once the majority of the water has been drained.
A professional handyman should be contacted to help with removing and repairing damaged walls – especially drywall, paneling and wallpapers – insulation, and ventilating wall cavities to minimize the risk of toxic mold growth.
If the flooding is unrelated to burst piping, it’s adequate to contact a professional for the assessment of whether the flood water is dangerous/toxic, and proceed with water removal and repair. Consult a second expert contractor regarding how floods can be prevented in your particular case (adding insulation, creating barriers, reconfiguring basements, etc.)
No. 2 – Bursting pipes
A frozen pipe that bursts means water can find its way inside a property.
In case of a burst pipe, immediately turn off the water supply. If the space is flooded, it’s appropriate to proceed as described above, with initial safety checks followed by water and furniture removal.
It’s then fundamental to contact a professional plumber for the repair of the burst section, but also for a consultation regarding how it would be best for your case to prevent burst pipes in the future.
No. 3 – Water heater bursts
A burst water heater will try to continue re-filling, causing water to continue on spilling and flooding the space.
First, if the heater is electric shut off the breaker to power it down. Gas heaters need to be shut off by utilizing the proper valve.
Water supply should be turned off next. Then proceed with steps for damage control outlined in scenario No. 1 above.
It’s best to then call the manufacturer of the appliance and your insurance company to best resolve how to repair or replace the heater, and whether any items are protected under your insurance package.
No. 4 – Pilot light shutting off
A tenant waking up in a house or apartment without hot water is a particularly uncomfortable experience.
A water heater or furnace without an active pilot light is likely what is causing the problem.
Fortunately, some appliances feature ignition buttons for easily relighting the pilot light. But, this must be done safely. The gas supply needs to be cut off and the area around the appliance needs to be allowed to be properly ventilated.
If you smell the characteristic “rotten egg” scent of natural gas lingering in the space and the smell persists for longer than an hour, leave the property and call the utility company.
You need a professional to check whether there is a gas leak or any gas-related hazard, investigate the issue, and determine whether other parts of the system should be addressed and replaced.
Once the space has been cleared, it is safe to proceed with attempting to light the pilot light by following the appliance instruction. We always recommend the help of a professional if you are at all unsure how to proceed.
No. 5 – Junction box and electrical fires
Old or incorrectly set-up wiring can be responsible for sparking dangerous electrical fires.
While junction boxes are supposed to help with containing sparks, they are no help if a fire actually catches on.
If smoke or visible flames are spotted, the electricity must be immediately shut off, and the fire department should be alerted.
If flames are burning, it would be adequate to have a Class C or multipurpose fire extinguisher at hand to try and put out the fire as long as it is safe to do so. Following the incident, contact an electrician to check on your property’s wiring to determine what caused the issue.
No. 6 – Backed-up septic tank
House image created by Katemangostar – Freepik.com
A backed-up septic tank will overflow and allow spilled toxic waste to flow near or even into a property.
This is not just disgusting and smelly, but also dangerous and damaging.
Septic waste carries bacteria and disease, and can impregnate and linger into most surfaces it touches upon contact.
The best way to address this issue is to be proactive with clean-up, removing waste as it surfaces and removing – ideally disposing of – any contaminated furniture and objects. Spaces should be disinfected with a bleach solution, and a septic tank specialist should be called immediately to investigate the source of the problem.
No. 7 – Roots growing in sewer line
Tree roots are naturally attracted to the nutrients and moisture that are found within sewer lines.
Roots can easily sense and access pipes that are cracked or damaged by wear and time.
As roots infiltrate the system and grow longer and larger, the line can be completely burst or become backed-up, which becomes visible by above-ground or in-home resurfacing of sewage.
If waste floods a space, proceed as outlined in the “backed-up septic tank” scenario.
To address the issue of roots, some products that are available for purchase claim to burn off and kill roots upon contact after being easily and directly poured into drains. Our experts find these to be a “bad-aid” type of solution. These products do not resolve this issue long term and make it is likely to resurface.
In these situation, it is best to contact a professional to arrange the removal of the tree completely, and it is fundamental to try and avoid planting trees within 10 feet of a sewage line, or implement an underground barrier system to protect pipes.
7 common maintenance emergencies summary:
Investing in and prioritizing preventative maintenance strategies can lower risk of plumbing and utility emergencies.
However it is important to invest just as much time and energy into being prepared to handle them safely and promptly in case they were to actually happen
Other recent rental property maintenance Keepe posts you may have missed:
Keepe is an on-demand maintenance solution for property managers and independent landlords. The company makes hundreds of independent contractors and handymen available for maintenance projects at rental properties. Keepe is available in the Greater Seattle area, Phoenix, San Francisco Bay and San Diego areas.