Top 3 Household Disasters...and How to Deal


PROBLEM #1: The Basement is Under Three Feet of Water

What to do: If the water is coming from a plumbing problem (that is, if it's not teeming outside), shut off the main right away-unless you have to swim to it. Newer houses typically have electrical wiring at least a foot off the ground, but if your heating plant is old, its electrical feed may be just inches off grade. The water could be electrified even if it's only ankle deep. Call an electrician or the utility to cut power to the building. If it's a burst pipe, call a plumber. If it's a rainstorm, sit tight and wait for the water level to drop before attempting a cleanup.

How to keep this from happening to you: You can't do much to prevent pipes from bursting, other than never letting them freeze. But you can protect your basement from rain-induced flooding. "Make sure your yard slopes away from the house and that your gutters are working properly," says Clark Campbell, the owner of an Atlanta basement-waterproofing company and president of the National Association of Waterproofers. If the problem is persistent, you may need to plug foundation cracks with epoxy or install a sump pump in the basement floor.

Photo: Mark Hooper

MORE: HOW TO DRY OUT A WET BASEMENT



PROBLEM #2: You Dropped Your Cell Phone in the Toilet

What To Do: Those fireplace tongs might come in handy for this problem, too-otherwise, you're just going to have to reach in and go fishing. "Put on your longest pair of rubber gloves and grab it," says TOH plumbing and heating contractor Richard Trethewey. If it gets stuck, a plunger can make the problem worse. "The pipe gets narrower inside the trap, and if the phone gets wedged, it's going to be a bear to get out," Richard says. If all else fails, a plumber may be able to hook it on the end of a snake. Once you've retrieved the phone, remove the battery and SIM card, dry them with a paper towel, and, if it's worth the $100 it will cost you, take the phone to an electronics repair shop, where they can open it up and dry the components inside.

How to keep this from happening to you: Lest you feel like a fool, nearly a third of the 20 phones fixed each day at Cell Phone Repair, in San Antonio, Texas, are suffering from the ill effects of a spin in the loo, says head technician Noel Flores. His advice: Don't multitask. That way, you won't lose your new iPhone. (Or offend your friends.)

MORE: HOW TO UNCLOG A TOILET

PROBLEM #3: A Wild Animal is Loose in the House

What to do: "Don't try to herd a bird with a broom or tennis racket. It'll just panic and try to hide," says Tom Scollins, a zoologist turned wildlife-control agent in Baltimore. "Instead, turn off the lights and open the windows, drapes, and blinds. It'll feel the air currents and fly toward the light." The same technique works for squirrels and raccoons, if you can corral them in a room and shut the door. If that fails, you'll need to call in a professional wildlife wrangler or your town's animal-control officer.

How to keep this from happening to you: "Prevention is so much cheaper than removal," says Scollins. Chimneys and dryer vents are common entry points, so install chimney caps on the flues and snap-in screens inside dryer-vent openings. To deter burrowing rodents, keep mulch thin around the foundation. And if you've got lots of starlings or sparrows in your yard, remember to shut the screen

MORE: 9 DEADLIEST WILDLIFE HOME INVADERS

MORE: HOW ANIMALS ARE GETTING INTO YOUR HOUSE

SEE ALL 10 PROBLEMS IN DEALING WITH HOUSEHOLD DISASTERS @THISOLDHOUSE.COM