Win a Lodge 5-Piece Cast Iron Cookware Set Today! →

Say what you will about living in rental properties, but the one nice thing is having a landlord to call who will (hopefully) come to your aid if and when things need replacing or repairing. Of course, the benefits of owning your own home usually far outweigh living in a rental, but that’s not to say it doesn’t come with its own challenges – like figuring out how to thaw a frozen pipe or how to stop a toilet from overflowing.

Of course, for serious issues, you should call professionals, especially when it comes to plumbing an electric. However, you might be surprised at some of the things you can do on your own if you have the right tools and knowledge! Let’s take a look at emergency tips every homeowner should know.

1. How to shut off water to the whole house


Sinks and toilets come with individual shut-off valves, but sometimes you might need to shut off water to the whole house. Whether you’re traveling for an extended period of time, or find yourself with a leak you’re not sure where it’s coming from, this is a handy skill to have in your toolbelt!

Let’s talk about the location of the shut-off valve first. It’s going to be near where the water enters your home. For houses in cooler climates, you can find the main water supply in the basement. For homes in a warmer climate, it might be outside or in an underground utility box.

According to Family Handyman, “There are two types of main shutoff valves: the gate valve and the ball valve. The gate valve is common in older homes and has a round handle that must be turned a number of times to open or close the valve. The ball valve is more common in newer construction and has a lever handle that needs to be turned 90 degrees to turn the water on or off. You can immediately tell if it’s open or not: In the closed position, the lever is perpendicular to the pipes; in the open position it’s parallel.”

2. How to thaw a frozen pipe


If you live in a cooler climate that gets harsh winters, then you’ve probably experienced frozen pipes a time or two. My first experience was while visiting family in Minnesota in January. We were all staying in a cabin when the pipes froze! Needless to say, having 12 people unable to flush the toilet or have adequate water pressure in the shower was not ideal.

The most notable sign of a frozen pipe is low or non-existent water pressure. Follow the pipes connected to the sink/shower/toilet in question, and you’ll be able to find the frozen pipe pretty quickly. If it’s not obvious, you can run a damp washcloth over the pipe to check. If it’s frozen, frost will appear when you run the cloth over the pipe.

Once you’ve located the frozen pipe, the thawing out methods are pretty normal – apply a heating pad, use a hairdryer, or even a heat lamp to thaw out the pipe. Be warned – if the frozen pipe left cracks in the pipe, it will leak and possibly burst as it thaws out. Good thing you know how to shut off the water to your home!

3. How to label circuit breakers


As I’ve already said, if you’re having any electrical issues, please call a professional. I’m in no way advocating you rewire anything or mess around with the electrics in your home. That’s a sure-fire way to, well, cause a fire! However, it is important to know where your circuit breaker is.

You can get a much more detailed explanation on what a circuit breaker is and what it does on Popular Mechanics, but for the purposes of this article, the main things you need to know is that the breaker shuts off and turns on the electricity to the whole house – both in individual rooms and sections of your home, as well as the entire house all at once.

The breaker is usually located in a utility place like the basement or the laundry room. Chances are, the labels on your circuit breaker are faded or confusing. To label your circuit breaker, start by shutting all of them off. Then, work with a friend, turning them on one at a time and recording which switch control which part of the house. Once labeled, take a picture with your phone for safe-keeping!

4. How to stop an overflowing toilet


This is an unpleasant, but all too common issue that is bound to happen sooner or later, if it hasn’t already. The first step is to stop the bowl filling up with fresh water – since the, er, “used” water isn’t draining. To do this, remove the lid of the tank and locate the floater. Pull the floater up to stop the bowl from filling. Rig the floater to stay above water while you locate the shut-off valve for the toilet. If you can’t find it, go ahead and shut off the main water to the house. Then comes the fun part; cleaning up the mess and unclogging the toilet. Once the mess is under control, go ahead and turn the water back on.

There are a few things you shouldn’t do while dealing with an overflowing toilet. First, don’t keep flushing the toilet in hopes the problem will fix itself. Spoiler alert: it makes things worse. Second, don’t pour chemicals down your toilet. If you really can’t get a clog out, it’s best to call a professional. Finally, don’t remove or tamper with the connecting pipes, as you may inadvertently make the issue worse and flood your bathroom completely.

5. How to use a fire extinguisher


This is such an important topic to cover! It’s not enough to merely have an easily accessible fire extinguisher, you have to be confident that you’ll be able to use it if and when the time comes. First things first – call the fire department if the situation calls for it. When in doubt, always err on the side of caution.

When it comes to actually operating the fire extinguisher, remember the acronym, PASS. According to, the method goes as follows:

PULL… Pull the pin. This will also break the tamper seal.
AIM… Aim low, pointing the extinguisher nozzle (or its horn or hose) at the base of the fire.
NOTE: Do not touch the plastic discharge horn on CO2 extinguishers, it gets very cold and may damage skin.

SQUEEZE… Squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing agent.
SWEEP… Sweep from side to side at the base of the fire until it appears to be out. Watch the area. If the fire re-ignites, repeat steps 2 – 4.