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As I lounged in my bed the morning of December 30, I was three months into living in my dream (and first) apartment. Basking in the golden light from my window, I felt so thrilled and relaxed having a day off after an incredibly stressful move.
Sounds idyllic, right? Enter: the smell of towels that had been wet for too long … at least that’s what I thought before I saw my entire apartment floor submerged by smelly floodwater and sewage.
Multiple thoughts and feelings – some of which I can’t politely share here – hit me: What the heck happened? What am I supposed to do? Who’s responsible for cleaning this mess?
Turns out, an overnight storm and a sewage backup catalyzed the flooding that ruined some of my belongings and forced me to start hunting for a second apartment. The experience was mentally and financially taxing.
When things go wrong in your home, “it’s never fun and it can be very daunting and stressful,” said Daniel Wroclawski, a home and appliances writer for Consumer Reports, a nonprofit that helps consumers evaluate goods and services.
Wroclawski experienced his own flooding nightmare in his first and current home.
“I came home one weekend from being away, and there was a flood in my kitchen, no joke, and costing tens of thousands of dollars in damage,” he added. “And my wife was about six or seven months pregnant.”
Flooding is just one of the most common things that can go wrong in a home.
If you’re a renter, Wroclawski highly recommended getting renters insurance since that can usually help you when things go wrong. Renters insurance is generally affordable coverage designed to protect your personal liability and belongings from circumstances such as theft, fire, storms and natural disasters since your landlord or superintendent isn’t responsible for your belongings, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Pay attention to what certain policies do or don’t cover – if you live in an area that’s at high risk for floods, your insurance should include flood coverage. Home insurance policies are very similar to renters insurance, but cover the home’s structure and outbuildings in addition to your belongings.
Regardless of what goes wrong, if you’re a renter and there’s an issue with something your landlord is responsible for – such as the unit itself or appliances they provided – your first call generally should be to the maintenance team or landlord, Wroclawski said. If you’re a homeowner and can’t handle a problem yourself, call professional servicers for help – such as a plumber if your toilet won’t flush, or an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) technician if you need furnace repair.
Below, experts advise how you can calmly handle common household headaches, whether you rent or own your residence.
“For a burst pipe or leak, the first thing you want to do is shut off the water,” Wroclawski said. “With your home, that is usually accessible. But if you’re renting, it might not be, in which case you need to get a hold of your landlord or superintendent as quickly as you can.”
If you’re responsible for fixing the problem, call a plumber – or an emergency response plumber if necessary and affordable for you, Wroclawski said.
The longer there’s standing water, the more damage will occur.
“Standing water is just not a laughing matter. It can cause mold and mildew and eventual health issues,” Wroclawski said. “If they’re not responsive within a few hours, you want to start going to someone else.”
If you have to handle things yourself, get rid of as much excess water as possible. You could get a water pump from a home improvement store and pump it into a sink or bathtub, then dry everything off – speed up the process by using fans and opening windows.
If your garbage disposal isn’t working, unplug it before reaching in to find the culprit, Wroclawski said. If there isn’t an obvious object clogging it, you can try garbage disposal cleaning tabs, he recommended. Some disposals also have reset buttons.
If you notice your refrigerator isn’t as cold as it should be, check the condenser coils on the back of the fridge, Wroclawski said.
Condenser coils can get dirty, so pull your fridge away from the wall every six months to vacuum those coils, Wroclawski said. That accumulation can make your fridge not cool as efficiently and have to work harder, which can lead to machinery breakdowns if not addressed sooner.
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
If your smoke or carbon monoxide detector isn’t working or is excessively beeping, make sure it’s not expired, Wroclawski said. Smoke detectors generally need to be replaced every eight to 10 years, and carbon monoxide detectors every five years, he added.
If your detectors are battery-powered, make sure you’re replacing the batteries. If you’re renting your residence, any replacements might need to be done by maintenance staff.
Heating, cooling and ventilation systems
All heating and cooling systems need routine maintenance at least once per year, said David Heiman, the senior director of training for The Refrigeration School, Inc., in Phoenix.
In both apartments and homes, “most residents experiencing an issue will first notice a lack of cooling or heating,” Heiman said via email. “Residents may also notice the units running for extended periods of time and/or swings in indoor temperatures.”
Experts also “typically see problems due to dirty air filters, dirty or blocked condensing coil, refrigerant leaks, clogged condensate line, and failed electrical components, (such as) motors, capacitors, relays and contractors,” Heiman added.
A dirty filter can be replaced by you or, if you’re renting, the maintenance staff or your landlord. Professionals might have to address some of the more complicated problems.
If you’re not getting hot water, your water heater could have a failed part or need to be replaced entirely, Wroclawski said. If you’re in an apartment, call the landlord or superintendent. If you live in a house, call a plumber.
“Another thing to keep in mind is that if it’s a gas-powered water heater, it could be that the pilot light is out, in which case you would have an actual gas leak issue. That’s very dangerous,” Wroclawski said. If you see the light’s out, to be safe, leave your home and call the fire department or gas company – their staff will check for gas leaks.
If you have little to no experience with home repairs, you might wonder what’s a fair price for such services.
With some of these issues, “time is critical, in which case, you’re probably just gonna want to bite the bullet and pay what they’re charging you,” Wroclawski said. “But if you have the time, it definitely pays to shop around (and) get estimates from multiple providers.”
HomeAdvisor lists the national average price for many home repair services, he added.