Have a Leak? Here’s What Pros Say to Do in the First 24 Hours (and Beyond)

published Oct 5, 2020
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If you’ve had a leak before, you’re familiar with the simultaneous feelings of panic and confusion that accompany it. When a big leak occurs, a home is an epicenter of stress. Questions are racing through your mind: Where’s the water coming from? How do you stop it? And what do you do next??

“Typically, a catastrophic leak can be identified based on the amount of water from the source,” says Anne Sebestyen, a plumbing repair merchant at The Home Depot. “However, leaks can be larger than first anticipated, and can come as the result of multiple different issues. They can also be hard to identify at first look.”

When it comes to big leaks like a burst pipe or an overflowing toilet, Sebestyen advises hiring someone to fix it. But there are steps that you can take immediately and over time—alongside a pro—to ensure that water problems don’t evolve into permanent damage. Here’s what to do about a big leak yourself so that you and your home can get back on track. 

What to Do Immediately After a Leak

Let’s just state the truth: It’s normal to stare at a big leak and not know what to do next. But once that initial shock spurs you into action, Sebestyen notes that the first thing to accomplish is turning off your home’s water source. “If you think the leak may have reached an electrical socket, take caution and turn off your electrical supply as well,” she says. “Once the water supply has been completely shut off, open the faucets to let all of the excess water out. And then turn off your water heater and drain the hot taps within your home, too.”

After you’ve turned off all sources of water, transition into detective mode and see if you can spot where the leak occurred. Spotted it? Try patching the leak until a professional arrives. “Some pipe repair kits have a special tape used to provide emergency relief from leaks. A self-fusing silicone tape can be used as a temporary fix on low-pressure lines,” she adds. Not quite sure where it’s coming from? That’s OK, just make sure a professional can come as soon as possible. 

“It’s important to call a professional plumber to remedy the situation of catastrophic leaks,” she says. “This will reduce the chance for longer-term damage and get water properly flowing (and leak depending, electricity on) faster.”

The good news here: If you know where the water is coming from—say, a clogged toilet, or a faulty sink—then you can turn off the water just at that source. Look behind the toilet or under the sink for a shut-off valve, and turn that until water stops flowing.

What to Do Within Hours of a Leak

Since a plumber probably won’t show up to save the day as soon as you hang up the phone, you’ll want to get to work on the other aspect of this issue: the at-home puddles or lakes of water. Push any furniture from the space aside, grab a mop, and start getting the water off your surfaces. 

“This will lower the chances of mold and mildew developing,” Sebestyen says. “Cleaning up the mess is extremely important before putting everything back in its initial place.” 

Besides a simple mop, fans and moisture absorber buckets can be crucial. If you have a bigger leak to contend with, larger fans and portable dehumidifiers can often be rented from local hardware stores. Keep fans running overnight and make sure the space is well ventilated, if possible. 

What to Do Within a Week and Beyond

When the plumber arrives, hopefully within a week, let the work of a professional take over. “Hiring a professional increases the certainty that your leak is fixed, and the root cause is identified and solved, too,” Sebestyen says. 

Depending on the degree of the leak, your furniture and surrounding surfaces will either need to be deep cleaned or replaced once they’ve dried—the longer the space was sitting in water, the more difficult it is to keep from needing extensive repairs. While Sebestyen notes that a professional’s handiwork should do the trick, these three recommendations will make sure you won’t be caught off guard again.

Monitor your water bill: “Most water bills are predictable,” she says. “So, if you receive an abnormally high water bill and you have not been using more water than normal, you may have another leak.”

Keep a lookout: “Check around appliances and fixtures regularly for water, and listen for any  dripping sounds,” she adds. “Also, check for wall discoloration where the leak originally occurred.”

Sniff around: “If you smell a musty scent, check for leaks because more moisture could be accumulating within the home,” Sebestyen says.