We all hope that emergencies and disasters won’t strike our homes, but unfortunately they’re often impossible to predict. With this in mind, it’s wise to have a solid emergency preparation plan in place, particularly for disasters, but you should also know how to handle far more common domestic emergencies too. For instance, although you obviously want to have a plan in place in case of a fire, it’s also worth knowing what you’ll do in the event of a power cut or broken boiler!
To help you out, we’ve prepared this comprehensive home emergency guide to help you out. We’ll cover everything from fire preparation plans to what you should do if you get locked out of your home or have a vermin infestation. And if you’re looking for full peace of mind and protection for your property, home insurance can help to ensure you’re not left out in the cold.
We’ve also included an infographic showing some of the stats and figures around home emergencies. Feel free to save and share the individual sections that you’ll find throughout this article, or alternatively you can view the full infographic by clicking the button below.
A house fire is many people’s worst nightmare – and not without reason. A small fire can turn into an inferno in less than 30 seconds, reach temperatures as high as 600 degrees and leave devastation in its wake.
That said, house fires are actually very rare, can often be avoided and the vast majority of people survive them. Between 2013 and 2016, 28 people died in house fires in Ireland, out of a total of 2500 accidental house fires attended by fire crews.
How to prevent a fire
The vast majority of house fires are preventable, and it’s really useful to know and understand the most common causes so that you can take additional precautions:
- Smoking in bedrooms: A third of fatal house fires start in the bedroom, and 40% of these are started by cigarettes. If you smoke, always make sure your cigarette is fully extinguished, don’t leave it unattended and never smoke in bed.
- Electrical equipment: Malfunctioning electrical equipment can start a fire – don’t ignore frayed cords or faulty appliances. It’s also important that you don’t overload extension leads and electric sockets. Take particular care with chargers – don’t leave anything charging for excessive periods of time, including laptops, phones and e-cigarettes.
- Candles: Leaving them unattended can be a recipe for disaster. Keep flammable objects and materials away from candles and always blow them out when you leave the room.
- Cooking Equipment: Unattended cooking is a leading cause of house fires. Stay in the kitchen when frying, grilling, boiling or broiling and regularly check food that’s being simmered or cooked in the oven. Chip pans can be particularly dangerous. Never attempt to use water to extinguish a grease fire.
- Portable space heaters: Keep combustible objects at least 3 feet away from portable heating devices and make sure it will turn off if it falls over.
- Fireplaces and woodstoves: Always make sure the fire is out before going to bed and inspect them regularly.
- Children: Children can cause fires by accident. Teach them about the dangers and keep matches and lighters away from them. Never leave children alone with stoves or candles.
Planning for a fire
Have a fire emergency plan in place and makes sure that everyone in your household knows the drill. You should practise your escape plan at least twice a year.
- Have fire alarms installed – there should be at least one alarm on every level of your home, but the more the better.
- Inspect all exits and escape routes, and mark two ways out of each room, including from upper floors.
- Mark the locations of smoke alarms
- Make sure escape routes are kept clear at all times
- Mark a meeting place that’s a safe distance away from your home
- Assign someone to assist infants, the elderly and those with mobility limitations.
- Make sure that everyone is woken up by the fire alarm by running drills.
What to do in the event of a fire
If the worst does happen and a fire starts in your home, do your best not to panic and follow this advice:
- Tell everyone in the house.
- Escape using your pre-planned route.
- If there’s smoke, stay low or crawl – smoke is more deadly and toxic than flames.
- Don’t stop to collect valuables or possessions.
- Don’t look for pets – if you’re worried, take a look at this guide on keeping pets safe from fire.
- If you’re able to, close the door to the room where the fire is located and shut all doors behind you to slow down fire and smoke.
- If a door’s closed, examine it for signs of fire and smoke. If smoke is coming under the door, or the door feels hot or warm to the touch, do not open it. There will be fire on the other side.
- Once out, get to a safe place and dial 999/112 and speak to the fire service.
- Never go back into a burning building.
Flooding is another one of those worst case scenarios we hope won’t happen to us. They can be incredibly expensive and cause a great deal of property damage. In Ireland, floods are mostly caused by extreme rain and storms. It’s important to know whether or not you’re in an area that’s at risk of flooding and make plans accordingly.
What to do in the event of a flood
If your area is likely to be flooded, there will be a flood warning or alert from the government. Remember that low lying land and roads are most at risk of being flooded. If a flood is imminent, take the following steps:
- Move cars, pets, food, valuables and all important documents to a safe place. Valuables, important documents and treasured personal possessions can often be safely stored on an upper floor where the flood water won’t reach. Take cars to higher ground.
- Move lightweight household items and furniture upstairs, if you have the time.
- Use flood protection equipment to safeguard your home – sandbags and floodboards can prevent water flowing in through doors and windows.
- Turn off utilities – gas, electricity and water.
- Sewer backup is a real risk – storm water can infiltrate sewers and overload them, which can then enter your home through drains. Put plugs in sinks and baths and then weight them down with a heavy object such as a sandbag, or plastic bag filled with soil.
- If you don’t have non-return valves, turn off equipment that uses water – such as washing machines. Also seal water inlet pipes with towels or cloths.
- Do not drive or walk through flood water, if at all possible. Don’t underestimate the danger – just six inches of rapidly flowing water can knock over an adult, and two feet can shift a car.
- If you’re told to evacuate, leave and follow any instructions. Pack clothes, medication and essential items for babies. Most evacuation centres will allow you to bring pets – bring their food, and use a pet carrier for pets and small animals.
Gas leaks can be very dangerous, and left unattended can make you seriously ill or kill you. They’re often a result of poorly maintained, badly fitted or malfunctioning appliances, including ovens and boilers. All gas appliances should be routinely serviced and checked for damage; always hire a professional to do this.
A natural gas leak can cause fires or even trigger an explosion. You can detect a natural gas leak quite easily as it’ll smell of sulphur and rotten eggs.
On the other hand, carbon monoxide is toxic but completely odourless. If you experience unexplained symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, breathlessness, collapse or loss of consciousness and they disappear when you leave the building, you could be experiencing a carbon monoxide leak and you should leave immediately. A carbon monoxide detector can save your life!
What to do if there’s a gas leak
- Open windows and doors to ventilate the building.
- Get out of the house.
- Turn off the gas at the meter, if it’s safe to do so. It’s a good idea to know where to find your gas meter and how to turn it off before an emergency strikes!
- Don’t do anything that could ignite the gas. This includes smoking, using lighters and lighting matches. Extinguish candles and any other naked flames.
- Don’t turn electrical switches on and off. This is because switches cause small sparks, which could set the gas on fire or cause it to explode.
- In Ireland, call the Gas Networks emergency number: 1850 20 50 50. Alternatively ring 999/112 if you can’t get through.
Blackouts are often more of an inconvenience than anything else and most won’t last more than a couple of hours. They can be caused by network faults, or by damage due to inclement weather.
What to do during a power cut
- Firstly, determine whether the power cut is affecting your entire neighbourhood – see if street lights are still on and if your neighbours have power. If it only appears to be a problem in your house, take a look at your fuse box and make sure it hasn’t tripped.
- If it is affecting your area, get in touch with your network distributor to find out more information, such as when power is likely to return.
- Keep torches and candles in the home so you’re not stuck in darkness. Remember to be careful when using candles and don’t leave them unattended – they should only ever be used in the room you’re in.
- Bags of ice can keep perishable foods safe to eat in the event of an extended blackout, although most will be fine for a couple of hours in the fridge and freezer if you lose power. Just make sure you keep the door closed – if left unopened, freezers can keep food cold for 48 hours and food in fridges will stay safe for 4 hours.
- In cold weather, wear layers of clothing to help you stay warm.
- Surge protectors can protect your appliances and electrical equipment against power surges when the electricity returns. If you don’t have surge protectors, unplug equipment like computers to prevent them being damaged in surges.
Broken Boiler & Heating
In winter, a broken boiler can be a huge problem – who wants to freeze without heat and hot water? And as whatever can go wrong will go wrong, boilers are actually far more likely to break down in the winter, particularly as water in pipes or even the boiler itself can freeze.
Furthermore, boilers become more prone to failure as they get older. Mechanical components can get worn down and rusty, preventing the boiler from working properly.
As boilers are so essential. it’s vital that you get yours serviced regularly – ideally every year. Regular checks can prevent inconvenience or catastrophe further down the line.
What to do if your boiler breaks
- Call an engineer ASAP to come and repair your boiler.
- Layers of warm clothing such as jumpers, hats, fluffy socks and gloves will keep you comfortable in a cold house.
- Hot water bottles, electric blankets and portable electric heaters can be a godsend if you’ve got no heat.
- Hot drinks and food can help to stave off chills.
- Don’t worry about dishwashers and washing machines, as the majority heat water internally.
- Immersion heaters and electric showers will heat your water regardless. Otherwise, kettles can provide you with hot water to keep you going in the meantime. Admittedly, filling a bath with one won’t be the most thrilling experience of your life…
Burst & Leaking Pipes
Burst pipes can cause serious water damage to your home. They’re most likely to happen in very cold weather, when water in pipes freezes, expands and causes splits in pipes. When the water eventually thaws, it flows out of the cracks – this can then result in substantial flooding. Burst pipes can release as much as two full baths of water every hour into your home, flowing in a torrent from flooring, roofs or walls.
Small water leaks can cost around €10,000 in damage and larger ones that are left unnoticed and unaddressed for several days can cost over €100,000 to repair. On top of this, water suppliers may charge you for the water lost in the leak.
What to do if a pipe bursts
- If water is leaking through the ceiling, collect it in a bucket. If ceilings begin to bulge, use a broom or similar implement to break the plaster and let the water escape.
- Turn off the stop tap to stop the water supply, and then run taps and flush toilets to empty the system.
- Switch off central heating and run hot water taps to further drain the system.
- If you believe wiring and electrics may have been affected, do not touch them and turn off electricity at the mains.
- Move furniture, clothing and other possessions away from the leak to avoid damage.
- Call your insurance company and let them know what’s happened, and take photos of the damage as a record.
- Call a plumber to get the pipe repaired.
Hearing mysterious scratching or finding droppings, grease marks and nests? You could have a pest problem. Infestations of critters like mice, rats, flies and cockroaches can make you ill by infecting your food with harmful pathogens, including salmonella. In fact, each year, rats contaminate and destroy enough food worldwide to feed 200 million people.
Beyond this, rodents love to chew things as it keeps their teeth healthy and the correct length. This can include wall corners, furniture, any wooden fittings inside your walls and even electrical wiring. The latter of these is also a fire hazard, as frayed wires are no longer insulated and can spark, heat up, or ignite. Some estimates suggest that a quarter of American fires without an identified cause may in fact be the nightmarish end of a rodent infestation.
How to deal with a pest infestation
- Vermin – particularly rats, mice and even squirrels – can enter your property through holes and cracks in the exterior of your home. Block up or repair damage like this, including missing roof shingles.
- Keep the kitchen clean and don’t leave food lying around. Empty rubbish regularly and make sure it’s in sealed bags.
- Traps and poison can eliminate mice.
- Rats are more dangerous and can spread disease and rat-bite fever if they bite or scratch you. Their urine can cause lepstospirosis, which can cause liver and kidney damage. If there’s any indication that there are rats in your home, call a professional pest control firm.
- Other potential pests include carpet moths, bedbugs, cockroaches and ants. Some of these can be dealt with by yourself – washing infested bedding at 60°C and using a specialised insecticide will normally rid of you bedbugs for instances, whilst ant powder will halt ants in their tracks. Others, however, may require specialist attention.
There’s nothing quite as panic-inducing as the moment you realise your keys are nowhere to be found and that you’re now locked out of your home. It’s a huge inconvenience, and one that always seems to happen at the worst possible time…
What to do if you’re locked out of your house
- Although it’s always best to keep your property as secure as possible (especially as if you’re burgled, an unsecured property could invalidate your home insurance), it’s worth checking if there’s an alternate way in – have you left a window unlocked that you can shimmy your way in through?
- Keep a spare key with a friend or neighbour that you can use in emergencies (obviously if you’re already locked out, this advice isn’t particularly helpful!)
- Hide a key in a safe place – find an inconspicuous spot in your garden to stash a spare set of keys, or purchase a lockbox.
- Unfortunately, if you’ve exhausted all other ways in, your only other option is to call a locksmith.
Windows can get smashed and shattered by any number of things. However, whether it’s a stray football that’s caused the damage, or something more sinister such as burglary or vandalism, broken windows always present a massive security risk to your property. They should be addressed and repaired as quickly as possible.
What to do if your window is smashed
- If the window was smashed during a robbery or by vandals, you should call the police immediately so that they can investigate the crime. You’ll also be able to get a crime reference number for insurance purposes.
- Wear heavy duty gloves before touching any glass.
- Clear away any broken glass to avoid anyone being injured by accidentally stepping in it.
- Cover the broken window with layers of bin bags and tape them into place.
- Board up windows with plywood as a temporary solution.
- Call a glazier and get the window repaired as soon as you can.