Little Known Building Emergencies

Last change: July 8, 1998

These can happen at home, at work, at the shopping mall, in any building. They need almost instant attention. You can do your boss or your landlord or the store you are shopping at a big kindness by following the steps on this web page and staying around until the problem is alleviated.

Some of these situations are very dangerous if left uncorrected. It is better to miss the plane to your vacation cruise ship rather than go away quickly leaving a problem of this kind up in the air. Better still, know how to turn off gas and power to your home quickly so you don't waste time puzzling over a problem.

This page is still under construction but there is enough information here to save you from danger.

Bright line across TV screen  (7/98)

Hot water faucet spouting steam

Refrigerator making loud hissing noise

Lights get very dim or super bright

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Bright Line or Spot on TV Screen

What to do NOW:

1.  Turn off the TV. Unplug it if that is the quickest way.

Then you can call a repairman at your leisure or go off and do something else. Turn the brightness and contrast controls way way down before turning the set back on. Make a note of what color the line or spot was because that information is helpful to the repairman.

What has happened:

Components inside the TV set have failed so that an electron beam that sweeps from side to side to paint the picture is stuck in the middle. The screen can be burned in a matter of seconds so that after the problem is fixed, a dark shadow will forever appear where the bright line used to be.

If the TV set shows a bright dot in the center of the screen just as it is turned off, a repairman should be called. This can also burn the screen if allowed to happen day after day.

Water Faucet Spouting Steam

What to do NOW

1.  Leave that faucet (hot or cold) running wide open.

2.  If you can find one quickly, turn on a second, preferably hot, water faucet nearby wide open.

3.  Wait with the water running until no more steam appears and also the water coming out does not seem to be under such high pressure.

4.  Find the water heater and turn off its power, gas, or fuel. (Do not turn off the incoming water supply)

It is very important that you find someone and get him/her to understand the seriousness of the situation before you leave the scene. Make sure the faucets stay running wide open until all three of the following have occurred:

a.  The affected water heater (there may be more than one) has been found and turned off

b.  The water coming out does not seem to be under unusually high pressure any more,

c.  Ten more minutes have passed.

What caused the problem:

The water heater has overheated, because the heating element or burner has not cycled on and off automatically. If you ever see steam spouting out of a water faucet consider yourself very lucky because if you hadn't been there and followed these directions, the water heater could explode very shortly. To prevent injury from explosion you must leave the faucets on until the pressure subsides before going near the water heater. Bosses must take their employees seriously if this problem is reported. Parents must take their children seriously if this problem is reported. Police must take a vagrant seriously if one reports a garden house faucet spouting steam.

Repeat: Do not turn off the water faucet(s) until after the water heater fuel or power has been shut off.

How to fix the problem.

This is a complex problem that you cannot take shortcuts when fixing. You are going to spend either time or money, or both. If you want to save time, replace the entire water heater. If you want to save money, replace the pressure relief valve. Then you will have to monitor the water heater as it goes through several heating cycles to find out what part is not performing and when. Parts can fail intermittently, so monitoring just one heating cycle is not enough.

It is a good idea to know how to turn everything in your home off. This way, in case of an emergency such as this you can put everything in a safe condition quickly.

Refrigerator Hissing Loudly

What to do NOW

1.  Find someone or somewhere to take the food to. (A neighbor, perhaps?)

2.  Take all of the food out of the refrigerator and freezer and take it to the place you identified above.

3.  It is a good idea to take the food with you or make sure someone else does before you leave the scene.

What has happened:

The refrigeration machinery has sprung a leak, and is not going to work any more. You have just a few hours to take the food to another refrigerator.

Take action now. After a few minutes the hissing will stop and the next person won't realize anything is wrong until s/he opens the refrigerator and finds the food spoiled.

Lights Very Dim or Super Bright

What to do NOW

1.  Turn off everything.

2.  Unplug everything.

3.  Find someone or somewhere to take the food in the refrigerator(s) to. (A neighbor, perhaps?)

4.  Call an electrician.

5.  You should find someone to take over handling the situation and make sure s/he understands the situation before you leave the scene.

What has happened:

A "neutral" or a ground connection has failed. A number of lights and/or appliances are now in series like Christmas tree lights, across a 240 volt line. As a result of the complex behavior of electricity (Ohms Law) the 240 volts do not divide themselves evenly, 120/120, between the various lights and appliances. Appliances will be damaged if allowed to run under either too high or too low voltage. Lights that are super bright will burn out quickly.

If you are sure that some of the circuits in the house are not affected, you can continue to use those circuits while waiting for the electrician. You can then run a heavy duty extension cord to the refrigerator rather than take the food to the neighbors.

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