Fun Facts

Disaster Preparedness List

Disaster plan on cell phone screen with coffee cup and keyboard.

Where is? . . . What Do We Do?

It seems that natural disasters and extremes in our climate are becoming more predominant every year. I get the question more often during a home inspection “What do we do if the power goes off?” for example.  It is a good idea for every homeowner to set up a list of things that everyone in the household should know. A list of emergency shut-offs, a where to go list and some basic tools is a good start. The mapping out of your home is also worth preparing. Some people recommend marking all of your shut-offs and this is OK, but if you do not know where to go looking, marking them is redundant.  First lets cover the shut off list.

  1. If you live in the city, find your water meter and just before the meter there should be a tap or a gate style shut-off. In the majority of homes there are no shut-offs under the sinks or vanities and if you have a leak, this is where you head for. If you live in the country, you should identify the switch to turn your water pump off.
  2. Next is your electrical shut-off. If you have a short in your wiring or something starts to smoulder or smoke, this is where you head too. Generally the main disconnect is located in the front of a breaker panel. If you have an older fuse panel the most common one around was made by Amalgamated and the main is a push snap disconnect on the left or right side of the panel. You must give it a firm push. A few homes have a separate disconnect that is usually beside the main circuit panel. This is often marked as main disconnect. If you are not sure or your home has a number of smaller panels as I see in older homes, contact your electrician and have him mark it for you.
  3. If your home is supplied by natural gas you should have a main meter outside the home and individual shut-offs at each appliance. The main gas shutoff is usually located beside your gas meter, it usually has a grey lever that if turned off lines up with a hole on the fitting in the main gas line. This allows the gas company to lock off the gas line to a home if you don’t pay your bill! This is usually a quarter of a turn and sometimes will require a wrench to close this. I don’t recommend you touch this unless it’s a last resort. Every gas appliance whether they are natural gas or propane should have an identified gas shut-off. The code is quite clear, they must be marked with a metal tag designating what this shut-off is for.  Your furnace, hot water heater, your fireplace and your kitchen stove if its gas will all have these inline small shut-offs. Quite often these are red or yellow and if turned vertical to the main line will shut the individual appliance gas supply off.  Every home should have an operational carbon monoxide detector on each level of the home. These should be replaced every five years. One note here, if your carbon monoxide detector ever goes off; get out of the house!!  Call the gas company and the fire department immediately. Le them deal with the shut-offs and any issues with your gas supply that has caused your detector to go off.
  4. Most furnaces have a regular light switch from your electrical panel to your furnace. This allows the service technician to shut the furnace off for service. In a newer home this light switch is generally positioned near the bottom of your stairs to the basement.  If it’s not on the wall, look up inside the floor joists for this one. Older homes can have a switch just about anywhere and sometimes I see these wired directly to the electrical panel. If you have an air conditioner it should have an exterior shut-off. These are usually a small grey box attached to the wall behind your compressor. If you flip the cover up and swing it out it will reveal a breaker type switch that you can turn off. In most cases shutting off the furnace wall switch will also shut down you’re A/C unit, the furnace controls and fan are interconnected to the A/C.
  5. Your hot water heater should have a knob style tap or a gate valve installed on the water supply line going to the tank. This should be on the cold side of the tank. Remember to turn the electrical power off to the tank when you do this. I have seen more than one electric unit damaged because the homeowner turned the water off in an emergency and then turned the tank back on and forgot to turn the water back on at the same time, remember to do both.
  6. One last suggestion; make sure everyone knows how to release the automatic door opener in your garage. I was surprised how many folks do not know how to do this. There should be a rope with a knot or red plastic knob at the end hanging down from the opener chain or gear track. It may take a stiff pull straight down to release the track.  If you need your car during a power outage this could be very important.


The last recommendation that I have is to prepare an escape plan.  Put a rechargeable flashlight in the hallway of every level of your home. Buy the emergency plug-in lights that come on if the power goes out. I am always amazed how many homes I see that lack fire extinguishers.  I recommend a 2 1/2lb ABC unit in the kitchen and the basement at a minimum. Prepare a list of emergency numbers and attach them to electrical panel and the side of your furnace, put one by each exit door too.

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