From Spotlight: New Homeowners’ Survival Guide

5 Disasters That Always Leave New Homeowners Clueless

Like what to do when a tree falls.

Downed trees and power lines after a storm
Image: Chris Sadowski/Getty

You know what to do if someone is having a heart attack, or you hear an intruder — call 911!

But what about those other *emergencies* — the ones where you're not sure who to call?

Here are five home- (and sometimes life-) threatening emergencies that often baffle new homeowners. (Plus, if you fill out this worksheet and post it somewhere visible — as well in your phone contacts — you'll be super prepared).

#1 Skillet Grease Catches Fire

Skillet fire in home kitchen
Image: Michael Blann/Getty


It'll only feed the fire. Instead, the National Fire Protection Association recommends smothering skillet flames by carefully sliding a lid over the pan and turning off the burner. Leave it covered until everything's cool; removing the lid too quickly can allow the fire to spark back up.

If you reach for a fire extinguisher, make sure it's Class B or ABC — using the wrong type could spread the flames. And if you have any doubt about safely fighting the fire, get everyone out and call 911.

#2 Water Main Break

Maybe your yard is constantly soggy.

Or you have no water pressure.

Or your latest water bill seems awfully high. (Insert your go-to expletive here.)

All can point to a water main break.

Call your utility provider pronto and ask them to turn come out and turn off the water — they may use a special tool, known as a water key — because that flow of water can leak into your basement if you don't stop it. And the water company can

The utility company will also determine if the break is their problem (in the main line) or yours (the pipe between the municipal line and your home).

If it's on your property, it's on you to fix it (surprise!). You'll need a plumber.

And you're going to need to dig a trench yourself for the new piping, or pay someone to do it. Labor can cost hundreds, even thousands. And until you fix it, you won't have water in your house. (Repeat expletive now.)

The most common cause of water main breaks is tree roots. If you're looking at your yard now and see trees that might cause this problem for you, hire an arborist who can help you figure out what to do — because you could hurt your home's value if you take down the tree.

#3 A Carbon Monoxide Detector Beeps

Get everyone out. Now. Do not pass go, do not grab your valuables, do not try to find the cause of it, or even call 911 (at least not yet).

Some people say you should open windows first and even press "reset," but the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says to get the hell out.

The risk justifies their advice. This deadly gas, which is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, will kill you. Full stop.

What's more, small, hard-to-detect fires are often the source of CO. Once you're outside, that's when you need to call 911, which is trained to detect both. And let them know if anyone is experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning (headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and lethargy).

The fire department can help determine the cause, which can be anything from clogged air filters to a faulty gas appliance, or even a defective detector.

#4 Hail Damages Your Roof

If your gutters have dents and pings from hail, there's a good chance your roof does too, even if you can't see it.

You need to call a roofer fast. And your insurance agent. Because if your roof is damaged, so are your neighbors' roofs. And they're going to be calling, too. Delaying could mean waiting months in line (giving leaks time to develop, causing even more damage) and could give cause for your insurance company to deny the claim.

Even if you're unsure, a professional roofer or insurance agent can discern the true marks of hail damage because it's not always easy to see. And what may seem harmless enough, like a few granules missing from asphalt shingles, could actually lead to worse damage later.

#5 A Tree Falls

High winds, ice, or disease can bring down even the mightiest tree. If everyone is safe, and it didn't damage your house, garage, or another big-ticket item, breathe a sigh of relief.

But be prepared to handle the clean-up and repairs without your insurance company's help. Most policies won't pay out if it didn't strike a structure. If something small is covered, like a smashed fence or cracked patio, check your deductible before making a claim. You may have $800 worth of damage and a $500 deductible, but making a claim to get that $300 could cost you that much or more in the long run. Because even filing one claim on your insurance, can increase your rates.

It's best to save claims for much larger disasters that run into the thousands.

No matter how you pay for it, pests love a good fallen tree, so get it outta there ASAP. Chop it up yourself, call in some pros, or let friends and neighbors know there's free firewood available to anyone willing to haul it away.

Related: If A Tree Falls Across Property Lines, Who Pays?

Author photo of Amy Howell Hirt
Amy Howell Hirt

Amy Howell Hirt has written about home design for 13 years. Her work has been published by outlets including "The Home Depot," "USA Today," and Yahoo! Homes. She previously served as home and garden writer and columnist for "The Cincinnati Enquirer."