Handyman: Prepare for home emergencies with ICE

Glenn Haege
Special to The Detroit News

The acronym ICE (In Case of Emergency) has become part of our lexicon as a way to identify emergency contacts in your smartphone so first responders can access medical information and locate a friend or family member if you're involved in an accident or other emergency.

It got me thinking that we all could use a little ICE around the home as well to enable us to deal with some big emergencies that homeowners can be faced with from time to time. The potential damage done by home emergencies like gas leaks, burst water pipes or electrical fires can be minimized if you know what to do prior to them happening.

One of the first things you should do to prepare for such emergencies is to know how to shut off the water, electricity or natural gas so that it doesn’t make the situation worse.

Today’s electrical boxes have breakers that should be triggered when circuits get overloaded, shutting down the power to that circuit.

Mike Bratcher of Bratcher Electric, (734) 722-0037,, said homes with newer electric house panels have one main breaker switch that you can turn off to kill the power to the entire house.

“Even homes with an old fuse box will have a main fuse block at the top or on the side with a handle on it that you can pull out to kill the power to the entire home,” Bratcher said.

If you have a basement, the water shut-off valve is typically located near the front foundation wall near where the main line enters the home. If you have a crawl space, the shut-off valve will often be located near the water heater or under the kitchen sink, similar for homes built on a slab. Plumbing Professors,, offers a free water valve tag. Visit their website and look for the link to Free Valve Tags and they will mail one to your home for free.

In addition to the main valve, most houses have localized shut-off valves installed on the supply lines leading to toilets, faucets, dishwashers, washing machines and water heaters.

Even if you aren’t home, you can minimize the impact of a water leak by using smart home products such as Water Safe,; Floodstopper,; WaterAlarm Dialer,; and Water Cop, These systems can contact you via a text, email or phone call if a leak is detected so you can have a family member or neighbor who has a key shut off the water.

Houses with natural gas have a main shut-off valve located just before the gas meter, along with individual shut-off valves for gas lines that run to appliances like a stove or dryer. Shutting off the main valve outside requires a wrench, but Consumer’s Energy spokesperson Debra Dodd said the utility does not recommend you try to shut off your main gas valve if you think you have a gas leak.

“We don’t recommend that you try to shut off the gas line yourself,” she said. “Instead our customers should call 800-477-5050 immediately when they smell gas, and we make responding to calls regarding gas leaks a top priority and will respond promptly 24/7.”

Having a written list of all your home’s utility providers, homeowners insurance company, account numbers and other emergency telephone numbers is also a good idea, especially if the power is out and you need to make calls outside of the home on your cell phone. In fact, anyone living in your home that has a cell phone, kids included, should have the complete home ICE numbers in their phone.

Instead of just reacting to a home emergency, take action and ICE your home this weekend by finding and marking your water shut-off valve and the main breaker switch for your electrical box. Then make sure you have your phone number list handy in case of emergency.

If you would like to suggest a question for this column, e-mail If you want to talk to Glenn Haege, call his “Handyman Show” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536 between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. “The Handyman Show” can be heard on more than 130 radio stations.