ADVICE TO HOMEOWNERS: I’ve long thought this, but my recent plumbing-problem experience restated its importance — always own a wet-dry vac. Mine broke a couple of years ago, and I don’t use it much, so I hadn’t gotten around to replacing it. As my toilet overflowed, I wished I had. I was (barely) able to contain the leakage before it got to the carpeted areas using towels and a mop, but I was really wishing I’d replaced the wet-dry vac sooner. I immediately ordered one — they’re cheap — and it’s my fond hope that I won’t need it again. But it’s good to have one.

Also, know where your water shutoff valve is and have the necessary wrench to close it, and know where your sewer cleanout is, and have the necessary wrench to open it to relieve the pressure in backups.

UPDATE: Reader Bob Bonsall emails:

In regards to your advice to homeowners, let me also point out that any home renter should follow the same advice. We have had a double wammy of a leaking water heater and a clogged drain in our cellar stairs recently, and there’s nothing worse than trying to keep carpets dry that are getting flooded from both sides. My top priority is to get a wet dry vac so I don’t have to again enjoy the thrill of soak-wash-dry-repeat with towels at 1 am.

Indeed. And in my experience, once carpets get really soaked, they’re never the same.

And while I’m at it — know where to turn off your electricity and gas, too, and have the wrench for the gas shutoff.

MORE: Another good reader suggestion:

All good ideas, but, here’s one important idea to add to the list: have the wrench needed to turn off the gas supply hung close to the shut off valve.

If gas is leaking, or in danger of leaking, you don’t want to have to rummage through your tools to find the right wrench – especially if the electricity is off and you’re in darkness.

Excellent point.

MORE STILL: Reader Ryan Kelley emails:

All that advice is great but the absolute most important thing to have is home/renters insurance. While not at home I had a ‘sewage backup’ in my apartment which basically ruined 3 seperate rooms (drywall,
carpet, etc.).

Prevention is great but had I not had that specific flood problem covered I would have been out $10k+. Make sure that all the man-made flood problems that can occur in your home are covered.

Oh and the vacuum you linked to looks fine but for flood/leak control people might want to consider one with more than 2 1/2 gallon space. This one has a 10 gallon tank but still works for most household things and gets very good reviews. Hopefully people can figure out what’s best for them but you have earned a lot of trust some might just buy it blindly (and probably be happy with it – that’s why you’re trusted!)

Yeah, good point. I went with the 2 1/2 gallon one myself — it came yesterday — because my house has three floors and it’s easy to carry around. My old one was a 5 gallon and seemed bigger than I needed — but of course if you had a really big flood, you’d want a bigger one. On the other hand, the big ones take up more space when you’re not using them, too. To each his own.

As for the insurance — absolutely! If you don’t have that coverage, you should have it. Sooner or later you’ll probably need it. My brother emails: “One of my new colleagues had a toilet line pop off while he and his wife were away for the weekend. Trashed their entire downstairs and basement… repairs will probably come to over $30k. They’ve had to move out while the place is rehabbed. Eeeeeeeeek.”

Eeeeeeeek, indeed.