Checking Utilities and Major Systems

Checking Your Home: Utilities, Systems & Household Items

Once you have evaluated your home’s structural elements, the next step is to check the major systems to determine what repairs need to be done before your home is habitable.

Electrical, Plumbing and Heating Systems

  • If you see sparks, broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker.
  • If there is a pool of water on the floor between you and the fuse box or circuit breaker panel, use a dry wooden stick to try to reach to turn off the main fuse or breaker, but do not step or stand in water to do that. If you cannot reach the fuse box or breaker panel, call a qualified electrician for assistance.
  • Inspect the panel box for any breakers that may have tripped. A tripped breaker may indicate damaged wiring inside your home. Do not turn them on. Call an electrician.
  • Use a flashlight to inspect fuses. Replace broken fuses with exactly the same amperage rating and never use an object such as a coin or strip of metal to bypass the protection that fuses provide.
  • If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using sinks, showers or toilets and call a plumber.
  • If water pipes are damaged, turn off the water at the main valve. Call a plumber for assistance.
  • If you have a heating oil tank system, turn off all valves and contact a professional specializing in maintenance of such equipment before using it again.


  • Check each telephone to see if it is still on the hook. Hang up any phones that aren’t. Wait a few minutes, and then pick up one phone to listen for a dial tone to know whether you have working telephone service.
  • If you don’t have a dial tone, try unplugging all the phones. Plug in one at a time and listen for dial tone. This will help you determine if the phone itself is broken or the service is completely out. If it is, contact the telephone company to report the problem and request repair.

Other Household Items

  • Normal household items, such as cleaning products, can cause toxic fumes and other hazards if they mix. See our chemical emergency safety tips.
  • Spilled chemicals that don’t pose a health risk must still be carefully cleaned up. Wear rubber gloves and discard spilled chemicals and rags used for cleaning according to the advice of local authorities.
  • Throw away food, beverages and medicine exposed to heat, smoke or soot. Food that was in the freezer can be used if it still has ice crystals on it. If not, discard it.
  • Disconnect and check all appliances for damage before using them.
For information on safety and recovery after specific types of disasters and emergencies, please visit our Disaster and Safety Library.