Living Smart: What should you do if you have a holiday emergency?

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, but as luck would have it, there was no hot air (thanks to the furnace dying on Christmas morning). Whatís a homeowner to do if they have such an emergency, like a pipe bursting or the HVAC system failing, and it happens to be a major holiday? We asked some of our highly rated contractors ó as well as members who have experienced such a conundrum  ó how do you save the holiday?

Donít panic

After discovering the basement of her Denver home was flooded the night of December 24th, thatís exactly what Angieís List member Deb Ward did ó panic. "I was so extremely worried!" she says. "Who in the world would be available for a plumbing job this late on a Christmas Eve night?"

Ward quickly turned to Angieís List and found Garvinís Sewer Service of Englewood, Colorado, who immediately sent a technician to the house. After an hour of him snaking the clogged sewer drain, the water receded and he cleaned up the mess that was left behind.

"I was so thankful," Ward says, and advises others in a similar situation to try to remain calm, get control of the situation by moving anything out of harmís way, and then get on Angieís List. "Donít assume youíre up a creek without a paddle, because chances are you will be able to find someone who can help."

Know your house

Make sure you know where things that you might need to access during an emergency are in the home, including flashlights, fire extinguishers and even phone numbers to your local utility companies (especially the "after-hours" hotline) in case they need to be notified.

"Everyone should know where their valves are, says Frank Bianco, owner of First Class Home Renovations in Philadelphia. "If youíre having a water leak, shut off your main water valve. If youíre having problem with your gas line, shut that off. Know where your electrical box is. A lot of people donít know."

Know your company

This one takes some foresight, but developing an ongoing relationship with a reputable contractor can help save the day when youíre in a pinch. "Find a company that you can trust and that you can figure out a few things with over the phone," says Ryan Carpenter, owner of  Plumbing Heating Paramedics in Fishers, Indiana. "Even if itís just stopping the problem until I can get there. If thereís water spraying all over the bathroom, I can talk you through how to shut off the valve."

Know the rate

Yes, some companies will charge overtime rates if itís after hours or a holiday. Some ó but not all, which is another reason itís important to know your company. Carpenter says his companyís after-hours rate is $40 more than their standard rate, but they waive that additional fee if the customer has an annual $149 home comfort service agreement. The agreement includes an A/C inspection in the spring, a furnace cleaning in the fall, a plumbing inspection with a water heater flush, and 10 percent off any additional services. "Weíre a 24/7 company and we want to offer our customers the best services possible," he says. "These issues donít just happen 8 to 5."

Ward says even though you might be overwhelmed with the problem, inquire about the rate for the given day and time to avoid surprises. "Do you know how many unscrupulous companies might have really tried to take advantage of me?" she says, noting that she expected a bill three times the $200 she paid for her Christmas Eve rescue. "I should have asked about the rate, but part of me just really didnít want to know. I was so relieved they could come help."