Before you do anything else, make sure your property is safe and do what you can to prevent further damage.
Call 111 if there's a fire or someone is injured.
Make it safe
Water or sewage
If a pipe has burst or water is leaking inside or outside your house, turn the water off at the main before you take any further action.
The tap that connects your house to the water supply is called a toby. It's usually found at the boundary of your property – look by the street or on your driveway. Lift the cover and turn the tap off to shut off your water supply until a plumber can fix the problem.
What's a toby? - Wellington Water(external link)
The biggest dangers from electricity are fire and electric shock. If you notice sparks or a burning smell coming from an appliance, outlet or switch, unplug or turn it off. But only if it is safe to do so. You could also turn off the breaker in the fuse box that supplies power to that socket or light.
To turn all the power off to everything in your house then use the main switch. You will find this in your house's main switch board, labelled MAIN SWITCH. If do this you will lighting and electricity to all appliances and power points.
If you notice a fault, after you have turned off the power to that area, you should contact an expert for assistance, this might be a Registered Electrical Worker or your electricity provider.
Safe living with electricity — Worksafe(external link)
Turn your gas supply off at the meter by turning the valve handle horizontal – you may need a spanner to do this. If the gas is supplied by an LPG bottle, turn the valve clockwise to close it.
If you can smell gas:
- make sure all gas appliances are turned off and turn the supply off at the meter or gas bottle
- extinguish any naked flames (eg candles or cigarettes)
- don't turn any appliances or power switches on or off (including your phone)
- open windows and doors if it's safe to do so
- leave the house and call your gas supplier.
Don't use any gas appliances until a registered gasfitter has checked your gas supply.
If a wall, deck or other part of your house has collapsed, don't try to inspect the damage yourself. Get everybody out of the house before you call for help – the rest of the house may not be safe anymore.
If you think you have damaged asbestos leave the house until a Licensed Asbestos Assessor or Surveyor can test whether it is or not.
Check what might be covered
Different insurance policies cover different things, but it's usually worth a call to your insurer to check if all or part of the repairs might be covered.
Do this before you contact a tradesperson, if you can. Your insurer may have conditions on who can do the repairs or how they're done. If the repairs are urgent, you can get the damage fixed first and square up with insurance later.
Check with your insurance company if your existing home insurance policy applies during building repairs or whether you need a new policy to cover the construction work. You may need Contract Works insurance in place while you are building or repairing your property.
Most home policies as well as contents policies provide cover for temporary accommodation and removal and storage of goods if your home is uninhabitable due to loss. Each policy wording will differ so people should check with their insurer.
Everyone with a home or contents insurance policy that includes fire cover also has EQC cover for natural disasters. Check with EQC to understand your cover.
Natural Disaster Insurance - EQC(external link)
Water damage in Annie's bathroom
Annie noticed the paint on the wall outside her bathroom was bubbling – and when she pressed it, water came out. She turned her water off and called a plumber, who drilled into the wall and discovered rats had nibbled through the pipe to the shower.
She talked to her insurance company, who said she wasn't covered for damage by rodents – but she was covered for water damage. This meant she had to pay the plumber to fix the pipe out of pocket, but she was able to claim for the cost to fix, plaster and paint the damaged wall.
After an earthquake, or other natural disaster, check that everyone is safe and then see if you need to make any urgent repairs. Only do so if it is safe.
- Lodge a claim with your insurer and EQC
- Let your insurer and EQC know if you think anything needs to be done urgently, eg the house is unsafe or you don't have water, a working toilet or cooking facilities.
- Keep photos, receipts and other records of urgent repairs.
Making urgent repairs - EQC(external link)
If it's a defect that might be covered by a warranty
Building work and materials are covered by implied warranties for ten years after the job is complete. If you think the issue was caused by defective work by a prior tradesperson, you can go back to them and ask for a remedy.
If the work was done:
- within the last year, it's up to the tradesperson to prove they're not responsible for the problem
- more than a year and up to 10 years ago, you can still activate the implied warranty but it's up to you to prove the problem was caused by the tradesperson's work.
Implied warranties should still be valid even if the work was done while the house was owned by someone else – but you will need the details of the job from the previous owners.
If you can't reach an agreement with your tradesperson, you'll need to take the problem to court. It's best to seek legal advice before you start.
Read more about Issues after your building work has finished
Loose screws cause burst pipe
A pipe in Kirsty's bathroom bursts nine months after having a new suite installed. She contacts the builder who project managed the work. As head contractor, he's responsible for organising the plumber he subcontracted to come and take a look. The plumber finds he used the wrong size screws on one of the joins. As it was his error he fixes the problem free of charge. If the plumber refused to fix the problem for free, Kirsty's builder would have to meet the cost, unless he could prove Kirsty had done something that led the pipe to burst.
Find a tradesperson
If you need something fixed urgently, you might not have time to get quotes from a range of suppliers. You could ask friends and family for a recommendation, or use a website like No Cowboys to see reviews of tradespeople in your area.
No Cowboys(external link)
If you don't get a quote up front, make sure you document in writing what will be done and how, and ask the tradesperson for an estimate before they begin.
Read about Estimates and quotes
Read about how to Hire a builder or tradesperson
Money can be an issue when the unexpected happens.
- Check call-out fees with your tradesperson, especially if it's late at night or on a weekend – it might be cheaper to wait until Monday.
- Tradespeople will often want to be paid up front or in cash, but you can always ask them for an invoice. The invoice will have their payment terms – usually, they'll give you 10, 15 or 30 days to pay.
- Talk to your tradesperson about what your options are – is there a temporary fix that can be made cheaply now, with a more permanent (and expensive) solution later?
If you're covered by insurance
Your insurer may organise the fix on your behalf. In this case, you pay your excess to the person they hire and your insurer settles the rest of the invoice. This might suit you if you don't have the money to pay in full and wait for your insurer to reimburse you.