If you can't prevent a home repair crisis, the best you can do in advance is to know the tradesmen you can trust, or at least how to find one. The Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona maintains a free list of accredited businesses. The rating is based on the number of complaints and how they were handled.
The Arizona Registrar of Contractors maintains a public list of contractors, their license status, how long they have been licensed, and information on complaints open and closed, including those that were resolved, withdrawn, resulted in discipline or were affected by a contractor's bankruptcy.
Know good tradesmen
Make your own emergency services list by trading names with friends and neighbors who have experience with specific firms or individual tradesmen.
Better yet, use your experience with quality tradesmen who've done your home's preventive maintenance during less critical moments. Besides possibly avoiding some emergencies, their routine maintenance work will give you a better idea of their workmanship than comparing the size of ads in a crisis.
Also, when a freak storm hits blowing off roofs or a snap hard freeze bursts pipes all over the city, contractors can be backed up for days or even weeks. So, it can't hurt to call a company with whom you're already a customer in good standing.
"A lot of times what happens is if I've got a customer, if something happens, even if I can't get out there right away (to do the repair), I might be able to put a band-aid on it to buy a little time until I can get out and do a repair," says Mike Blass, owner of Blass Roofing.
Consider a restoration firm
And when he's too swamped, Blass said he recommends calling a company like Better Way Services, one of several emergency and restoration services companies that do whatever needs to be done, quickly.
"They'll even take your furniture out of your house and put it in storage," says Blass. "If there's a storm or broken waterline, whatever, a home and some kind of catastrophe, day or night, I don't care, they send somebody out. ... "
Most homeowners have an ally they may not think of in a major home repair crisis.
Homeowners insurance carriers in Arizona frequently maintain a list of approved vendors, said longtime Tucson Farmers Insurance agent Tim Jankovsky. He said vendors on Farmers' Circle of Dependability List are all licensed contractors and work for agreed upon rates and fees.
"We ask them (insured customers) to call our office, or our 800 after hours," Jankovsky said.
Using that service to get an approved vendor may not only speed up getting help to your house, but could save you money on work the insurance company doesn't cover.
Besides licensed experts in specific trades, Jankovsky said Farmers' list includes restoration companies and other experts for emergency cleanup.
How to handle other catastrophes
No. 1, in the case of a broken pipe, know the location of your main water supply cutoff, usually in an underground meter box by the street.
As with many home emergencies, make sure you have a working flashlight and know where it is. A pair of heavy gloves wouldn't hurt either, as these meter boxes, where the cutoff valve usually is, are popular with snakes, bees, scorpions and black widows. Remember, counterclockwise to turn it off, clockwise to open the valve, or, if you must, "righty-tighty, lefty-loosey." You'd be wanting the "lefty loosey."
There may be another cutoff valve near where the water supply enters the house; they usually aren't labeled and many older homes don't have them. But for the squeamish, they're less scary to deal with than a valve in a meter box.
A long garden hose and a friendly next door neighbor could come in handy.
For overflowing drains and toilets a wet-dry shop vacuum is probably going to come in handy, along with a stout plunger. Drain chemicals are dangerous - they can splatter you - and are worthless on toilet clogs and not much help on most drains.
If you smell burning insulation, hear sparking or see smoke or sparks, back away, call 911 in the case of flames and smoke - and turn off the power, if you can safely do so.
If it's a power outage, determine whether you have a neighborhood, or larger, outage, or if it's just your home. If it's just your house, determine whether it's your entire electrical service or just part of your home.
If it's a widespread outage, you probably won't be able to get through to the power company and your power will come back on with everyone else's. Again, a flashlight with good batteries in a known location is handy.
The best time to get to know your electrical service panel - aka fuse box, breaker box - is in daylight, not in the dark during a power failure. Label the various circuit breakers; it makes it easier for an electrician to know what all is on a circuit that is overloaded or has a malfunction that tripped a breaker. Also, anything that saves a repairman time should save you money. By the way, near the service panel is a good place to locate a flashlight.
If the outage is just at your home, have a construction grade 100-foot or two 50-foot heavy gauge extension cords (12 gauge, ideally, at least 14 gauge, with the ground prong still attached!) and a good relationship with a neighbor (one within 100 feet.) Don't try to run anything more than the refrigerator and a couple lights off a long extension cord.
Air conditioning and heating
First, know whether your heating and cooling system is under warranty, or covered by home warranty program. Know where the policy is and read the fine print about your coverage. If you call someone to do the repair that is not authorized under the policy, you probably won't be reimbursed.
If you don't have coverage, as with other urgent service work, ask what the minimum is for a service call and the hourly rate.
Ask if the company provides temporary heating or cooling equipment you can use until your system is repaired. Some companies do provide this service.
The dispatcher may want to know what kind of a system you have - gas, electric, forced air, radiant heat, split unit air conditioning, heat pump, etc.
Fallen tree or limb damage
If the tree hits your car, call the emergency number on your car insurance card. If it hits the house, call your homeowners insurance emergency number. If it hits a power line, call the electric company and stay clear of the area.
A broken window isn't usually an emergency, provided no one is injured and there's no severe rain or wind. But if security is involved, there are glass repair businesses that provide emergency and after hours services. Your homeowners insurance company may be worth calling, even if the breakage is not covered or under the minimum. Insurance companies maintain lists of approved and registered contractors.
Questions to ask when you call a contractor or a tradesman for help
Are you a registered contractor? If you have Internet access, you can look this up yourself first on the Arizona Registrar of Contractors' web page www.azroc.gov
What do you charge for a service call and does it include the first hour of work? What's your hourly rate? And if it's after hours, a weekend or holiday, or will be by the time the service man arrives, what's the rate for those times?
And, of course, "When can you get here?" Leave a call back number even if you reach a recording. Many businesses that provide emergency services work off a cell phone after hours, weekends and holidays.
• Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona: www.bbb.org
• Arizona Registrar of Contractors: www.azroc.gov
• Angie's List: www.angieslist.com
A web-based services referral and monitoring system that charges subscribers a fee, but, in order to not be influenced, does not charge the businesses they cover. They track complaints against businesses, resolutions, and provide user reviews.