Dr. Kool‘s

Where Good Neighbors and Good Servicemen Meet

Electricity, Water, & Gas

Each home has 2-3 critical utility supplies—electricity, water, and gas. In case of emergency, you can save yourself lots of trouble, if you can shut off the supply. For example, the fill valve in one of our toilets broke, and because no one knew how to turn off the main water supply, our house partially flooded.


To locate your breaker panel, go outside and follow the utility wires that go to your house. They terminate at the meter. If your wires are underground, then walk around the house until you find the meter. Your circuit breaker panel should be close to the meter—either outside or inside your house.

Open the door to the panel, and observe the breakers. They should be labeled, as to which one controls what. Most of your circuits are 120 volts, while others are 240 volts. The first 240 volt breaker is the main one, which shuts off power to the entire house. The other 240 volt breakers are for the dryer, AC, and range; they are twice as thick as the 120 volt ones.

College Station/Bryan Power Failure

10/3/06 at 5:30 p.m., College Station/Bryan and surrounding communities experienced a rolling power outage which amounted to a series of brown-outs. Some homeowners turned off the power to their entire house, while others flipped their AC breaker. Others did nothing, and suffered considerable loss.

For weeks after that event, I replaced dozens of electrical components that had been damaged. When voltage falls, current rises, and it is the latter that overheats electrical devices to the point of failure.

When a Breaker Trips

When a breaker trips, you will probably see a red flag, but not always. If in doubt, turn the breaker off, and then back on. If you re-set a tripped breaker, and it immediately trips again, do not try a second re-set. Call a repairman.

Federal Pacific Electric (FPE)

Most breaker panels in College Station/Bryan are either Square D, General Electric, or Federal Pacific Electric. The latter is no longer in production. FPE breakers have been known to fail in the closed position … When the breaker should trip, but doesn't, it could damage equipment and wiring.

Recently I tried to re-set a tripped FPE breaker. The circuit was shorted, the breaker did not immediately trip, and I got a huge arc that burned the buss bar. The entire panel had to be replaced. If you have a FPE panel in your house, it will, of necessity, be old. You should talk to a qualified electrician, and consider replacing the panel.


Let's say you hear loud noises coming from your outside AC unit, or observe that it's freezing up, first go to your thermostat, and turn it off. If the outdoor unit continues to run, then go to your electrical panel, and shut off the breaker. Then call a repairman. Your breakers are your safety switches, so be prepared to use them.

Protect Your Electronics and Appliances

Recently my nephew lost $4600 worth of electronics as the result of a lightning strike. I recommend that every breaker panel also include a lightning arrestor—an inexpensive item that can be installed by an electrician or handyman in less than 10 minutes. The one I use is a Delta Model CA302R which I purchased in Bryan at Central Electrical Supply.


Most residential supply lines require a special tool for shutting off the water. But, some have a manually operated valve that turns like your hose faucet. If you don't have a manual shut-off, you can buy a special wrench, or have your plumber install a gate valve. It's advisable to plan for emergency water shut off, and hold periodic drills.


In our house, we use natural gas for our furnace, hot water heater, clothes dryer, and cook stove. Like any utility, natural gas or propane has to be contained. Each appliance has a manual shutoff that can be used to disconnect the appliance or for an emergency. You can also shut off the gas supply to the entire house.

Houses with natural gas, have the main shut-off at the meter. Houses with propane have a shut-off at the tank. I recommend that you, the homeowner, be prepared to shut off the main supply yourself. The quicker you can respond to an emergency, the better. Again, you can ask your plumber to help you prepare.

Gas Leaks

It was cold weather, and I smelled a little gas at my outdoor meter. I felt it was safe to wait until the weather was not hardly so cold, and then I called the gas company.

Their technician was really good. He replaced my meter, and then checked the rest of the system for leaks. He found a very small leak in the system. Then he went through an elaborate procedure as he checked out each appliance. He went from the manual cutoff, through the flexible gas connector, and finally into the appliance itself.

One by one, he announced negative results. The last item he checked was the gas dryer. There he found the flexible gas connector had a pinhole leak. It was so tiny, there was no gas odor. He closed the manual cutoff, ran his pressure test, and my system passed. After he left, I replaced the flexible gas connector, and my gas system was perfect.

What If?

After all that testing, what if the technician had not found a leak? He would have shut off my gas supply at the meter—even though the leak was tiny. If your gas is shut off in the winter, you will also be without heat, until the problem is corrected by a plumber.

My plumber would have gone through his own procedure, testing the piping and pipe connections until he found the minute gas leak. If necessary, he would have torn out plasterboard to get inside the walls or between floors. It could have cost me hundreds of dollars.

An Alternative

One option is to first call your plumber, and let him check things out. Let him decide, before you call the gas company.

Another Personal Story

One of my tenants smelled gas, and called the gas company. They shut him down for days, and I thought we'd never get the gas turned back on. I had my plumber check things out, and it turned out that a pilot light on the cook stove had gone out—that was the only problem. Next time, my tenant will use a wrench I have provided, turn the gas off at the meter, and then call me. My plumber will take it from there.


There is always the danger of a house fire, and it does not always directly involve your electric or gas utility. I really don't feel qualified to write on that, so I invite someone from the fire department to do so. I will either add to this article or create a new one. No matter what, try to remain … 

Kool, calm, and collected,

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Dr. Kool

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