Be prepared for any home emergency

@Money May 25, 2012: 7:04 AM ET
Be prepared: Essential tools for your home emergency kit.

Be prepared: Essential tools for your home emergency kit.

(MONEY Magazine) -- Sometimes disaster strikes, despite your best efforts to prevent it. And that means you should always be ready for the unexpected.

The right emergency gear will help you protect your home and family, as well as deal with unpleasant realities like a post-storm power outage or broken windows.

Here are the most critical tools and products to have on hand when things go wrong.

Essential detection and safety devices

Throughout the house

Place wireless water alarms under sinks, behind the fridge, anywhere that water would pool if there's a leak -- they'll sound off at the slightest hint of moisture. Zircon Leak Alert three-pack, $25; amazon.com

Keep a fire extinguisher on every floor of your home, and an extra one in the kitchen, where the majority of fires start (some insurance policies will give you a discount on your premium for having them). Get multipurpose A:B:C extinguishers that douse flames from three types of fires: ordinary combustibles, flammable liquids, and electrical. Opt for a five-pound fire extinguisher, which is light enough for most people to use easily. Check the pressure gauges periodically and have the extinguishers recharged when the pressure drops. Kidde Full Home fire extinguisher, $40; homedepot.com

Supplement hard-wired smoke detectors (if you have them) with at least one battery-powered model per floor, especially in the kitchen and near bedrooms. Go with a model with a sealed-in, 10-year lithium battery to spare you frequent battery replacement. Kidde Long-Life sealed battery smoke alarm, $20; walmart.com

For the best protection, opt for separate carbon monoxide alarms instead of combination smoke/CO detectors. Place one on every level of the home and outside each bedroom or sleeping area so that occupants will wake up if it goes off at night. Plug-in versions with battery backups are convenient and discreet. First Alert plug-in carbon monoxide detector, $33; amazon.com

Basement, laundry, and mechanical room

A sump pump alarm has a sensor wire and probe that detect rapidly rising water levels, tipping you off to a potential flood. Reliance Controls sump pump alarm, $15; homedepot.com

An automatic shutoff valve for your water heater cuts off the supply to the device as soon as it senses a leak of any kind. FloodStop auto shutoff valve for water heaters, $115; safehomeproducts.com

If you forget to turn off the water supply to your washing machine when you're finished sudsing your duds, then this is the gizmo for you: a switch that automatically opens the valve as soon as you turn the machine on, and then closes it when the rinse cycle is over. Watts IntelliFlow automatic washing machine shutoff valve, about $200; amazon.com

Upstairs bedrooms

Place sturdy escape ladders in each bedroom near a window. Practice setting them up in case you have to do it quickly. First Alert three-story fire-escape ladder, $72; target.com

Must-have tools for your emergency kit

Collect all your gear in a waterproof plastic tub and stow it in an easy-to-access spot in your house.

1. Duct tape. Use it for on-the-fly repairs and temporary fixes. $3.50 per roll at home stores

2. Blanket. Mylar is warm and lightweight, and folds up small. $3.50; grainger.com

3. Multitool. Get one with a pair of pliers and a can opener. $55; leatherman.com

4. Radio/phone charger. A hand crank will allow you to juice up the battery. $20; amazon.com

5. Work gloves. Leather grips protect your mitts during poststorm cleanup. $48; ironclad.com

6. Nylon rope. Use it to secure heavy outdoor furniture or tie down a flapping door.$30 per 100 feet at home stores

7. Lantern. A battery-operated model is safer than candles. $40; coleman.com

And add these multitaskers:

8. Fishing line. Use it wherever rope is too thick to get the job done.

9. Vinyl tablecloth. Lay it down to create a clean zone in any area.

10. Baby wipes. They'll remove grime from your hands and practically any surface.

Make sure to include first-aid supplies, three days' worth of bottled water and nonperishable food, and a list of important phone numbers.

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