There is nothing more stressful than trying to locate the water shutoff after a burst pipe. The clock is ticking as your home fills with water like a washing machine. It doesn’t help knowing you’ll have to pay to fix costly water damage aside from the pipe. A burst pipe isn’t the only time you need to turn off your water meter, though. Many fail to shut off the main during other important situations. Such a minor mistake can often lead to grave consequences. When should you turn off your main water supply? In this guide, we’ll teach you where your main is located and how to turn it off. Then, we’ll discuss situations when turning off the water is ideal.
Where Are Your Water Supply Valves?
Your water main is where the flow of water from the utility company meets your home. Its location varies from place to place. Rest assured, it’s easy to find your valve, even in a pinch. Let’s discuss how to find where your main water shut-off valve is located.
At Your Water Meter
If you know where your water meter is, you have your answer. The main is always a component of the meter. The meter is usually a cylinder with an analog read-out for water intake. If you don’t know where the water meter is, try the front of the house. It’s usually in a water meter box near the sidewalk. In many homes, this is a cast iron or plastic box. The majority of homes have this water meter somewhere around their lawn. You’ll need a screwdriver to lever it open. Inside, you should see a valve you can operate.
On the Side of Your Home
If you can’t find it on your lawn or near the front of your house, try the perimeter. Walk around the front end of the home looking for pipes. It’s likely in a hidden place, out of view of the street.
In Your Garage
Some older homes have their main water shut off valve inside the garage. Check the walls of the garage, particularly near the water heater.
In the Utility Closet
For rentals or older homes, there may be a utility closet. This is the enclosure where you have your water heater, boiler, and other appliances. Check here for the main water shut off valve.
In the Basement
If you have one, there’s a good chance the basement is where the main water shut off valve is located. Make sure nothing is blocking it off if you find it here. This will make it easier to access in the future.
Check Your Property Inspection Report
Still can’t find the valve? Check your property inspection report. This gives important information about your home, such as the water meter’s location.
Ask Your Plumber
Any plumber worth their salt will be able to find the meter in seconds. Call your plumber if all else fails so they can help find it.
Which Valve Should You Operate?
Turning off the water at the meter is easy. There is only one valve there–although no two meters have the same valve. It’s not like a breaker where you have switches for different areas. Turn the valve, and it cuts off the water supply to the entire home.
What Are the Types of Water Valves?
The main isn’t all that different from your garden hose spigot or water heater feed line. It will likely have one of the following two valves.
A gate valve has a rubber-wrapped spindle wheel perpendicular to the pipe. It’s similar to the valve you operate to open your water hose spigot. A gate valve works the way the name implies. That is, turning the wheel closes a gate that cuts the water pressure.
Ball valves use different technology. You can identify them with a bent, rubber-wrapped handle. Or, a bow-tie turn handle. Inside the valve, there is a steel ball with a hole in it. When you turn the valve, it spins the ball. The water shuts off when the cored section is perpendicular to the pipe.
How Do You Know What Kind of Water Valve You Have?
Having trouble identifying the valve? You may have a less-common valve. Contact your local plumbing services and a friendly expert can come by to help.
How to Open/Close the Main Valve
Your water main works no differently than any other valve in your home. If you have a gate valve, turn the valve by spinning the wheel. If it’s a ball valve, twist or turn the handle. Valves work just like screws. Left loosens them–opening the water line. Right tightens them–closing the water line.
Turning off your water is as simple as turning the valves clockwise. Turn until you can’t any longer. Once it’s shut, you’ll hear the hissing of water pressure stop.
What if You Can’t Turn Off Your Main Water Line?
So you have identified your main water line and the type of valve it has. However, when you turn it, it’s unresponsive. What do you do then?
Use Some Elbow Grease
Most likely, the valve is simply a little old. The components haven’t moved in years because no one has operated it. A bit of grime or rust has sealed it in position temporarily. In that case, apply gentle pressure. Call over a stronger friend and have them try if you’re struggling. It may just require some muscle before it unsticks and opens. Use something to improve your grip, such as wrapping it in a cloth. A stronger handhold may help if your hands are slipping on the metal. That said, don’t force things. If it doesn’t turn, don’t push it to its breaking point. You could be in real trouble if your water main breaks.
Grab a Hammer or Pliers
If muscle isn’t working, grab a hammer. Apply light taps to spin or turn the valve. That tiny bit of blunt force may be all you need to unstick and open it. Pliers make it easier. Grip the handle or plumbing fixture nice and tight, then turn back and forth. This helps to unseat a stuck valve without breaking it. Again, don’t damage your valve. Most valves are brass, which tends to be brittle. One hard, misplaced hit could crack the valve and cause a leak.
Call a Plumber
Calling your plumber is better than strong-arming a valve that won’t budge. They can unseat a stuck valve without breaking anything. If necessary, they can replace a busted water main, too.
When Should You Turn Off Your Main Water Supply?
Now you should know exactly where to find your water main. You’ve identified what type of valve it has. You know how to turn it off as well. Now for the million-dollar question: when do you turn it off? Let’s talk about scenarios when it’s best to shut off your water supply.
When a Pipe Bursts
The most common scenario is that one of your water lines breaks. It could be because the pipes are old, or something has ruptured the pipes. Whatever the case, shut off the main ASAP in any plumbing emergency. You can ask the “why” questions later.
When Your Washing Machine Lines (or Other Pipes) Leak
Certain pipes in your home are exposed and vulnerable. For example, washing machine lines or water heater copper tubes. You might accidentally bump your washing machine, which cracks the pipe. Or, the soldering on the water heater pipe gives and the pipe starts leaking. Unfortunately, you can’t just close these pipes at their valves. Shut off the water main and then call your plumber to fix them.
When Going on Vacation
Any time you leave your home for more than a few days–even a weekend–shut off the main. The reason for this is simple. If something breaks, it won’t flood your home while you’re gone. It’s a very small thing that prevents a lot of damage. So, add shutting off the valve to your vacation checklist. Do it as you’re heading out the door or set a phone reminder. If something does break while you’re gone, you’ll notice immediately. You’ll switch on your water and only then will the leak spring. If it does any damage, it will be minimal at best. Naturally, you should do a quick walk-around inspection after your vacation. Switch the main on and then examine the entire home. It’s a minor inconvenience, but worth the effort if there’s an issue.
When You’re Doing Plumbing Repairs
Anytime you are working with pipes, it’s usually a good idea to close the main. For example, suppose you are installing a new bidet for your toilet. You will likely need to replace the toilet’s supply valve. Removing this without shutting off the water will flood your bathroom. The same goes for the vast majority of repairs. Even if you don’t necessarily need to, it’s good practice. It will take all of a minute to do and prevents major damage.
When Installing or Repairing Sprinklers
A sprinkler network takes a lot of effort to set up and repair. Make sure to shut off the water main while working on it. Sprinkler leaks are just as big of a headache as normal ones. Cheap PVC pipes break easily, often out of view underground. If you identify a sprinkler leak, shut off the main.
After an Earthquake
Virginia, unfortunately, has been experiencing increased earthquakes as of late. Earthquakes do a lot more than crack your foundation or shatter some plates. They can damage water lines, too. After an earthquake, it may be a good idea to shut off the water main. This will give you time to inspect for damage. If there’s an issue, you can spot it before it floods your home. Of course, prioritize your own safety and well-being. If you need to evacuate or attend to others, do that first.
When Your Plumber Visits
If your plumber is coming by for repairs, they will turn it off for you. That’s one of the benefits of hiring your friendly neighborhood plumber. You no longer have to stress out about the little things.
Prepare in Advance
Some may be reading this article and think they don’t need to worry. That’s a mistake. An invaluable part of home ownership is having intimate familiarity with your property. Take the time and effort to get to know your home’s water system. Get familiar with the valve and its location. You want to be able to find this thing with your eyes closed. It will only take a few minutes at best to locate it. Prepare now, rather than having to learn this lesson when disaster strikes.
Prepare Your Family
Teach your family as well. Take your wife (or husband) and kids to the valve. Show them how to access and operate it. If a pipe bursts while your kids are home alone, they can deal with the problem. It’s a lot better than having to guide them to the water main over the phone. Especially when they are freaking out about the house flooding.
Hire Atomic Plumbing for Your Home Needs
Whether it’s a broken washing machine valve or a cracked sprinkler pipe, leaks can cause devastating floods. It’s vital that you know where your water main is. Learn when you should turn it off, too, so you’re prepared for any event. Atomic Plumbing does it all for you: water heaters, pipes, gas lines, you name it. We proudly serve in the Virginia Beach area. Get in touch with us and schedule an appointment today.