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Your family should have an emergency plan. Knowing how, when and where to shut off the water should be part of your plan.

Many times an emergency or disaster affects utilities. In these cases, you will need to shut off the utilities to your house. This post will discuss how to shut off the water to your house.

Why might you need to shut off the water to your house?

If you have frozen pipes, or have a damaged water pipe, you would want to shut off the water. This prevents any further damage and facilitates repairs.

Where to Shut Off the Water

The water usually comes to your home through underground pipes that run underneath the street that leads to or in front of your home. There are several different methods to shut off the water to the house. The structure of your house will determine the method that you choose.

Shut Off the Water at the Street

Water passes through a meter that the municipality uses for measuring your water usage and determining your monthly bill.  This is the best place to shut off the water but one of the more difficult to access.

Accessing the Meter

Water Meter Cover

The round metal lid to the meter chamber will be some place in your yard or in the street in front of your property.  It will have “water meter” cast into the top surface.  It is secured in place by a large pentagon headed bolt.  You will need a large pair of adjustable pliers to loosen this nut counterclockwise a turn or two.

Then with a large screwdriver or a small pry bar, insert the screwdriver under the edge of the lid at the location of the bolt and leverage the lid up.  It should hinge up and the lid should be removable from the meter chamber.  A metal tab directly across the cover from the bolt acts as a hinge point.  CAUTION, these meter covers are heavy. Take care not to drop it on your hand, fingers, or your foot.

Main Water Shut Off

With the lid removed, you will be able to look down into the ground and see the meter body.  The shut off valve will be on the pipe leading into the meter (coming from the street).  The valve will have a metal tab extending upwards to the opening.  It will appear as a ½ inch by 2 inch rectangular device on top of the pipe.  The tab is oriented lengthwise in the same direction as the pipe. 

How to Shut Off the Water

The water is turned off by rotating this tab ¼ turn to the left or right until it is oriented perpendicular to the pipe.  You can use a T handled “water key” or an adjustable wrench to turn the tab.

The water will now be shut off to the entire home from the street.  Flushing a toilet or opening up a faucet will eventually relieve any pressure remaining in the water line.

Some older homes have a valve at the meter that resembles the knob used on an outdoor water spigot.  These valves require multiple rotations in a clockwise direction until the knob stops.  These are gate valves and sometimes due to sediment build up they do not close all the way. This may allow some pressurized water to still flow into the pipe.

Even if the water meter is in your home, there will still be a water shut off valve outside. This is so the city can to turn off the water without entering your house. 

This water disconnect is usually under a small circular cover in your yard or in the street in front of your home.  It is too small to get into with a wrench and can only be accessed by a water key.  These valves are located between 3 and 5 feet below the surface of the street, to stay below the freeze line.  It requires a very tall water key to turn off the water at these locations.

Shut Off the Water in Your House

It is possible that your water meter and shutoff are inside your house. This is another option to use to turn off the water. The basic principles for shutting off the water are the same as if it were in your yard.  There just isn’t a meter chamber. 

Finding the Water Shutoff Inside

In a wall of the basement or through the foundation wall in the crawl space closest to the water meter in the street you will find a pipe entering the home.

Two Kinds of Valves

The pipe coming into the house will either have a gate value or a ball valve. A gate valve has a round knob to turn while a ball valve has a handle that runs parallel to the pipe. 

Twist the knob clockwise until closed or pull the handle a 90-degree angle, so it is perpendicular to the pipe.  This too will turn of the water to the entire home.

NOTICE with gate valves, it is often normal operation for the valve to begin to leak around the shaft of the hand knob.  It should stop leaking when the valve is all the way closed or all the way open. 

If the valve continues to leak after the water has been turned all the way “on” then a plumber will be needed. The plumber will have to replace the packing in the valve or replace the valve all together.

Ball valves should never leak no mater what position the handle is in.

Device Service Shutoff

Most homes have a service shut off valve that leads to each water device.  They are located under the sinks or the toilet tank.  For showers, they are usually in the wall behind an access panel. 

These shutoff valves vary in shape and style.  Device shutoffs usually have an oval knob which allows the water to be shut off to that specific device. This is done by turning the knob clockwise until it stops. 

Some older versions require multiple revolutions of the valve handle to stop the water.  Newer, “quarter turn” shutoffs require little movement.  These only require a quarter of a turn to make the handle orient ACROSS the pipe.  At this point, the water should be shut off.

Quarter turn valves should not leak at all.  The older valves may start to drip from the handle while you are rotating the knob to shut off the water. The drip usually stops once it is fully “off.” 

Then it will drip again as you rotate the handle counterclockwise the several turns as you open the valve until it will not open any more.  The drips should stop when the valve is fully open. If it continues to drip, then the valve will need to be replaced.

Water Pressure

Even after the water is turned off, there is pressure in the water line until a valve in the home is opened.  The easiest way to do this is to turn on a faucet. The water will start flowing when the faucet is turned on. Then the rate of flow will diminish after a second or two.  Turn off the faucet once the pressure is released. This prevents emptying the pipes and creating air gaps.

Toilets with water tanks will be good for one or two half flushes as long as there is water still in the tank.

Water Heaters

It is a good practice that if you turn the water off for repairs or additions to the supply lines, that you turn the service valves off to the HOT WATER TANK.  You will find them close to the top of the heater tank.  

Gas Hot Water Tank Labeled

For a natural gas or propane water heater, the dial on the gas valve is turned to the “PILOT” position.  If the water heater is electric, the electric breaker to the heating elements should be turned off in your electrical panel.  This will prevent damage to the tank and it’s heating system, should the water level drop in the tank.   

Turning the Water Back On

Once the need to shut off the water has passed, you’ll need to turn the water back on. This is done by reversing the steps taken to shut off the water.

Take some time to find the location of your water meter and learn how to shut off the water. Do it today, before disaster strikes. Prepare Today.

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