Welcome to this week’s episode of “How NOT to Call the Plumber”! Continuing our series on what you need to be doing this fall to prepare you plumbing for the coming winter, we’re going to talk about your main water shut off valve – where it is, what it looks like, and how to shut it in an emergency (and I’m going to nag you to make sure it works!).
As a plumber, I’m always nervous that many of you don’t know where the main shut off valve for your water supply is. It gives me nightmares of burst pipes flooding the basement and frantic homeowners running in circles trying to figure out how to make it stop. The last thing you want is a surprise indoor swimming pool! Burst and leaking pipes are unfortunately a common occurrence, especially in our older homes. We NEED to know how to shut the water off as quickly as possible in an emergency. Also, there are times when a plumber will need to shut that valve just so they can do the necessary work in your home!
99% of the time, the main shut off valve can be found beside your water meter, which is usually within the first few feet of where the “water service” (main water pipe) enters your home. This pipe is usually entering the house in the basement, from the floor or the wall, very close to the front of the house. The City water mains run underneath our roads and the water services for the homes branch off of that to each home.
Now the tricky part – there are 2 types of valves that you will likely see:
The first type is called a “Ball Valve”. If you see this, good news! The odds of it working are quite high. Just turn the handle 90 degrees (perpendicular to the pipe) and voila, the water is off! These don’t tend to have many issues when turning them off and on.
The second type of valve is what is called a “Gate Valve”. If you see this, it could be bad news! Gate valves that have been left untouched for years tend to seize and leak when used. The rubber gaskets inside the valve lose their elasticity and won’t recreate a proper seal. If you have a gate valve, it is definitely worth considering having it replaced to a newer ball valve. The last thing you want during a flooding basement is to find that you can’t turn the water off because your valve has seized!
Please take a minute and make sure your main shut off valves are properly working before the weather gets too cold. I’ve heard way too many horror stories of burst pipes that can’t be stopped until the City comes hours later to shut the water off to your home. It just takes a second!