Don’t Wait for a Flood to Locate the Shut-Off

When you move into a new house, a priority should be locating the shut-off valve for the domestic water supply. If you have been living in the house for years and don’t know where this crucial item is, figure it out immediately. Next, make sure you can operate the shut-off in the case of an emergency.

Knowing where the shut-off is and how to use it can save thousands of dollars in repairs should a pipe freeze and burst or if something goes terribly wrong with what was supposed to be a simple do-it-yourself plumbing repair.

In most cases the shut off is located inside the house at the point where the water comes in from the street, and it is easy to find it simply by backtracking along the cold water supply line. However, while it might be a Southern “thing,” in my neighborhood at least, all the shut-offs are located in vaults (with very heavy lids) below ground level near the street. More about that nonsense in a minute.

The indoor shut-off is usually one of two types: a round gate valve like the ones on outdoor faucets or a ball valve that is operated with a lever. The gate valve is closed by turning the handle clockwise; the ball valve by moving the lever 90° to the right. Once you locate the valve test it by turning on water in a nearby sink and then closing the valve. If the sink shuts off, you have found the correct valve. Hang an ID tag on so the rest of the family can find it.

If you can’t shut off the water – it might have been years since anyone tried to turn that handle – use a lubricant such as WD-40 or Liquid Wrench and a wrench to loosen it up then remember to test it every year or so. If the lubricant and wrench don’t work, call a plumber – don’t force and possibly break the connection.

Back to that outdoor shutoff. These valves can really seize up after years in the ground and may require a visit from the water department to get them moving. If this is the case, call them now, not when water is pouring out of the windows from a broken line, and ask the water department if there is a special tool you can buy for emergencies.

You might also ask your plumber about putting a second shut-off valve inside the house where it belongs.

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