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How To Turn Off Water To a House (Step-By-Step Guide)

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One aspect of homeownership is maintenance and repair. Part of maintenance and repair is knowing how to turn off the water in your house.

The following are instructions on how to turn off water to house, how to do it safely, and how to turn the water back on.

Why Shut Off the Water?

You might need to cut off your water supply for several reasons. Almost all involve work on your home’s plumbing system.

Repair Work Done

The older your home, the more likely it is a pipe will burst, a joint will give way, or something will damage a water line, requiring you to locate the main water shutoff valve and activate it. 

Hopefully, the repair work was scheduled, and you will not have to deal with a flood once you get the water supply shut down.

Adding Plumbing, Appliances, Etc.

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Another reason you might want to shut off the water to your home is if you are adding or replacing plumbing or appliances. In most cases, a localized shutoff valve will work, but if the work is extensive, you might have to activate the main water shut-off valve. A licensed plumber can shut down your water if that is the case.

Frozen Water Pipes

Almost everywhere in the USA you can experience frozen pipes. Frozen pipes can lead to ruptures in the pipes or, more commonly, pipe joints that crack or burst.

When a pipe or joint gives way, the main valve must be shut down, or water flow will continue to pour through the water supply pipes and can lead to flooding and significant water damage. Often, waiting for a local plumber to make emergency repairs can take days, so shutting off the water is critical to avoiding water damage.

Leaking Pipes and Lines

Old plumbing can break or a water pipe joint can give out slowly over time. When the latter happens, slow leaks can develop, and if left untreated, they will grow into major leaks. To work on old plumbing, the main shutoff valve almost always must be activated to stop seepage.

Water Heater Problems

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Hot water heaters usually work until they do not. In the worst case, a water heater rusts through, and you end up with water everywhere. Leaving your water flowing when the hot water heater gives out can lead to massive flooding.

Miscellaneous Reasons for Shutting Water Off

Other reasons beyond a water leak that can cause you to shut off the water to your whole house include, but are not limited to:

  • External flooding polluting the main water supply
  • A plumbing emergency involving appliances like dishwashers or washing machines
  • A water valve or plumbing fixture breaking
  • Water pressure from the main water line exceeding recommended limits
  • Leaving your home for an extended period

Types of Water Valves

Residential homes typically use two types of valves that serve as shutoffs:

Gate Valves

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These are the types of valves most people associate with internal shutoff valves in older homes or on exterior walls. A gate valve has a circular handle, usually with spokes, that is attached to a stem that extends down into the body of the valve. To turn off the water, you turn the valve clockwise, and the valve turns and blocks the water from progressing.

A good example of a gate valve is the water line connected by a hose to your toilet tank.

Ball Valves

Most homes use a ball valve now because they are easier to use, less likely to seize up, do not spring leaks over time, and seldom need plumbing repairs made to them. A ball valve has a lever handle that usually turns up and down, although, in some plumbing alignments, it can turn left to right or right to left.

The key is that when gate valves are open, they align with the pipe, and to close them, the water valve must be turned 90 degrees until it is perpendicular to the pipe. Turning the valve rotates the ball and blocks the water flow.

Main Water Shutoff Valve Location

The key to shutting down the water to your home is to locate the main water shutoff valve. In colder environments, shutoff valves are typically located at the front of the house, street side, or in the basement. In warmer climates, shutoff valves are located outside on an exterior wall, in a box underground with a removable lid, or on a wall protected by an access panel.

A good place to locate your main water valves is to read the property inspection report, which will detail the location most of the time. Also, some shutoff valves are located close to a property line or in front of the home, at a curb stop (in some older homes). Many times they are close to the water meter.

The water main shutoff valve may be marked (it will be on newer homes,) or you may have to do some deductive reasoning to locate it if it is in your basement. The easiest way to figure out which is the main water valve is to look for the slightly larger pipe that extends out of the basement through the wall.

Step-By-Step Guide

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To shut off the main water valve, you must first locate it. After that, you will need the following tools:

  • Adjustable wrench
  • Bucket
  • Slip joint pliers

Before you touch the main water valve, turn on a faucet in your home, for example, the one in the kitchen sink, and leave it running. 

Then, turn the type of valve you have either clockwise (if it is a gate valve) or up or down (if it is a ball valve. If you’ve used the right valve, the water in the faucet will stop running.

Final Thoughts

Shutting off water supply valves is simple once you locate where the valve is and the type of valve your home has. With any water valves, be careful with them as they can break. After that, though, a simple twist or turn should cut the water to your home.

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