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RESIDENTIAL PLUMBING & FLOOD PREVENTION EXPERTS
As a homeowner, and even a renter, it is extremely important to know how to locate your main water shut off valve.
Because if you live in a home long enough you are bound to spring a leak somewhere, at some time. Often, that leak will appear behind a wall, in a ceiling, or on your water heater, and you may not have any choice but to shut down all your water to prevent flood damage until you can get a plumber out to help.
So in this week’s blog I’m going to show you how to recognize, find, and use your main water shut off valve so you can rest easy knowing what to do in case of an emergency.
Step One: Recognize Your Valve
There are 2 very common types of shut off valve you will find in not only Colorado homes, but most homes across the United States. They are ball valves and gate valves. They can range in size, but the most common are 3/4″ and 1″ for residential purposes. Handle colors may also vary, so don’t necessarily expect yours to be red or yellow. They could be blue, black, pink, or any other color of the rainbow.
Ball valves are very trustworthy and shut off with a simple quarter turn of the handle. When the handle is parallel to the body (as seen above) it is in the open position. When the handle is perpendicular to the body, it is in the closed position.
Gate valves take a little more effort to close and can become stiff with age. They are, however, very reliable and have a very long life. To shut off a gate valve simply turn the handle clockwise until it will not allow you to turn anymore. Make sure the handle is snug. Some gate valves require a little extra effort on the final quarter turn, but if you find yourself exhausted, hurting, or needing tools to fully close the valve it would be a good idea to have it replaced before an emergency.
Step Two: Find Your Valve
You main water shut off valve is usually in a basement or utility room of your home. In Colorado it is also common for the valve to be located in a crawl space if one exists. Due to the cold temperatures in Colorado it is rare to find a water shut off outside the home or in a garage and it is not recommended that you relocate your shut off to such a place.
Start by following the wall that faces the city street side of your home at the lowest point. If your home does not face city streets (i.e. rural properties) look toward the side of the home that faces your well. The shut off may be behind an access panel, coming off of a copper pipe that pokes through your concrete foundation, in the furthest corner of your crawlspace, near a water heater/furnace, or right in plain view. Less often the shut off is located in an upstairs mechanical room. This happens more in apartments, condo units, and multi-home complexes.
Step 3: Test Your Valve!
Once you have located your valve it is recommended that you test it to ensure it is operating properly. As with all metals in contact with water it will wear down and eventually become non-functional. If this has happened, you want to know before an emergency, not after.
In order to test your valve turn it’s handle following the directions in step one based on your type of valve. Once you have fully closed the valve go to your nearest faucet and turn both the hot and cold water handles to the “on” position. You should have a steady flow of water for a few moments which will become lesser and lesser until the water completely stops flowing. The more faucets you open the faster this process will occur.
If you have the main water valve turned off and you are still seeing water drip out of fixtures after a few minutes of waiting your valve may not be fully closing. Contact your plumber to have them come test the valve and properly replace it if necessary.
If you have a small leak coming from the packing nut (see picture below) on your shut off valve simply use a small crescent wrench first remove the handle stem nut and handle, then lightly tighten the nut and replace handle. Gate valves normally require a Phillips head screwdriver to remove the handle, however the packing nut is in the same location. Tighten only enough to stop the leak, starting a quarter turn a time time. Check after each quarter turn. If you over tighten two things may happen: 1) the handle may become too tight to turn, or 2) you may break the packing nut which will mean you must replace the whole valve.
If you are not comfortable performing the previous task contact your plumber to tighten the bolt for you. Sometimes it’s better safe than sorry, especially on older devices.
Residential homes often also have a water shut off located in a pit at the city street. You’ll recognize this by the round iron lid that is marked with your municipalities insignia. PLEASE DO NOT USE THIS! This shut off is for licensed professionals and city workers only. Because this valve is city property, not property of the homeowner, you could face a fine ($500 – $5,000) from your city for using this device.
When you are ready to turn your water back on, do so slowly and purge the air from your waterlines starting with bath tub spouts first. There will be a lot of bubbling and gurgling as your system regains water pressure.
I hope that’s a helpful walk though. If you have any tips or ideas to help your neighbors find their valves, post them below. Also feel free to send pictures or messages with crazy places you’ve found your main water shut off valves.
Extra tip: Occasionally when you shut down your water system small pieces of debris can come loose. This is nothing to worry about, it causes no damage, however this debris can clog the aerators in your faucets. You can avoid this in one of two ways:
1. Simply unscrew and remove your faucet aerators prior to turning you water back on to allow the debris to pass. Then re-install the aerator after purging water.
2. Open a bathtub faucet on the top floor first. They allow for unrestricted flow, therefore if you let this run for a couple minutes it should remove the debris from your system without you needing to remove faucet aerators.
All the best!