How to Turn Off Main Water Valve for Plumbing Repairs
When plumbing issues or emergencies happen, your first course of action should be to find the main water valve and shut the water off to minimize water damage and prepare for pipe repairs. Beyond repairs, there are other situations in which you’d want to cut off water to either one part or the entire plumbing system. Here’s where to find the water shut-off valve, how to properly turn the water supply to your house on and off, and when you might want to shut off water to the entire plumbing system versus one individual area of it.
- Where are water shut-off valves located?
- Where is the main water valve in apartments or connected buildings?
- When to turn off water
- When to shut water off at the fixture only
- How to turn off water to the house
- What to do after you cut the main water shut-off
- How to safely turn water back on after shut-off
This depends on the type of house you live in, where it’s located and how old it is. Generally, you can find the valve in a few places either outside the house or inside.
Outside. You’ll usually find that the main water valve is outside if your home is located in a warmer area. Sometimes, the valve will be on one of the exterior walls of the house. If it’s not there, it may be further out at the periphery of your property. Walk around and look for a concrete, plastic or metal utility box in the ground. Inside of it, there should be curb valve that turns the water off to the home. Be sure not to touch the city side of the valve, which is illegal to tamper with.
Inside. The indoor water shut-off is typically located where the water main enters your home, which is usually near the front wall of your home that’s facing the street. This could be in the basement, crawl space, garage or near your water heater or furnace.
In condos, apartment buildings and townhomes, there may be many control valves to help manage the shared plumbing system. For instance, an apartment building will have a large control valve that shuts water off to the entire building. Then, throughout the building, there may be smaller control valves that determine water flow to different sections of the structure. Sometimes individual units each have a control valve that you can access to shut water off in your apartment too. These are also found in townhomes and condos.
They might be in a few places, depending on the connected building you live in:
- Outside near your unit.
- Near the water heater.
- At the end of the building in a group.
- In the laundry room, closet or kitchen cabinet.
There are a few situations in which it’s best to shut off water to your home entirely:
- Your pipes freeze and burst.
- Your water heater is damaged.
- There’s a loose connection to a household appliance like dishwasher, washing machine or dishwasher.
- You have a water leak.
- You’re doing major plumbing repairs.
- You’re leaving for a long vacation.
If you have a quick repair to do near a particular fixture, you can always cut the water off only in that area using service valves, also called isolation valves. These include the toilet stop valve, sink stop valves, tub or washing machine valves. Turn these handles clockwise to turn the water off to those specific appliances and fixtures.
Cutting water off only in certain sections of your plumbing system also avoids adding excess air into the piping, which is a typical effect of shutting off the main water valve.
Once you find the main water shut-off, there are a few ways to cut the water off based on the type of valve you have.
Ball valve. This has a straight handle that’s parallel to the pipe when it’s open. To turn it off, turn the handle so it’s perpendicular to the pipe.
Water gate valve. This looks and works like a hose valve, so turn it clockwise to shut the water off. You’ll typically find these in older houses.
House-side valve. This will be in that ground-level utility box on your property. It may have a knob for a nut that allows you to turn the water off. If it has a nut, you’ll use a water meter curb box key, a special T-shaped tool for this specific application, to shut off the valve. You can get this at a hardware store. If you don't have a water meter curb box key, you can use a crescent wrench.
Next, you’ll need to drain the plumbing system of any water that’s still in the pipes so you don’t have any spillage when you start your plumbing work. Starting at the top level of your house, open all faucets and shower/tub spouts, working your way to the lowest level of the home to ensure any remaining water is flushed out of the entire system. Leave faucets open until plumbing work is done.
First, close all open faucets. Turning off the water off to your home at the water main can introduce air into the pipes. To make sure you don’t damage the plumbing system, always slowly turn the water back on by gradually turning the main water valve handle back to the open position. Never turn the handle quickly.
After the water supply is back on, open each faucet, one at a time, and let the water run for a couple of minutes to restore water pressure and flush out any lingering air in the plumbing system.
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