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How to Find Your Main Water Valve

How to Find A Main Water Valve for Shut-off in an Emergency

Water leaks and other disasters always seem to happen when you least expect it. When you’re already facing costly water damage, the last thing you want is more rising water and flooding to make the situation worse. Being able to turn off the water can be the difference between minimal and severe damage.

Your best defense against water damage is preparation. Knowing exactly where to find your main water valve and how to shut it off in case of an unanticipated emergency is critical, but people tend to forget about it until a disaster actually occurs.

Instead of leaving things up to chance, it’s time to take matters into your own hands by knowing exactly where your water main valve is and how to turn it off. 

What is a Water Main Water Valve?

A main water shutoff valve is a part of your home or commercial building’s main plumbing that turns the water supply completely off or on. It is vital to building improvement and maintenance it makes it possible to complete repairs or other construction-related tasks without worrying about flooding the space. In this case, the water main valve is usually shut off prior to the work beginning, as a precaution.

Some people also turn off the water before a home or business is empty for an extended period of time, like a holiday vacation. Some landlords, both residential and commercial, even opt to turn off the water when the building they own doesn’t have a tenant. Turning the water off can keep major incidents from going unnoticed if they happen while no one is checking in on the building.

In less fortunate cases, water main valves must be shut off due to an emergency. For example, a burst pipe in the wall due to cold temperatures, installing a new toilet, or switching out a showerhead are all three common reasons why you might want to cut the water supply.

Steps to Locate Your Main Water Shut-off Valve

The first thing that is important to note is that every structure is just a little bit different. Your water main valve could be in a completely different location than your neighbor or the building next door. Some water main valves are even located outside. If you aren’t totally sure where your valve is yet, don’t worry! It is still easy to find if you know where to start looking.

In order to locate your water main shutoff valve, you’ll need to first look around the perimeter of the building. Often, you’ll see a spot where the main water line comes into the wall. In some cases, there could be a shutoff valve on either the outside wall or inside where it joins up with your plumbing, such as under a kitchen or bathroom sink. This is usually the first place you want to check.

If you cannot find it and this is a home or business you just moved into, check out your realty inspection report. They generally mark the main water shutoff valve clearly on the document, which can give you a clue where to look.

Finally, if you don’t have access to this paperwork or still can’t find it, try the utility box at the street. Look for the utility box with either a plastic or metal lid and move it aside. There, you should see either a ball valve or something that looks like a hose spigot. If possible, use that to shut off the water to the main property. However, it might not be that easy. Your utility company, like many around the country, may require a special tool to do this. In that case, you would have to call them directly to get emergency service.

Because every building’s water main valve location is different, it’s important you know where yours is in advance of an emergency. You want to be able to head directly to one place rather than checking multiple places or running outside to find where the valve goes into the wall.

How to Turn off The Main Water Shutoff Valve

Again, the process of turning off the main water valve varies depending on your setup. Most water main valves will have a clear handle, whether in the shape of a circular wheel, a standard handle or other shape that can be easily gripped and turned.

It’s almost important to note that residential and commercial main water shut-off valves tend to vary greatly in size. Older, larger buildings can have valves so big you may need a tool to turn them. Residential buildings tend to have smaller valves that can be turned by hand. Residential valves also usually require just a quarter turn to switch from on to off, whereas larger commercial valves may need to be turned further. Again, this all depends on your building’s setup, which is why it’s important to familiarize yourself prior to an emergency.

Turn the handle clockwise (remember, righty tighty!) to shut off the water supply to your building. When you need to turn your water back on, simply return and turn it the opposite way, back counter-clockwise. 

What If I Can’t Turn Off the Main Water Shutoff Valve?

If you can’t find or turn off the main shutoff valve on your own, try to turn off any local valves as close to the issue as possible. For example, if you have a leaking washing machine, try to turn the water off at the closest source, like the valve connected to the hose hookup.

The exact location of local valves will vary based on the layout of your space and the type of water source you’re working with. For example, most toilets have a valve underneath the tank and almost all sinks have one below where the pipe meets the wall. But when you’re talking about issues like pipe problems inside a wall, you might not be able to access them directly. In that case, if your pipes are leaking inside the wall and you can’t locate or operate your main water valve, call a plumber as soon as possible.

What is a Water Shutoff Tag, and Why Is It Helpful?

A water shutoff tag is a tag that goes on your main water line to indicate its location. This allows you to find the line, even if you aren’t 100% where it’s located. This is helpful for several reasons:

  1. If someone in the home or building calls asking for help finding the water main valve, you can direct them to the general area or room and instruct them to find the tag rather than giving them specific directions.
  2. Not everyone has seen a water main valve before, especially younger people. With a tag, you don’t have to describe the physical appearance of a pipe system and can instead describe the size and color of the tag.
  3. These tags can contribute to emergency preparedness by making everyone in the household or business aware of where the main water valve is in advance. It’s much easier to remember to search for a tag than a series of pipes.

In the event of an emergency, most people’s instinct is for panic to set in, and it can be difficult to concentrate on one thing. Preparing in advance gives you one less thing to worry about in the event of a flood, burst pipe, or other disaster. 

Take some time to identify the water main valve with a tag and let others in your building know how to find it and turn it off in case of an emergency. In some cases, just this step alone can save you thousands of dollars in repair bills, mold removal, and other costs, thanks to some quick thinking.