When You Will Need to Shut Off the Water
Shutting off the water supply in your home is necessary when you are making most plumbing repairs to any of the fixtures or pipes in your home plumbing system. There are at least three different places you can shut off the water, and your choice of locations will depend on where the leak or the plumbing repair needs to occur.
Simply shutting off the water generally requires no tools at all.
Here are three locations where water can be shut off, and how to choose the right one.
At the Fixture or Appliance
If a faucet is dripping, or a toilet is running, or if a leak develops in a refrigerator icemaker or dishwasher or washing machine–or any appliance supplied by water, your first and best choice is to shut off the water right at that fixture or appliance. By shutting the water off locally this way, other fixtures in your house can continue to operate unaffected while you tak- your time to make the repair.
The fixture shut-off valves will differ in appearance and location, but generally they will be very close to the fixture or appliance.
- For sink faucets, look for the shut-off valves located below the sink, near where the water supply tubes run up to the tailpieces on the faucet. Any faucet that supplies both hot and cold water will have two valves–one for the hot water supply and one for the cold.
- For toilets, there will be a single shut-off valve (a toilet uses only cold water), usually located near the floor below the water supply valve on the bottom of the toilet tank.
- For dishwashers, the water supply tube running to the dishwasher often has a fixture shut-off valve controlling it. In many cases, this is also located under the kitchen sink base cabinet, and it may be close proximity to the sink faucet shut-off valves.
- For refrigerator icemakers/water dispensers, the small copper or mesh supply tube running to the refrigerator usually has a small saddle valve or other device that can be shut off to close down the water supply.
- For clothes washers, there is most often a water supply valve controlling the hot water inlet hose and another controlling the cold water. These may be located on a utility sink if your laundry has one, or sometimes is located in a recessed water supply valve box set into the wall near the washing machine. This can be turned off whenever you need to work on the washing machine.
You get the idea. Any fixture or appliance should be equipped with some kind of local shut-off valves.
But if you don’t find the shut-off valves, don’t worry. You can shut off the water by turning off the main water supply valve near the water meter. That location is described below.
Did You Know: Some homes are equipped with branch valves that can be used to shut off the water supply to selected branch lines in the home. These valves will be located along the main branch pipes and are located in accessible utility areas. For example, water pipes feeding outdoor hose bibbs are very often controlled by in-line valves that can be used to shut off the water to only the pipes running to the outdoor faucets.
At The Water Heater
When a hot water pipe is leaking, or if you need to repair or replace a water heater, there are shut-off valves located near your water heater.
A water heater has two shut-off valves. A cold water inlet valve (often identified by a blue handle) feeds cold water from the main supply into the water heater. This is the valve to shut off if you need to repair or replace the water heater.
The hot water outlet pipe also has a valve that will shut down all hot water leaving the water heater. You can shut off this valve if you have a leak in a hot water pipe somewhere in the house, since this valve effectively controls all hot water in the home. Often, this valve is coded with a red handle to indicate it controls the hot water. This convenient color coding is important, because often the cold water inlet pipe and the hot water outlet pipe are often in close proximity, and they would be hard to tell apart otherwise.
At the Main Shutoff Valve
If your leak is somewhere in a main branch line, or if there is no fixture shut-off valve near the fixture you need to repair or replace, find the main shut-off valve for the home. This is usually be found in a utility space near where the main water line enters the house, or on an outside wall near the water meter. This valve will always be located on the house side of the water meter and is usually a rather large valve.
This valve rarely gets closed, so it may be a little stiff to operate.
Did You Know: After shutting off the main shut-off valve, if you open the lowest faucet in your home, such as in a basement or a foundation-level outside faucet, and also the highest faucet, it will allow water standing in the plumbing system to drain away. This means the pipes will be empty of water when you start to work on them, which can prevent water from spilling out when you begin your work
At the Water Meter
You may also be able to shut off the water at the water meter itself. Water meter boxes sometimes have two shutoff valves, one on the customer side and one on the city side of the meter. This should really be a last resort, because in many communities there are ordinances that frown on homeowners touching any part of the plumbing system positioned on the street side of the water meter. The plumbing lines beyond the meter technically belong to the city, so you should really not touch this valve unless there is no other option–such as if the main shut-off valve on the house side is non-existent or doesn’t work.