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How to Shut Off Your Home’s Water Supply in an Emergency

Access to fresh, clean hot and cold running water in our homes is an essential component of daily life, providing comfort and security. When something unforeseen happens, like leaks, a burst pipe, or a natural disaster, however, this valuable resource can quickly become a potential threat. Water damage can wreak havoc on your home and cause significant problems for your household. 

For this reason, you must understand how and when to turn off your home’s water supply in an emergency. Whether you’ve got a burst pipe or you notice water pooling in the yard, you can stop the problem from worsening. 

Check the Isolation Valves

If you have a water leak confined to one area, such as an overflowing toilet, you do not need to turn off your entire home’s water supply. Check the isolation valves, which are the water valves in specific areas of your home. They are connected to each toilet, sink, washing machine, and any other plumbing fixtures. These valves shut off water to their specific, connected appliance, so you do not need to turn off any other water fixtures in the house or shut down the entire water system. 

Look for one valve on the wall behind each toilet, which supplies cold water. Sinks and washing machines typically have a hot water valve and another for cold water. For example, if you have a clogged toilet that is about to overflow onto your brand-new hardwood flooring, simply turn off its isolation valve quickly to stop the water flow and contain this potentially nasty situation. 

If an isolation valve is stuck, never force it. You could end up with a broken pipe and even more water damage on your hands. In this case, contact the plumbing pros at Lightfoot Mechanical to make an emergency call to handle the valve and resolve your plumbing issues.

Know Where to Find the Main Water Shut-Off

During plumbing emergencies, such as an extensive leak or burst pipe, the isolation valves might not be enough to solve the problem. In this case, you must know how to quickly find and turn off your home’s main water supply. If you have not yet had a plumbing emergency, you should still locate the main shut-off valve for future reference. Consider marking it with reflective tape or fluorescent paint so that you can find it in the dark if needed. 

Every house has at least one main shut-off valve, so check your basement, the front wall of your house that is closest to the street, or other areas close to your home’s water meter if you have one. If your home is on a slab foundation, check inside your garage or by the water heater. You can also check your home’s property inspection report for the location.

The next place to check is outside your home, close to the front curb in a cement box set into the ground. The lid usually says water meter. Bring a screwdriver with you to help pry open the lid. Regardless of where the valve is located, it will often have a handle that looks like a long, straight metal piece. Turn the valve to the right to shut off the water supply to your entire home. The water meter may have a component that looks like a key; this is the city’s water shut-off, and it’s illegal to turn off or tamper with this part of the water meter.

Steps to Shut Off the Main Water Valve

Steps to shut your main water valve off may vary slightly if your home uses a well, which involves an electrical switch to shut down the well pump. For non-well water supplies, the following steps apply to shutting down most main valves:

  • Gather an adjustable wrench and pliers
  • Locate the main water valve
  • Turn off the main water valve by rotating it clockwise
  • Turn on the faucets inside your home, full-force
  • For a stuck valve, do not force it; contact a plumber
  • For a valve that does not completely shut off or leaks, contact a plumber
  • Once you have the water turned off, no more water should come from the open faucets once the pipes empty. 

Keeping faucets open during the shut-off to clear the pipes prevents standing water from freezing, which could lead to a burst pipe, especially when you turn the water back on. You can also flush the toilets while the water is turned off to empty the pipes.

Emergencies and When to Shut Off the Water Supply

Whenever you have a water leak, you could face severe water damage, costing thousands of dollars to repair. Because of this, you must shut off the water as soon as possible if you have an active leak. A loose connection to a dishwasher or washing machine or a sudden burst pipe are plumbing emergencies that require shutting the water off immediately to stop the flow until a plumber arrives.

In some cases, you might not be able to detect where the water is coming from, which could happen in the case of a broken or leaking pipe under the house or in one of your home’s walls. You might hear water dripping inside the wall or find pooling water on the floor of your house or garage. There is no downside to turning off the water supply to be safe, and you have a lot to gain in protecting your home from extensive water damage while waiting for an emergency plumber to arrive.

Other Reasons to Shut Off the Water Supply

If you and your family are going out of town for more than one or two days, it’s a good idea to shut off your home’s main water supply. This can prevent you from coming home to pooling water and ruined floors from a leak. If you have an older home with pipes with a history of leaks, this task is especially important and can give you peace of mind while away from home.

In the winter, some people ask if they should turn their water off to keep their pipes from freezing. On the contrary, it’s not always a good idea to turn your water off in freezing temperatures. Any water remaining in the pipes can still freeze, and once you turn the water back on, the running water can build up behind the frozen water,  causing a burst pipe. Additionally, even if you do turn off the main water supply if the pipes are not completely drained, water that freezes can expand and cause a cracked or burst pipe. 

Instead, focus on insulating outdoor pipes and keeping interior cupboards open so that your home’s warm air will keep pipes, such as those under the kitchen sink, warm. Additionally, keep a faucet on and allow small trickles of water to continually run through the pipes. The moving water will not freeze and keeps your pipes clear and safe from freezing. 

When You Need 24/7 Service, We’ve Got You Covered

Handling plumbing issues effectively requires the knowledge and expertise of a professional plumber. In Weatherford, TX, and surrounding cities, Lightfoot Mechanical provides reliable services to residential and commercial customers as one of the largest multi-trade companies in the area. We also offer heating, air-conditioning, and electrical expertise to repair, upgrade, or replacements to keep your home or business safe and fully operational. To find out more about how we can help, contact Lightfoot Mechanical today.

Meet the Author
Gary Lightfoot

With over 30 years of experience in the industry, Gary Lightfoot took over his family business and continues to run it with the values and standards set 35 years ago

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