Water leaks are never fun and definitely messy. The sooner you learn where your water shut off valve is and how to turn them off, the better. Sometimes your plumbing will spring a leak because a pipe or connector splits. Winter is more challenging if you live up north where temperatures drop below freezing.
You need to shutoff exterior faucets to avoid problems if/when the temperature drops below freezing. Typically you'll have one or more outside faucets for watering the lawn, washing the car, etc. Each exterior faucet should have a shutoff valve inside the house where you can turn off the source of water to the outside faucet.
Finding Your Main Water Shut Off Valve
It's funny that the two most important things in your house are hidden as they're not pretty, so you really don't want to have to look at them. Or you don't want to look at them until you need them – the main water shutoff valve and your electrical panel.
When you move into a new house, there are so many things to learn that it's easy to forget a few of them. That's why I wrote 30 New Homeowner Tips You Don't Want to Skip. Number 17 reads … “Find your main water shutoff and learn how to turn your water off (guess where that points)”. So if you don't already know where your main water shut off valve is, here are the places to check. And you're right that it would be nice if there was an industry standard, but there isn't one.
- First, look for your main water shutoff valve near your water meter. This will be found inside in climates where temperatures fall below freezing. Otherwise, the shutoff valve will be outside your home, most often near an outside faucet. As this is often the biggest challenge, you might find the video above helpful.
- Look along an exterior wall near the front of the house if you have a basement or crawl space.
- With a slab foundation, look for your water shutoff valve near the hot water heater or garage.
- With older homes, the shutoff valve may be near the street and buried in the ground.
Trust me, finding out where your main water shutoff valve is location … isn't something you want to put off.
When I had my handyman business, I found myself talking to one very hysterical woman. She had turned on an outside faucet and could hear the water running but nothing was coming out of the faucet. Even I could hear the water through the phone. It took me several minutes to explain what was happening and to calm her down. Only then was I able to walk her through her house to find the main water shut off valve, and explain how she could shut the water off. That's probably why I wrote this article!
Where to Install Water Shutoff Valves in Your Home
Every house has a main water shutoff valve. Sadly that can't be said for each and every place in your home where you use water which can leak for some reason. Building codes keep improving but they focus first on safety like preventing fires which is why we now have smoke alarms. As a homeowner you might think a flooded basement is just as big a catastrophe but home repairs don't have the same emotional impact as a ride in an ambulance.
If this bothers you, here are all the places in your house where you could (you decide if you should) add water shutoff valves for peace of mind. As some people prefer to see the details, I've tried to include a link to an article or video for each of these water shut off valves.
- You may find 2 shut off valves (one each, for hot and cold water) or a three-stop valve for both water supply lines. The 3-way shutoff valve can also be shared between the kitchen sink hot water and the dishwasher.Under your kitchen sink, you should find a shutoff valve for the supply lines. Here's a video on How to Install a Water Shut Off Valve.
- Your dishwasher should have a separate water shut off valve or according to This Old House article, How to Install a Stop Valve for a New Dishwasher, can support both the sink and dishwasher.
- With an ice maker, you'll also need a shutoff valve for the water supply line (photos at Repairing An Icemaker Water Valve).
- Under your bathroom sinks, you may find one or 2 shutoff valves (for hot and cold water supply lines). Here's a video to show you How to Replace a Water Shut Off Valve Under Your Sink.
- Don't forget extra sinks like a bar sink or a utility sink in the laundry room.
- On the wall behind each bathroom toilet, you'll find shutoff valves similar to the ones used for sinks.
- Bathroom showers and bathtubs are the most challenging, because all of the plumbing is buried inside the walls. Typically you have to turn off the main water shut off valve to work on these bathroom features. Sometimes whirlpool bathtubs will have an access panel and shutoff valve, as they tend to require more repairs.
- Your dishwasher should have a shutoff valve under the sink, or share a 3-way shutoff valve with the hot water shutoff for the sink.
- Even your hot water heater needs a shutoff valve on the cold water pipe coming into the top of your hot water heater, for use when cleaning it out.
- Outdoor faucets are the most challenging and you really do want a water shut off valve for each outside faucet if you live where there's any possibility of freezing weather. You need to install two (3 actually) things to reduce the risk of water leaks from these faucets:
- Replace your current faucet with a frost free faucet that has a longer stem, typically 12 inches long, so that when you shutoff the water, there's no water left in the pipe near the exterior wall. Here's an important video on the correct way to install Outdoor Hose Faucets.
- Install a water shut off valve on your new frost free faucet.
- Put a recurring (every year) reminder on your calendar to shut this valve each fall before the first frost.
- If you have a fire sprinkler system, that's also a source for water leaks. In fact my condo neighbor has gotten flooded not once but twice, due to a sprinkler in the master bathroom freezing and bursting.
You may need some special tools used for plumbing repairs, so here they are (you can get them on Amazon or your local hardware store). You'll find them useful when installing or replacing one/more of your water shut off valves. If you have to cut the shut off valve off, you'll also need a pipe cutter (here they are on Amazon).
You'll also learn about compression fittings which were relatively new and make this job much more practical for homeowners who want to do-it-yourself. When I started my handyman business, compression fittings weren't common so many of my customers didn't want us to use them. Now they're common and the magic is you avoid having to solder pipes with an open flame, which is scary for most homeowners do do themselves … and that includes me!
Be Alert & Ready to Use Your Water Shut Off Valves
Water emergencies happen often from a plumbing leak inside your home to water entering your home from outside. You need to respond to water problems quickly. Why? Water or high levels of moisture left too long can cause damage, often hidden damage, which increases the risk of mold along with higher repair costs.
Once you see a small stain on your ceiling, the water leak that caused it didn't happen that day but days or weeks earlier. What appears to be a small problem, might be small … and might be a lot bigger once you start searching for the source of the leak.
Most homeowners don’t know they can shut off the main water supply to their home. The plumbing system starts with a water shut off valve where the water enters your home and many fixtures like toilets have another shutoff valve you can use to stop the flow of water without killing the entire or main supply.
What Every Homeowner Needs to Know About Water Shut Off Valves
Given how busy our lives are today, here are the most important things to do to protect your home from unnecessary water damage.
- Learn where your main water shutoff valve is located.
- Label the valve so there's no confusion as to which valve needs to be shut off in an emergency.
- Make sure every family member knows where the shut off valve is located and practice shutting the water off.
Always turn the handle clockwise to shut the water off. Some water shut off valves will only need to be turned 90 degrees and the main water shut off valve is off when it's in a horizontal position.
- Inventory all existing shut off valves to see which ones work and those that are frozen and need to be replaced.
- Install new water shut off valves in the following sequence:
- Replace existing valves that aren't working.
- Add shutoff valves behind all exterior water spigots.
- Place shut off valves behind your washing machine, high enough that it's easy to shut the valves when you leave for extended periods of time.
You rarely see them unless you look inside the bathroom vanity or behind a toilet or washing machine. In more recent years, it's becoming more common to add shut off valves near the washing machine and leaving these visible to remind you to shut the valves when you leave for an extended period of time. If you have a shut off valve that looks like the one pictured here, you need to turn the handle a full 90º to shut it off. How to remember, if the handle is in line with the piping, the water is flowing. If the handle is perpendicular to the pipe, the water supply is off.
If your home has an interior sprinkler system for fire suppression like many condominiums must now have, learn how to shut this system off. In multi-unit buildings, i.e. condominiums, the water supply may be shared and either an onsite manager or the fire department should know how to shut the water off if the owner of the unit with the shutoff valve isn’t home.
Most homeowners will need to deal with a variety of plumbing problems. Even if you call your plumber to handle repairs, it pays to learn a little about the plumbing in your house. That's why we strive to provide content that will empower women homeowners and you might want a book (good toilet reading) to learn things you might not know to ask about … so we found these books on Amazon (I own two of them).
PS It's also a good idea to turn your water shut off valves on and off once a year. This will prevent the valves from freezing up which can then involve cutting them off after 10 years, and replacing them.