How do I find the main water shut off valve for my house?

Sunday, January 6, 2019

"Stuff happens,” as the saying goes, and it usually happens at the worst possible time. Trying to hunt for the main shut-off valve for the first time, while water is gushing across the floor from a broken pipe at one a.m. in the morning, can be a humiliating experience. So it’s a good idea to locate your main valve before a plumbing emergency.

   First, find the water meter box in the ground. It is a black plastic box more or less flush with the ground at a newer house, and a cast iron one at an older home. The box is usually located near the left or right front corner of property in most suburban homes or, sometimes near the middle at the front or between the sidewalk and the street in older neighborhoods.

   Lift the lid and look for the small disc shape just above the dirt with a raised slot on top of it, like at the arrow in the picture below. It will be on the street-side of the meter dial. If the raised slot aligns with the pipe to the house, the water is on. To turn the water off, use a pair of pliers (or any other gripping tool available) to turn it 90-degrees clockwise—so that it is perpendicular to the water service pipe, and the water valve will be shut off.

    You might also lift the cover panel to discover just dirt, and no visible meter or shut-off valve. 

    This happens because the meter box is open at the bottom and soil migrates up into the box over time, filling it up. You may have to dig out a layer of dirt to get down to it.

   Older valves require some muscle-power to close. There is a tool you can buy at home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot (see photo below), that has a tall T-shaped handle and tip that fits around the raised slot, to give you extra leverage for a stubborn valve.

    Some homes also have a shut-off valve in the ground near the house near the front wall of the home or behind an access panel in the wall of the garage or utility room, like in the photos below. The valve may be buried inside a 6-inch diameter vertical plastic pipe that protrudes from the ground a few inches near the front of the home and often directly below a hose faucet. If it hasn’t been used for a while, you may have to reach in and pull out a layer of leaves and debris to reach the valve. These valves may be easier to access than the meter, but sometimes become frozen over time from corrosion or lack of use, and you might have to resort to using the valve at the meter.

   Condominiums often have a water shut-off valve located somewhere around the wall behind the water heater. In the photo below, the right (white) valve shuts off all the water to the unit and the left (red) valve shuts off only the water supply to the water heater. 

    Wherever it turns out to be, now is the time to locate it. If you have a mobile home, see our blog post How do I shut off the main water service in a mobile/manufactured home? 

    And, one last thing, if the meter box cover is purple or a faded purplish-pink, it’s not your main water meter for potable (drinking) water in the home. The color indicates that the box houses a meter for the recycled water for landscape irrigation. The cover will also be embossed with the words “RECLAIMED WATER - DO NOT DRINK.” To learn more, go to our blog post Why is the cover plate of some water meter boxes in the ground painted purple? 

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Here’s links to a collection of our other blog posts about PLUMBING:

How can I protect my pipes to keep them from bursting during a hard winter freeze in North Florida?

Why is the vacuum breaker at my hose faucet leaking, gushing water, or making funny sounds?

What are the code requirements for plumbing vent terminations?

What are the code requirements for layout of drain piping under sinks?

Why is there sand in the bottom of my toilet tank?  

What causes a gurgling sound when a bathtub or sink drains? 

Are drop-in toilet bowl cleaner tablets safe?

What can I add to my septic tank to help it work better? 

Why is there mold inside my toilet tank?  

What are the pros and cons of a wall-mounted toilet?

Which plumbing fixtures require water shut off valves in a home? 

How can I tell if a house is connected to a septic tank system or sewer?

Are plastic pipes (PVC, CPVC, and PEX) safe for drinking water? 

Why is a backflow preventer required on lawn sprinkler systems? 

How can I locate my septic tank?

Is a hot water faucet handle required to be on the left? 

Can you live in a house while the plumbing is being replaced?

Why is the European-style bottle trap not approved by the plumbing codes in the U.S.? 

Why can't PVC be used for water pipe inside a house?

What are the common problems to look for when the plumbing has been replaced in a house? 

What's that powdery crust on the pipe connections at the water heater? 

How can I tell what type of plumbing pipe I have?

What causes low water pressure in a house?

Should I call a plumber or septic tank contractor when my septic tank backs up into the house? 

How do I get rid of the sewer gas smell in my house?  

What are the pipes on my roof? 

Should I wrap the water heater with an insulation blanket? 

My water bill went way up last month. How do I look for a leak?

Why does the water have a rotten-egg smell in some empty houses? 

What is an "S-Trap" under my sink? Why is it a problem? 

Where is the septic tank? Are you going to inspect it? 

What does polybutylene pipe look like? Why is it a problem?

Which water pipes are an insurance problem and possibly uninsurable? 

• Does a home inspector check the plumbing under the floor slab?

• Is it alright to disconnect the washing machine drain from the septic tank and divert it to the ground in the yard?

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