How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

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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 SHUT-OFF VALVES:

How do I shut off the main water service in a mobile/manufactured home?

• Where do I find the main water shut-off valve for my condominium?

• Does a home inspector locate the main water shut-off valve?

• Does a home inspector check and test shut-off valves? 

Does a water heater need a shut-off valve?

• Does code require a water shut-off valve at toilets?

• Does code require a water shut-off valve at sinks?

• Does code require a water shut-off valve at showers?

• Does code require a water shut-off valve at bathtubs?

Does code require a water shut-off valve for dishwashers?

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

Does a refrigerator water supply line require a shutoff valve behind it?

Is it alright to have a shut-off valve on both the hot and cold water pipes at a water heater?

• Is a shut off valve in-line on a supply line to a plumbing fixture acceptable? 

Is a shut-off valve required at the cold water inlet to a mobile home water heater?

• What is the average life expectancy of plumbing fixture water shut-off valves? 

 Is a sink or toilet shut-off valve behind an access panel approved by code?

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