How To Shut Off Water In An Emergency

There are few things that cause a homeowner’s heart to race faster than a bona fide plumbing emergency. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to prepare for a plumbing emergency before you have one on hand.
Your home’s plumbing system may seem like a complicated maze of pipes and drains but the system can be broken down into its two major functions: bringing fresh, clean water into the home and taking waste water away from the home.
Let’s start with the clean side of the system. The “head end” of your home’s plumbing starts at the water meter. In most older Boston homes, you have an indoor meter that connects the home to the municipal water supply.
Immediately after the meter, you should find a large shutoff valve. In a plumbing emergency, if you can think of nothing else, think of this valve! The valve resembles the shut-off for an outside hose connection, or looks like a lever. Turn the valve clockwise to shut the water off; turn it counterclockwise to turn the water back on. (You can also use the old “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” mnemonic to help you remember what to do in a panic.) If you close this valve, you’ll shut off the water service to your home. No faucets or water-consuming appliances will get flowing water when the main shut-off is closed- unless the valve doesn’t work.
It doesn’t hurt to practice shutting off the main valve. You can also tell whether the main shutoff turns easily or not. If the main shutoff doesn’t turn easily, you may want to have this valve replaced.
Why am I going for “the kill” first here? In a perfect world, each sink, toilet, shower, washing machine, water heater, dishwasher, icemaker, and outside faucet would have its own shutoff. In the real world, homeowners and handy-people add plumbing fixtures and appliances without taking the time to add shut-off valves, even though they’re required by code. Even when these valves are present, sometimes sediment or mineralization occurs in these valves and can render them useless.
Take a tour of your home’s plumbing system. Identify those fixtures that have their own shutoffs and test each one to determine whether or not it works. If the valve shutoff spins freely in your hand, it’s broken and won’t help in an emergency. Replace these duds when you find them; they’re of no value and could cause you to waste precious time in an emergency. Likewise, if the valve is stuck, get rid of it. You’re more likely to snap it off during an emergency than you are to get it to work properly.
Also identify the fixtures that don’t have independent shutoff valves and consider installing them. You can use these secondary shutoff valves to isolate your plumbing fixtures and water-consuming appliances in an emergency or during routine maintenance.
If you don’t know how to install shutoff valves or find that the job is too big for you, Boston Standard Plumbing can help. We can inspect your main and secondary shutoff valves, tell you which ones are working and show you how to maintain your valves to keep them in good working order. We can also inspect valves on any gas appliances in your home to keep them in good working order.