How to shut off the water

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When water is spraying out of a place it shouldn’t, you need to shut the water off right away. Some fixtures have their own shutoffs–usually a round knob that you turn to the right–but many don’t. If the water is coming out of a leak in a pipe, you have no choice. You need to turn off the water to the whole house. Fast!

Plan ahead

If you take a little time now to find where the main shutoff is you’ll save valuable time when you have to shut the water off quickly before it ruins the floor, the cabinets, etc.

There is a main shutoff right next to the water meter in the ground near the street if your house is in a city or suburb in a moderate climate. (In colder climates, like, I don’t know, Minnesota, your shutoff is inside the house in the basement. See below.) Look for a metal cover in the ground that looks like this.

water meter cover
Water meter cover near street

Or this.

water meter cover 2
Newer style water meter cover

Pry up the cover (you might need a screwdriver).

Inside you will see the water meter, which has an “odometer” for how much water you’ve used, and the main shutoff.

meter annotated
Inside the water meter enclosure

When the metal bar on the top of the shutoff is pointing down the pipe, like in the photo above, the valve is open and water flows. If the bar is perpendicular to the pipe, the valve is shut. Think of that bar as being in the pipe itself. If it is crosswise it will block the water.

shut off with wrench
Using a crescent wrench to turn the shutoff valve

There is a special tool for turning the shutoff valve that you or your neighbor might have. If not, use an adjustable wrench or a pipe wrench. The valve will turn only a quarter turn.

These valves can be hard to turn. You might need to tap the end of the wrench with a hammer to get it moving.

Turn it clockwise to close it and shut off the water. Counter-clockwise to open it and let the water through.

Around the globemain shutoff lever closed

Some houses will have a main shutoff knob in the basement next to a meter that you turn like a typical outdoor hose faucet. These are called “globe valves.” Keep turning to the right to turn off the water.

Inside main water shutoff and meter
Inside main water shutoff and meter
GLOBE_VALVE_8
Globe valve

Make it better

Main shutoff lever open (water flowing)
Main shutoff lever open (water flowing)

A better setup is to have a separate in-line shutoff closer to the house
or inside the house. The one shown in the picture is a simple lever model, which is called a “ball valve”, that works as described above. In this position the water is on.

To shut off the water, turn the lever a quarter turn so that it is perpendicular to the pipe as shown in the next photo.

main shutoff lever closed
Main shutoff lever closed

If you don’t have one, I recommend installing a lever-type main shutoff in the basement or crawlspace that is easily accessible. This type is very easy to open and close and it clearly shows if the water is on or off.

 

main shutoff lever closed

 

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3 thoughts on “How to shut off the water”

  1. My lever will not easily move out of the shut position. I don’t want to force it and am not sure which way it is supposed to turn but I am going to turn it a bit harder as my son just said it just should turn.

    1. Shut offs can get sticky when they are in the same position for a long time. I would apply gradually increasing pressure to the lever until it turns. Clockwise to shut off the water. Counterclockwise to turn it on. The lever will move no more than 90 degrees in either direction.

    2. I didn’t realize until recently that people weren’t getting a notice when I replied to their comments. I added a plugin that should fix that problem. Please see my earlier reply to your comment.

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