How to Shut Off Your Water in an Emergency

Water Shut Off

Emergency Water Shut Off

If you own a home, the last thing you want is a water emergency. Frozen pipes, leaks, low or no water pressure, or a pump that is starting and stopping multiple times a minute can cause major damage to your water system, and potentially, your home. While you might not have the experience to fix the problem, one thing you should know is how to shut off your water in these scenarios, or if you are leaving your home for an extended period of time. This will prevent the problem from exacerbating and causing unnecessary damage. There are some steps to shutting off the water to your home and these steps can be different, depending on whether you have city or well water.

Water Shut Off

Shutting Off Your City Water

Shutting off the main valve that controls all the water for your home is the best protection against catastrophic water damage. Everyone in your home should know where the main water shutoff valve is located so they can stop the water in an emergency. Many city water meter setups have two valves, one on the street side of the meter and one on the house side. 


Shutting Your Water Off From the Inside

If you have a basement, the shut-off valve is typically located near the front foundation wall. The main water may come through the concrete floor or through the wall. The valve is typically within 3-5 feet of where the main water enters. In some cases, the main water may enter in a different area, like a mechanical room, up through the floor, near the water heater or furnace. If you have a crawl space, the shut-off valve will typically be located near the water heater or under the kitchen sink. If it is in the crawlspace itself, you may want to consider a secondary valve located up in the living space (near the water heater or under a sink). If your home is on a slab, the shut-off valve will typically be located near the water heater or under the kitchen sink, but anywhere is possible.

What Kind of Valve Do You Have?

Water Shut Off Valve

Once you find the shutoff, you will need to determine which kind of valve you have. There are two types of main shutoff valves: the gate valve and the ball valve.

The Gate Valve

The gate valve is common in older homes and has a round handle that must be turned a number of times to open or close the valve. Gate valves are designed to be fully open or fully closed. Water flowing through a partially open gate valve can wear away the metal and cause the valve to fail over time. Gate valves are very reliable and last for years, but they become difficult to turn after not being turned for years. If you haven’t closed the main shutoff valve since you moved into your house, do it now. Better to find out that you can’t turn it with your bare hands now than to wait until you’re standing in 6 inches of water.

The Ball Valve

The ball valve is more common in newer construction and has a lever handle that needs to be turned 90 degrees to turn the water on or off. Houses with plastic or copper main water pipes leading into the house may have a full-flow ball valve. This valve is open when the handle is aligned with the pipe. To close it, turn the handle clockwise 1/4 turn so that it’s at a right angle to the pipe. You can immediately tell if it is open or not: In the closed position, the lever is perpendicular to the pipes; in the open position it is parallel. Turn on a faucet somewhere in the house and shut off the main water valve. All water flow should stop. An old gate valve can break, so be gentle when you’re handling it. If the valve is stuck, leave it alone and call a professional.


Shutting Your Water Off From the Outside

If you are having issues outside your home—like a leak that is pooling up on the ground—you will need to shut off the water coming from the city water main. Your supply line is usually near the end of your property line in a covered box within a “meter pit” underground. This pit will have a cover, sometimes made of steel or concrete.

In order to shut the water off from the meter pit, you will need special tools called a water meter key and curb stop key. You can purchase these at your local hardware store or online. The water meter key opens the lid to your meter pit and the curb stop key is used to turn the valve inside the pit. Once you fit the meter key into the “lock,” turn it counter-clockwise, and then tilt the key toward the outer edge of the box to lift the lid open.

Water Shut Off


Be Careful When Opening the Water Meter Pit Box.

Sometimes, small critters, reptiles, bugs, and other surprises are waiting for you. Use the curb stop key to shut off the water by turning the ball valve 1/4 turn to make it perpendicular to the water pipe. If the ball valve is parallel, it is ON; if it is perpendicular (90° angle), it is OFF. Be sure not to tamper with the city shut-off side or the meter itself. It is illegal to tamper with, obstruct access to, or remove a water meter. Be very careful, and if you have any doubts at all, call a professional.


Shutting Off Your Well Water

If you have a well, it is just as important to know how to turn your water off. Fortunately, this is much simpler than shutting off city water. It should be as simple as shutting off the breaker that controls your well pump. Your breaker box is usually found in a garage, mechanical room,  or even laundry room. When you shut off the breaker to your well pump – make sure it’s the right switch and only dedicated to only the pump and not something else – as well as the isolation valve on the supply line, when you are not in the home for more than a few days. This is a good safety measure to take any time of year that you leave the home for an extended period of time. In the event of any type of leak, the house won’t flood and suffer potentially catastrophic damage. 


Call a Water Professional

Once you shut off the water and the immediate risk is stopped, you’ll want to call a professional to fix the problem. C&J Water can help you solve all your well issues and get your system up and running in no time. You can also request a free water analysis to find out what is in your water. Contact us today with any questions or concerns!