Quick Guide: First find your water shut-off within your house, somewhere along the perimeter and maybe behind an access door. Failing that, go to the water meter near the street and turn off the valve on the house side of the water line.
If you have a water leak or just need to turn off the water in your home for remodeling or repairs, you must turn off your water upstream at some point. Luckily, many houses--especially newer houses--have a number of upstream cut-off points. Begin with the nearest cut-off and work outward. Here is the progression you should follow.
Before Anything Else, Try to Cut Off Water Close to Source
If you have a leak at your toilet, sink, clothes washer, or bathtub (with exposed plumbing), you'll want to shut off the water at the source.
- Toilet: Look under the toilet, against the wall. You will see flexible metal tubing. Turn the handle clockwise until the handle stops. Do not force.
- Sink: Look under the sink cabinet. You will see two sets of flexible metal tubing. Turn clockwise.
- Clothes Washer: Some houses have the valves clearly exposed above and behind the washer. Turn both valves clockwise. If you do not see these valves, slide the washer outward and you will likely see them.
- Bathtub: Bathtubs with exposed plumbing will have shut-off valves clearly visible. Turn both valves clockwise.
1. Locate Shut-Off Valve Within the House
This is the best way to shut off water in your house. It will cut off your home's entire water supply, allowing you to open up any pipe within the house. Unlike the main water valve (see below), it should be easy to access and not involve special tools or digging.
But where is it? Put on your detective's hat for this one. Suggestions:
- Inside Perimeter: It will almost certainly be near the perimeter of the house.
- Ground Level: Keep your focus on-grade. So, if you're in a basement, you'll be looking at eye level or above. If on a ground level floor, you'll be looking down.
- Path of Least Resistance: Make a mental straight line extending from your outdoor water meter to the nearest point of your home's exterior perimeter. Water lines will usually take the shortest path to get to a house. Where that line meets your house is likely where the house's shut-off is located.
- Check Your Inspection Report: If you still have your property inspection report from when you purchased the house, it should indicate the location of the shut-off valve. Inspection reports often follow a standardized format, so you may find this information located in Section 6.1.
- Access Panels: Look for any kind of access panel. Water cut-off valves are not supposed to be sealed up behind drywall. However, your home's previous owner may have unwisely sealed the valve behind a wall. Most homeowners--and any legitimate contractor--will create an access panel around the valve.
- Where It Is Not: It is likely not under a sink. The shut-off to the water heater may look promising, but that only affects the outflow of hot water from that point. Do not confuse the gas shut-off to the furnace or water heater with water lines,.
2. Locate the Main Shut-Off Value Outside By the Water Meter
If the previous two options fail, try to shut off the water main outside. Like option #2, this will cut off all water in the house. This is the most rigorous option and will involve tools, and possibly even tools that you do not have on hand. It is dirty work and may involve digging.
Locate the round, square, or rectangular steel or iron lid. Lift the lid and set the lid to the side. If there is dirt or sand, remove gently with your hand or a garden trowel. Do not discard. If you live in a climate that freezes in the winter, this sand/dirt is required to prevent the pipes from freezing and bursting.
After clearing the box, you will see three things:
- Water Meter: a glass-covered meter that may have a secondary cover to protect the glass. Ignore this as it has nothing to do with shutting off the water.
- Water Company's Shut-Off Valve: this will be on the street side of the water meter. See attached image. This turn-off is designed so that only the water company can turn it off with a special tool. Do not turn this off. Even if you manage to get a Vise-Grip or Crescent wrench on this, you would find it exceedingly difficult to turn.
- Your Shut-Off Valve: this will be on the house side of the water meter. It may have a knob for turning or it may have a nut. There is no standard size for this nut. For example, mine is 3/8" and requires a ratchet wrench with an extender for access. Turn this clock-wise.