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Homeowner Basics: Where is My Water Shut-Off Valve?

Picture this - water from a burst pipe filling your home and you don't know how to stop it. Scary. Learn how to turn off the main water source to limit damage. 

Bursting pipe

Sure, “Where is the water shut-off valve?” may not be the first question you ask when you purchase a new home. However, it could prove to be one of the most important questions, considering how much money — and how many headaches — the location knowledge could end up saving you. Read on to find out what you need to know about your home’s main water shut-off valve.

What is a main water shut-off valve?

As you know, your home is full of plumbing. There are pipes running behind your walls and under your floors that direct water to and from your plumbing accessories, such as your faucets, toilets and bathtubs. Although most, if not all, of your accessories have their own shut-off valves located close to them (under the sink for the faucet, for example), there is a way to ensure all the house’s plumbing is turned off at one time. That’s where the main water shut-off valve comes into play. For typical city dwellings, there are actually two main shut-off valves: one that the city controls outside of your house and one that you can control inside the house. The city’s valve is always located on the street side of your water meter, often near the edge of your yard. Since it is not advisable to tamper with the city’s valve, we’ll only focus on your indoor valve in this article.

Related: Every Homeowner Encounters Plumbing Issues. Can You Tackle it on Your Own?

Why is my valve’s location important?

Imagine this scenario: You’ve just walked in from a long day at work only to be greeted with the sound of running water and squishing beneath your feet. You have a burst pipe. And, therefore, you have a big problem on your hands. Rather than let the water continue spewing out and making the damage — and your cost to fix it — worse while you wait for the plumber to come, you’ll want to close your inside main shut-off valve to ensure the water stops flowing.

Likewise, if you’re planning to do any remodeling to your home or dive into any plumbing ventures, such as replacing old pipes, you’ll want to make sure all the water is turned off to the house during the projects.

So where is my water shut-off valve?

Locating water shut-off valves indoors can prove to be an interesting task. Hopefully yours falls into the simple category, and you can easily find the knob or lever on a border wall. However, if it’s not so easy to locate, you’ll need to play “plumbing detective.” Lee Wallender of The Spruce suggests that your valve is likely:

  • On a perimeter wall of your house
  • At ground level, so you’ll be looking for it at eye level or above in a basement or lower on the wall if you’re on the ground level floor
  • In a straight line from your outdoor water meter
  • Noted on your property inspection report from when you purchased the house
  • Behind an access panel
  • NOT under a sink or next to the water heater

Likewise, builders often place the valves in or around main, ground-level bathrooms. That could mean that it’s not necessarily on an outside wall, but it’s in a closet near the bathroom.

Unfortunately, if you still can’t locate the valve after checking these places, it may be hidden behind a wall. Although the valves are supposed to be visible (hence the access panel option above, if it’s behind a wall), a previous owner may not have thought about the shut-off valve when he or she performed some DIY renovations. If that’s the case, be sure to have the city’s phone number on hand, so they can quickly come turn the water off at the street during an emergency.

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