How to turn off water to your house

12 minute read Published on Apr 19, 2023 by BrokerLink Communications

Open blue and closed red switches.

Knowing how to shut off the water to one’s house is extremely important. If there is ever an emergency, being able to locate the water shut off valve and stop water flow to your home can mitigate a potential disaster. Below, we cover all there is to know about turning off the water supply in your home. We explain the different types of water valves in homes, where to find them, how to turn them off, and finally, how to minimize water damage in your home.

Types of Water Valves

Before we move on to our step-by-step guide to shutting off the water supply in your home, it’s important to know what kind of water valve you’re dealing with. While there are a vast array of valves used in plumbing, there are two main types found in residential homes: ball valves and gate valves.

Ball valves are known for their durability. They are less likely to crack, leak, or seize up over time. To know whether you’re dealing with a ball valve, look for the lever-style handle. Further, the name ball valve comes from the fact that there is a ball with a hole in it within the body of the valve. When the valve is open, the lever-style handle will be parallel to the pipe, which allows the water to flow through the hole in the ball. However, if you turn the valve 90 degrees, making it perpendicular to the pipe, the ball will rotate so that water is unable to flow through the hole.

Meanwhile, gate valves have a circular handle, not a lever-style handle, that is attached via a stem to the body of the valve. How gate valves work is as follows: When you turn the circular handle, the gate inside the body of the valve closes and blocks water flow. If you turn the gate valve again, this time in the opposite direction, the gate will open and water will begin to flow again.

Where to look for the water shut off valve in your home

Now that you know what type of water shut off valve to look for, you need to know where to look. While every home is different, there are a few popular spots where the main water shutoff valve is likely to be located in a residential home. Typically, this valve is located somewhere along the main water line to your home, often at the point where it enters the home. For many properties, this translates to the basement, crawlspace, or cellar, as water lines often enter homes from underneath the home. However, if you live somewhere with a warmer or milder climate, it’s possible that the main water shutoff valve is located outdoors or even near the street. Generally speaking, we recommend checking the following areas of your home when trying to locate the water shut off valve:

  • Inside the house: Check utility areas and areas on or beneath ground level, such as the garage, laundry room, crawlspace, basement, or cellar. More specifically, if your home has a water heater, we recommend looking near the water heater. Keep in mind that if you’re looking for the water shut off valve in the basement or cellar, it may be at eye level, whereas if you’re looking for it on the main floor, it is likely located below eye level.
  • Outside on an exterior wall: If you live in a warmer climate, the shut off valve may be located on a wall outside the home. If you have an outdoor faucet or hose, start there.
  • Outside near the street: If you can’t find the water shut off valve inside your home or along any of the exterior walls, it’s time to start searching the street. Keep an eye out for an access panel buried in the ground, close to the street nearest your home. Note that if you locate an access panel, you may need a meter key to open it, which can be purchased at most hardware stores. In addition, when you gain entry to the panel, you may find two valves. Do not turn off both valves, as one may be for your home (usually on the side of the meter nearest your home), but the other may be for the city. If you aren’t sure whether the access panel on the street in front of your home houses the shut off valve for your property, contact your water utility company. They may have to take care of the shutoff valve themselves.

How to turn the water off in your home

Here comes the good part. By now, you know what kind of valve you’re dealing with and where it’s located. But this information isn’t enough. You still need to know how to turn the water off in your home. Follow along for a step-by-step guide on how to turn water off to the house:

1. Locate the main water shutoff valve

The first step is to locate the main water shutoff valve in your home. As mentioned above, all homes are different, though there are a few go-to spots where homeowners can look for their valves. If you live in a cold climate like Canada, start indoors, checking in the basement, crawl space, garage, laundry room, cellar, behind your furnace, or near your water heater. Please note that if your water shutoff valve is located in a hard-to-reach location, which they sometimes are, you may want to consider hiring a professional plumber to relocate it for you. In an emergency, you want this valve to be as easy to access as possible.

2. Turn the valve clockwise to shut off the water

The next step is to cut off the water supply to your home, which you can do by turning the valve clockwise. If the valve is a gate valve, turn it clockwise a few times until you can’t turn it anymore. If the valve is a ball valve, turn the lever-style handle clockwise 90 degrees. Valves are designed to be easy to turn off and on, so you should not require any additional tools to shut off your home’s water supply. However, if it’s stuck, fetch a pipe wrench or a channel lock wrench for extra torque. Grip the handle with the wrench and apply firm but even pressure, moving slowly to avoid damage to the valve. If you are not able to successfully turn the valve handle and shut off the water supply, contact a plumber.

3. Draining the water in your home by running the taps

Step number three is an important one. This is when you run the taps in your home to completely drain the water from your pipes, relieving any pressure on them. This step is simple. All you have to do is turn on a sink in your home at the lowest level (make sure to turn on both the hot and cold taps). This will cause any existing water in the pipes to flow out of the faucet. Leave the taps on until there is no longer any water flowing.

4. Complete the necessary repairs yourself or call a plumber

Only once the main water shutoff valve has been turned off and the water has been drained should you begin your plumbing repairs. If you have plumbing experience, you may be able to conduct these repairs yourself. However, if you do not, it’s best to call a professional plumber. Plumbing issues can be complex and if a repair is completed incorrectly, it could cause further issues, including water damage.

5. Turn the water back on

Finally, whether you completed the repair yourself or a plumber did it for you, it’s time to turn the water back on. If you hire a plumber, they will likely take care of this step. But if not, all you have to do is walk back to where the water shut off valve is located, rotate the valve counter-clockwise, and water will start flowing to any open faucets again. We recommend turning your faucets on for a few minutes to ensure the water is flowing normally before turning them off again.

Shutting off the water supply to specific household appliances

The main water shutoff valve in your home isn’t the only water valve in your home. In fact, many appliances have their own individual shut off valves. In cases of emergency, it might make sense to shut off the entire water supply to your property, in which case following the instructions above is your best bet. However, if you ever need to turn off the water to one particular appliance, such as if you are replacing the faucet in your kitchen sink or repairing your dishwasher, keep reading:

  • Toilet: To locate the shut off valve for any toilet in your home, look directly behind it or slightly to one side. This valve can be turned off if you are repairing or replacing the toilet. However, it can also be turned off in cases of emergency, such as if your toilet is clogged and about to overflow.
  • Refrigerator: Although not all refrigerators have water lines going into them, if yours does it will likely be located behind the fridge. To access it, you may need to pull the fridge out from the wall.
  • Washing machine: Look behind your washing machine or off to one side to locate the water shut off valve. You may need to pull the machine away from the wall to access it. However, you will likely need to do this anyway if you are repairing or replacing it.
  • Dishwasher: Dishwashers are another household appliance with their own water shut off valves. You will typically find the valve in a nearby kitchen cabinet or maybe under the kitchen sink.
  • Sink: Lastly, the sinks in your home will each have their own shut off valve as well. Note that in some cases, sinks may have two water lines, one for hot water and one for cold water, and both will need to be shut off before conducting any repairs or installations.

Turning off the water supply in your home to prevent water damage

There are two main reasons why homeowners need to turn off the water supply to their homes: to replace or install a new fixture or to prevent water damage. From pipes freezing and bursting to clogged and overflowing toilets, there are all kinds of plumbing issues that can happen in a home. Typically, the worst-case scenario for plumbing issues is water damage. Water damage can be severe, and plumbing issues can escalate quickly. That is why it’s so important to shut off the water supply to your home as soon as you suspect a problem. The more damage is done to your home, the more expensive it will be to repair.

If you aren’t sure whether your home is suffering from water damage, look for the following signs:

  • Visible stains on your home’s walls or ceilings, usually beige or yellow in colour and may appear in a ring pattern
  • Flaking, peeling, or bubbling paint, caused by excess moisture in the walls
  • Drywall that is soft, swollen, or warped
  • You often hear the sound of running water when no one is using the water
  • Musty or strange smells
  • Mould that is green, black, or speckled

If you notice any of the telltale signs of water damage listed above, we recommend turning off the main water shutoff valve and calling a plumber to prevent any further damage. Once the shut off valve has been turned off according to the instructions above, take photos of the affected areas to show to a plumber. Beyond calling a plumber, we also recommend calling your home insurance broker. Your insurance broker can help you submit a claim with your insurance company to give the best odds of receiving compensation for any damage done to your home. An insurance broker can also advise you on which coverage you may want to add to your policy moving forward. For instance, if water damage is something your home is prone to, whether it has old pipes or is located near a major river or lake, a broker can give you information on flood/overland water protection.

More flooding prevention tips

Mitigate water damage in your home or avoid flooding altogether by following these expert tips:

Practice turning off the main water shutoff valve in your home

Knowing where the main water shutoff valve is located in your home, as well as how to turn it off and on is crucial. Getting to the shutoff valve in time could be the difference between a minor plumbing incident and a major one. Make sure you and everyone else in your household know where this valve can be found and how to shut it off. We also recommend locating the other fixture-specific water valves in your home, such as the toilet valves, sink valves, and the dishwasher and laundry machine valves.

Maintain an internal temperature of 10 degrees Celsius to prevent frozen pipes

Winter weather can wreak havoc on the pipes in your home. If your pipes freeze in the winter, it can translate to serious water damage later on, as frozen pipes are prone to cracking and leaking. Luckily, there is a relatively simple way to avoid frozen pipes, and that is by ensuring your home maintains a minimum internal temperature of 10 degrees Celsius year-round. This means that, even if you go on vacation over the winter, you must set the thermostat so that your heating system won’t let the temperature fall below 10 degrees. For added peace of mind, you may also want to turn off the main water shutoff valve and drain your pipes completely before going away.

Install a sewer backup prevention or water leak detection device in your home

Another tip to avoid water damage in your home is to install a sewer backup prevention device or a water leak detection device (or both!) in your home. Both of these devices can help prevent major water-related incidents, such as flooding. Homeowners also have the option of purchasing a pedestal sump pump that automatically pumps out water when it rises to flood level. Any of these devices, all of which are relatively inexpensive, can make a big difference and may even make you eligible for a home insurance discount.

Proactively and regularly check for signs of water damage

Don’t wait until the worst-case scenario becomes reality. Instead, as a responsible homeowner, take the time to regularly and proactively check for signs of water damage in your home. This means keeping an eye out for flaking or peeling paint, stains or discolourations on the walls or ceilings, musty smells, the sound of running water, warped drywall, and more. Specifically, we recommend checking places near water sources, such as bathrooms, the kitchen, and the laundry room.

Schedule regular maintenance to your HVAC units and sump pump

Just like how your car needs a yearly tune-up, so too do your HVAC units and sump pumps. Regular maintenance will ensure your units are functioning as they should. If you stick to an annual maintenance schedule, you can detect any necessary repairs early, before they grow into bigger, more expensive problems, while extending their lifespans.

If you complete any major plumbing renovations or upgrades, contact your insurance company to let them know

Not only will they be happy you are maintaining and upgrading your home, whenever you upgrade a system or pipes in your home it can mean you get a small break on your home insurance.

Make sure your home insurance policy covers flood

Our final tip, ask yourself the following question: Does my insurance cover floods? If the answer is no, you may want to consider changing home insurance. Having comprehensive home insurance, especially in areas that are prone to flooding, is vital. The right coverage can save you tons of money in the event that your home suffers water damage. There are all kinds of flooding coverages that you can add to your property insurance plan, such as overland water coverage and sewer backup coverage. A BrokerLink insurance advisor can provide a detailed explanation of the flooding protection available to you, as well as help you file a claim down the road or renew a future home insurance policy. They can even give you tips on how you can qualify for a discount and save money on home insurance, such as by installing a sewer backup prevention device on your property. Contact BrokerLink for more information on how the right home insurance coverage might be the best weapon against water damage to your home.

Contact BrokerLink for more information on how to turn water off to house and how home insurance can protect you

BrokerLink has a team of property insurance specialists eager to help customers find the right coverage for their homes. For example, we can suggest coverage to protect your home against flooding, explain the difference between home insurance vs. homeowner’s insurance (hint: there is none!), and even give you tips on how to save money on house insurance, such as by obtaining a claim experience letter. At the end of the day, we specialize in dynamic, tailor-made home insurance coverage, and we want each of our customers to walk away with a policy that gives them peace of mind. For more information on BrokerLink’s home insurance services, or for advice on how to turn off the main water shutoff valve in your home, give us a call today.

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