Find Your House's Water Cut Off Valve

Water shutoff valve
Know where to locate your house's shut off valve to prevent interior flooding. Mike Kemp/Getty Images

Water gushing uncontrolled through your house is hazardous, unsafe, and will quickly cause major flood damage to your home's interior. As long as that water is coming from your home's water supply, you can shut it down very fast. Begin with these actions:

1. Physically Search for the Cut Off Valve

Search for your house's main water cut off or shut off valve. Stay on the inside of the house and look around the perimeter of the house, on the side facing the street.

Your water main begins at the street and heads in a straight line to your home. When you find the valve, turn the handle or knife-style valve clockwise.

2. Search Your Property Inspection Report

If you still cannot find the cut off valve after physically searching for it, an alternative is to check the property inspection report that was completed for you when you were in the final phases of purchasing your home. Look at Section 6.1. It should locate the cut off valve for you plus have a photo of the valve. Find the valve, then turn it clockwise.

3. Locate the Streetside Valve

There is another valve located at the beginning of your water main, at the boundary line of your property and the street or sidewalk. Find the ground-level metal or plastic utility box trap door located at ground level. Call the water company's 24-hour emergency contact line. Staff may direct you to shut off the valve by yourself or to wait for an emergency dispatch team.

If directed to turn off the valve, you may find two valves in the utility box. One valve will be closer to your house, while the other valve will be closer to the street. With a wrench, turn the house-side valve clockwise.

Turning off Water in Your Home: Detailed Instructions

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.

In all homes, you can shut off the water at the main water cut off valve. This turns off water to the entire house, even outside spigots. Luckily, many newer homes have a number of upstream cut off valves that you can use, short of shutting off all water to the house.

Try to Cut off Water Close to Source

If you have a leak in your toilet, sink, clothes washer, or bathtub (with exposed plumbing), your first option should be to shut off water close to 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, as most shut off valve handles are plastic and can easily break.
  • Sink: Look under the sink cabinet. You will see two sets of flexible metal tubing. Turn the handles on both valves clockwise to shut them off.
  • Clothes Washer: Some houses have the valves clearly exposed above and behind the washer. If this is the case, turn both valves clockwise to shut them off. 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.

Water Main: Locate Water Cut Off Valve Within the House

Shutting off the water at the cut off valve located within the house is the best option.

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 located outside, it should be easy to access and will not involve special tools or digging.

  • Inside Perimeter: In most cases, the cut off valve will be near the perimeter of the house.
  • Ground Level: Keep your focus on-grade. So, if you are in a basement, you will be looking at eye level or above. If on a ground level floor, you will be looking down.
  • Straight Line: Imagine a straight line extending from your outdoor water meter to the nearest point of your home's exterior perimeter. Water lines will 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 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 that 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.

Water Main: Locate Water Cut Off Valve Outside by Meter

If the previous two options fail, try to shut off the water main outside.This will cut off all water in the house. This is the most drastic 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 the sand or dirt. If you live in a climate that freezes in the winter, this sand or dirt is required to prevent the pipes from freezing and bursting. After clearing the box, you will see three things:

  • Water Meter: This is 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 Cut Off Valve: This will be on the street side of the water meter. 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 wrench on this, you will find it exceedingly difficult to turn. Also, there may be legal ramifications associated with turning off the water company valve.
  • 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.