A plumbing system has a variety of water shutoff valves at various points along the water pipes that allow you to turn off the water during emergencies or for repairs or upgrades. Shutting off the water is often the first step of many plumbing projects. Thus, being able to locate and turn off the appropriate water shutoff valve is very important.
Water shutoff valves can range from the main valve found near the water meter where water first enters your home to small, individual fixture shutoff valves that mark the transition from the branch water supply lines to the supply tubes that deliver water to faucets, toilets, and other appliances. Some of these valves are quite large while others are small.
Valves generally operate in one of two ways: Either a solid internal part rotates to open or block the flow of water, or some kind of stem with a washer or seal squeezes down to seal the flow of water. Our guide will cover everything you need to know about the main types.
Below, we'll break down the ins and outs of seven water shutoff valves and the factors to consider when choosing which is best for your space.
01 of 07
- Best for: Main water pipes
A ball valve is a large metal valve usually with a lever handle. It is designed to quickly turn off water, as the valve opens and closes completely with a short 1/4 turn of the handle. It can be purchased with a standard port (the valve is smaller than the pipe diameter) or a full port (the valve is the same as the pipe diameter). And it's inexpensive and durable.
This type of water shutoff valve is often seen at the main water shutoff for the home. You can recognize it because the body of the valve below the handle will usually have a thicker middle section where the ball inside fits. The internal ball has a hole through its center. When the valve is open, the hole is aligned with the direction of the water pipe, allowing water flow. When the handle is closed, the ball rotates 90 degrees, so the hole in the ball is blocked.
02 of 07
- Best for: Main water pipes
A gate valve describes the mechanism by which the valve is opened and closed. To turn a gate valve on or off, a circular handle is turned to raise or lower a metal gate inside the valve body. When the valve is off, the gate blocks the flow of water. Just like the ball valve, a gate valve is a large metal valve. And it can be used not only to stop water flow altogether but also to reduce it.
Gate valves are somewhat unusual in residential plumbing and are more common in industrial applications. But you might find one controlling your main water pipe or on another major water pipe. Sometimes they are found on the pipe leading to a hot water boiler. They are relatively durable and can range widely in cost from affordable to pricey.
03 of 07
- Best for: Water spigots, plumbing line branches
From the outside, a globe valve resembles a ball valve with a slightly bulbous metal body. And while it can be pricey, it's a durable water shutoff valve. Inside the globe valve, there is a baffle with a water flow port running through it. The handle operates a plunger with some sort of washer or seal on the bottom. As the handle closes the valve, the plunger moves down against the water-flow port and closes it off. When the handle is operated, you can often feel the plunger tighten down inside the valve.
A globe valve is used in situations where the flow of water might need to be controlled variably. It's often found controlling pipes that lead outdoors to water spigots but also can be found anywhere a branch of the plumbing line has a shutoff.
04 of 07
Angled Fixture Shutoff Valve
- Best for: Individual fixtures
Fixture shutoff valves can take many appearances, but a common one is a small silver valve with an oval handle with ribbed edges for gripping. An angled fixture shutoff valve, in particular, is used when a water pipe comes out of the wall and needs to angle straight upward to feed supply tubes running to tailpieces on a sink faucet or toilet valve. You likely will have quite a number of these valves in your home. They are inexpensive and relatively durable.
Internally, fixture shutoff valves might use a compression stem (you will feel a squeeze when closing the valve), but more common is a style that uses a small ball inside. They are available in styles that can be soldered onto copper pipes or solvent-glued onto plastic pipes. More common are compression fittings that slip over the pipe and are tightened down in place. There are also "grip-fit" types (such as SharkBite) that simply slide onto the end of a water pipe and seal by means of an inner gasket.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Straight Fixture Shutoff Valve
- Best for: Individual fixtures
A close relative of the angled fixture shutoff is a straight shutoff valve, which operates the same way but is intended for use where the water flow can run straight to the fixture. It's often used where a water pipe comes up out of the floor rather than out from the wall.
Like the angled fixture shutoff valve, it is inexpensive and somewhat durable. And it's made of metal with a small handle that allows you to easily open or close off the flow of water.
06 of 07
- Best for: Sprinkler lines
A stop-and-waste valve is a key irrigation fitting to help keep sprinkler lines from freezing in the winter. It's made of metal and has two openings: one to open and close the flow of water (stop) and the other to allow water to drain from the line (waste).
For a sprinkler system, the valve is buried in the ground below the freeze line and turned on and off with a special key. When it's turned off, the waste hole opens to allow the line to drain. These valves are moderately expensive and durable as long as they are buried appropriately.
07 of 07
- Best for: Water supply tubes
Although no longer allowed by building codes in many areas, your home might have one or more needle valves, also called saddle valves. These are normally used to connect a water supply tube to a refrigerator, water filter, or other appliance. They work by clamping onto a water pipe and then forcing a hollow needle into the pipe to tap the water. A flexible copper or plastic supply tube is connected to the fitting on the valve to bring water to the appliance.
Needle valves are not regarded as very dependable or durable valves, and they can range widely in cost. Most codes now require that this kind of connection be made with a standard fixture shutoff valve instead.
Choosing a Water Shutoff Valve
When choosing a water shutoff valve, one of the most important factors to consider is whether you want to be able to partially or just fully restrict the water flow. For example, ball valves are non-variable, all-or-nothing valves that fully turn the water on or off quickly and reliably. They are used for residential and industrial applications to start and stop water flow without a pressure drop. On the flip side, globe valves allow for more variable flow, but they can create a pressure drop.
Another important factor to consider is the location of the valve. This is especially true of fixture valves. You'll need to note whether your specific fixture requires a straight or angled valve, depending on the location of the pipes.