Shutting off the water supply in your home is usually necessary when you are making plumbing repairs to any of the fixtures or pipes in your home's plumbing system. There are at least three different places you can shut off the water, and your choice of locations will depend on where the leak or the plumbing repair needs to occur. Generally, it will require no tools at all to simply shutting off the water.
Here are several locations where water can be shut off, and how to choose the right one.
Turning the Water off at the Fixture or Appliance
If a faucet is dripping or a toilet is running—or if a leak develops in a refrigerator ice maker, dishwasher, washing machine, or any appliance supplied by water—your first and best choice is to shut off the water right at that fixture or appliance. By shutting the water off locally in this way, other fixtures in your house can continue to operate unaffected while you take your time to make the repair.
The fixture shut-off valves will differ in appearance and location, but generally, they will be very close to the fixture or appliance.
- For sink faucets, look for the shutoff valves located below the sink, near where the water supply tubes run up to the tailpieces on the faucet. Any faucet that supplies both hot and cold water will have two valves—one for the hot water supply and one for the cold.
- For toilets, there will be a single shut-off valve (a toilet uses only cold water), usually located near the floor below the water supply valve on the bottom of the toilet tank. This supply valve is usually near the bottom left side of the toilet tank.
- For showers/tubs, look around the tub or shower for an access panel. It may be on the other side of the wall from the tub or shower. If it is not found behind an access panel, then it may be located under the floor in the basement or a ceiling access panel in the floor below.
- For dishwashers, the water supply tube running to the dishwasher often has a fixture shutoff valve controlling it. In many cases, this is also located under the kitchen sink base cabinet, and it may be near the sink faucet shut-off valves.
- For refrigerator ice makers/water dispensers, the small copper or mesh supply tube running to the refrigerator usually has a small saddle valve or fixture shutoff valve that can be shut off to close down the water supply. In some cases, the supply tube running to the refrigerator may tap into a water supply line beneath the sink, near where the sink faucet supply tubes are attached.
- For clothes washers, there is most often a water supply valve controlling the hot water inlet hose and another controlling the cold water. These may be located on a utility sink if your laundry has one, sometimes in a recessed water supply valve box set into the wall near the washing machine. This can be turned off whenever you need to work on the washing machine.
You get the idea. Any fixture or appliance should be equipped with some local shut-off valves.
But if you don't find the shut-off valves, don't worry. You can shut off the water by turning off the main water supply valve near the water meter. That location is described below.
Some homes are equipped with branch valves that can be used to shut off the water supply to selected branch lines in the home. These valves will be located along the main branch pipes and are located in accessible utility areas. For example, water pipes feeding outdoor hose faucets are very often controlled by in-line valves that control only the pipes running to the outdoor faucets.
Turning the Water off at the Water Heater
When a hot water pipe is leaking, or if you need to repair or replace a water heater, there are shut-off valves located near your water heater.
A water heater has two shut-off valves. A cold water inlet valve (often identified by a blue handle) feeds cold water from the main supply into the water heater. This is the valve to shut off if you need to repair or replace the water heater.
The hot water outlet pipe also has a valve that will shut down all hot water leaving the water heater. You can shut off this valve if you have a leak in a hot water pipe somewhere in the house since this valve effectively controls all hot water in the home. Often, this valve is coded with a red handle to indicate it controls hot water. This convenient color coding is important, because often the cold water inlet pipe and the hot water outlet pipe are often very close to one another, and they would be hard to tell apart without this color coding.
Turning the Water Off at the Main Shutoff Valve
If your leak is somewhere in the main branch line, or if there is no fixture shut-off valve near the fixture you need to repair or replace, find the main shut-off valve for the home. This is usually found in a utility space near where the main water line enters the house, or on an outside wall near the water meter. This valve will always be located on the house-side of the water meter and it is usually a rather large valve.
This valve rarely gets closed, so it may be a little stiff to operate.
After shutting off the main shut-off valve, if you open the lowest faucet in your home (such as in a basement or a foundation-level outdoor faucet) and also the highest faucet in the home, it will allow water standing in the plumbing system to drain away. This means the water supply pipes will be empty of water, which can prevent water from spilling out when you begin your work on them.
Turning the Water off at the Water Meter
Finally, you may also be able to shut off the water at the water meter itself. Water meter boxes sometimes have two shutoff valves, one on the customer side and one on the city side of the meter. This should be a last resort, because in many communities there are ordinances that frown on homeowners touching any part of the plumbing system positioned on the street side of the water meter. The plumbing lines beyond the meter technically belong to the city, so you should not touch this valve unless there is no other option—such as if the main shut-off valve on the house side is non-existent or doesn't work.