Water problems are some of the scariest issues to deal with as a homeowner. If a leak starts, you need to know how to jump into action before serious water damage occurs.
One way to help prepare is to ensure you and your family know where the main water shut-off for the home is located.
In most cases, particularly in newer homes, the shut is easy to find and well labeled. However, sometimes this is not the case. Many times the shut-off is hidden behind an access panel or deep within a crawlspace.
In this article, we lay out a few quick tips to help find your water shut off in any home.
Two Different Types of Main Water Shut Offs
Ball Valves – These valves have a roughly 2-inch handle that is wrapped in grip material. These are the standard valves used today. The water is controlled by a rotating ball that has a hole through the center on one side.
Gate Valves – Gate valves are older valves that look like old hose spigots. They usually have a colored circular handle and control water flow by pushing a rod into the pipe’s opening. These valves are prone to leaks when they are older, and we recommend replacement as a maintenance item.
Step 1: Start By Finding the Source
To figure out where to start looking, start by analyzing which side of the home the water line runs into.
In a standard house with water provided by the city or a utility company, the water line will be branched off a larger underground city line outside of your house. The mainline is typically under the street in front of your house. However, in older neighborhoods where there is an alley behind the home, the water main could be running under the alley.
The water line will run from the city main into a water meter. The water meter can usually be seen when walking around your property. Look for a metal cap that has markings from your water provider on it. If you can find this meter, you’ll know which side of the home your water line runs into.
Finding a water meter can be almost as difficult as finding a shut-off at times, so if you cannot find the meter, use your best judgment with the tips above. On occasion, the water meter is within the home near the shut-off.
For homes that are on a well system, this step is even more important. More on that below.
Step 2: Enter the Lowest Level Of The Home
Water lines run at a minimum of 6 feet underground to prevent the pipe from freezing. Because of this, the waterline always enters the home at the lowest level.
If this is a crawlspace, then enter the crawlspace and scan the side of the home that was determined in the previous step. You will be looking for a larger metal pipe coming out of the ground with a shut-off handle close by. Congrats! You found your shut-off. These older shut-off points in crawlspaces are not very convenient, so there may be a secondary shut-off farther down the line. We recommend you follow the pipe to find the first place it enters the livable space and check the other side of the floor/wall.
If the lowest level is a basement, which is most common in our state of Colorado, then head for the basement and scan the side of the home from the previous step. The water line typically enters the concrete foundation wall a few feet off the ground, and the water shut-off will likely be nearby. In an unfinished basement, this is usually pretty easy to spot.
However, if the basement is finished, the shut-off might be behind a wall. Look for small access panels that are spring-loaded and can be slid over to reveal items behind the drywall.
If there is insulation behind an access panel, check under the insulation as well.
We have seen really creative ways to hide these panels so keep looking. It is almost always going to be on the same side of the home as the water main and meter.
If the house is slab-on-grade with no basement or crawlspace, then the shut-off can really be anywhere on the main floor. There will likely be a utility closet that contains a water heater. We see a lot of shut-offs right next to water heaters. The pipe will usually be the only pipe coming through the concrete floor.
If there is no shut-off near the water heater or in the closets, check for access panels around the perimeter of the house.
Water issues do not always occur on the supply side. Unfortunately, water problems can be caused by a backup in a sewer line. One way to ensure your sewer line is draining property is to regularly have a sewer scope inspection performed. If you live in Colorado and would like a sewer scope inspection, learn more here.
Finding the Shut-Off By Using The Sprinkler System
A small tip if you are having issues finding the shut-off is to use clues from your sprinkler system. If the home has an inground sprinkler system, the supply for the sprinkler system has to exit the house and run to a backflow preventer and the sprinkler valve box. If you know where your backflow preventer is, or where the sprinkler system exits the house, the water shut off is very likely on the other side of the wall inside.
Sprinkler systems need a large amount of pressure and because of this, they need larger pipes. The largest water pipe in your home is right where the water line enters the house, therefore, the sprinkler system is usually tapped right near the main.
Also, many contractors like to place the sprinkler shut-off near the main water shut-off as well. Use this trick if your house has an in-ground sprinkler system.
How To Locate My Main Water Shut Off In A House With A Well
Locating the main shut-off on a well supplied home can be tricky. They are less common so many homeowners are less familiar with a well system. The trick is to track down the main supply line just as we did before.
Start at your wellhead which is marked by a rounded metal cap coming out of the ground. This is where the underground pump is within the actual well. From the wellhead, there will usually be a straight pipe running directly into the home.
In the home, there will be a pressure tank. This large (typically blue) tank is used to store water pressure so your well pump has time to bring pressure into water lines. If you follow the pipes around the pressure tank, you will see a shut-off on the line entering the tank. This valve handle will be your whole house shut off.
There will also be valves around these devices to drain the system or shut it off at different points. Ensure you found the correct one by tracing the line.
Be aware that on rare occasions, the pressure tank will be outside in a small building or garage.
We hope this helps article helps you locate your main water shut-off in your home. While it can be hidden or seem trivial, as a homeowner it is your responsibility to have this information available in case a crisis strikes.
This is why we locate and document the location of every shut-off we find during our home inspections. If you are in need of a home inspection in the Colorado area, specifically Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, or anywhere in between, view our home inspection page here.
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Chris Scott is an ASHI certified home inspector with multiple years of experience in home inspections, blower door testing, duct leakage testing, and Boulder Rental License Inspections. Chris is also the Website Coordinator for Scott Home Inspection.