Working Valves make for Happy People

Imagine your water heater sprung a leak but when you try to turn the valve at the water inlet to the water heater off you find it is so old and full of mineral build up that you can’t get the handle to turn. Realizing that the water heater will keep leaking until you somehow shut its water supply off you remember you can also turn the water off to the entire house at the shut off valve on the water main. After having to think for a bit where the water main and the valve is situated you recall its location but when you get there you see that that valve is in even worse condition than the one on the water heater. After several failed attempts of turning the handle to turn the water to the house off you start to feel a little bit desperate. The only thing left to do at this point is to call your water company and have them come out and shut the water off at the curb. Meanwhile the water heater has been leaking the entire time…

old gate valve with mineral build up

Granted, this is the worst case scenario – but it is not unheard of. You might have to deal with a major flood in a situation that could have been easily prevented. Let’s go through the steps to make sure that that never happens to you.

Undoubtedly, the most important shut off valve is the one on the water main coming into your house. If this one is in working condition you can turn the water off to the entire house at any time and stop any water leak, no matter if the leak is at your water heater, due to a cracked pipe in the wall or at your toilet that won’t stop overflowing. Once that one is in working order check your valves at your water supply lines going to all of your plumbing fixtures. There should be one at each toilet, one at the water heater, one at the water line inside the house for the irrigation system, one at the ice maker line for the fridge, and one at the dishwasher water supply line. There should be two for every faucet, one at the hot and one at the cold water supply line.

Now, let’s talk about what kind of shut off valve is best to have installed. The traditional models feature a round handle or a knob that you have to turn multiple times before it shuts off the water completely. Those are called gate valves. The gate is lifted to open the valve and is returned down to its original position to close the valve (see picture above). Nowadays you have the ¼ turn shut off valves that require – as the name implies – only a quarter turn to shut the water off. These use a ball inside the valve which is being rotated around its axis by ninety degrees in order to block the water flow. They are also named ball valves. They have either an oval shaped knob or a longer handle which makes them a lot easier to operate (see pictures below). Also, since it’s just a ¼ turn they achieve what they are supposed to achieve much quicker than the gate valves, which – when it comes to preventing a water leak from continuing – can make a big difference.

ball valve on water heater supply line

You might have heard the term ‘stops’, like ¼ turn stops, instead of shut off valves or ball valves. They are the same thing – different names for the same item.

1/4 turn valve on water supply faucet

To sum up our findings: First, make sure you know the exact location of where the water main comes into your house and where the main shut off valve is located. Most of the time it is either in your basement or crawl space. Second, it is always a good idea to check your shut off valves regularly throughout the entire house. Exercise them at least once a year to keep them from sticking. If you find one that is not working properly give us a call and we will install a new one so that you have the peace of mind knowing that in an emergency situation you will be able to turn the water off quickly.

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