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Emergency Shutoffs

Every homeowner should know how to turn off the water, electrical and gas utility systems for the home in the event of an emergency.
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Whether a homeowner is on town water, uses natural gas, or heats with fuel oil or propane, the best source of information for shutting off any of these services in the event of an emergency is the utility company itself. “Every house is different,” says Becky Marquis, deputy director of the Ready Campaign

Knowing how to shut off gas in your home is critical during emergencies.
Knowing how to shut off gas in your home is critical during emergencies.
initiated by the Department of Homeland Security. The main water valve for one house may not be located in the same place as a house down the street. Regional construction differences make it difficult to generalize the location and procedure for every utility shutoff. If in doubt about a shutoff detail, a homeowner should always call the experts. For those using propane or fuel oil for heating needs, a call to the company who supplies your fuel should get you the answer.

Burst pipes, leaks, preparation for natural disasters and other situations can require the water to be shut off. For houses serviced with municipal water, the shutoff may be located on the outside or inside of the home. On the home’s exterior, homeowners should look for the main inlet pipe, which may have a faucet handle or a blade handle. Sometimes this pipe also has an outdoor spout attached for lawn watering purposes. Faucet handles close by turning clockwise, and blade handles most commonly close by turning the handle until it is perpendicular to the pipe. Some main water valves require a wrench to shut off, and this valve might be located away from the home. Locating the shutoff valve and making sure it is not covered or concealed by shrubs or other vegetation is important.

If the home does not have an exterior shutoff handle, homeowners should look in the basement or crawlspace near the place where the inlet pipe enters the home. Often, the main shutoff handle can be located there. Garages are common locations as well.

Homes that are supplied water by a private well will have a pressure tank with a pump that draws water in from the well. This system is powered, so cutting power to the pump at the main circuit panel will stop the draw of water into the home. Some tanks may have a separate disconnect unit near the tank itself. Power can be turned off here, too.

However, there should also be a main shutoff valve located between the tank and the pipe that feeds the rest of the house. (If there is not, one should be installed.) This valve (commonly with a blade handle) can, and should, be turned to the off position to prevent the contents of the tank from leaking into the home if there is a leak present. If a leak occurs between the tank and the rest of the home, the contents of the tank will empty through the leak if the shutoff valve is not turned.

If shutting off the home’s water is necessary for the preparation of a natural disaster like a hurricane, it is a good idea to drain the water in the pipes as well by opening a valve somewhere in the home until there is no pressure in the lines. “That way, if there is damage, there won’t be pressure to cause flooding in the home,” says Bill York, an engineering consultant in Florida who has done work for the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH). York, who works in a hurricane-prone area of the country, also advises homeowners preparing for a storm to plug any floor drains with an inflatable rubber bladder to prevent sewage from backing up into the home. “The bladders can be purchased at a plumbing supply store or in the plumbing section of a hardware store,” says York.

Individual plumbing fixtures like toilets and sinks will also have their own shutoff valves. The toilet shutoff valve is usually located just behind the toilet, and sink shutoff valves are found under the counter on both the hot and cold feed pipes.

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