The unfortunate reality is that plumbing is quite fragile, at least in the grand scheme of things. A single leaking toilet or a burst pipe in your home can cause serious damage to your floors, walls, and more, plus it can end up costing countless thousands of dollars to repair flood damage.
Therefore, something that you should know how to do, especially for those worst-case scenarios, is how to shut off the water to your house using the main valve located on the street. If you live in a city, you should have one of these valves located in front of your home, and it’s your last line of defense if you need to shut the water off fast.
Can You Shut Off Water Using the Main Valve on the Street by Yourself?
If you need to shut off the water to your home due to an emergency, such as a burst pipe and/or flood, the first thing that you should try to do is to turn the water off inside of your own home. You should attempt to locate the water shutoff valve located in your home, which could be in the basement, a crawlspace, or somewhere along the exterior of your home.
However, this may not always be possible. You may not be able to locate the valve, or it may be broken or damaged to the point where you can no longer operate it. If this is the case, your next best choice is to find the main water shutoff valve on the street, or in other words, the city- or municipality-owned water shutoff valve that leads from the street to your home, right where the water comes in.
It is technically possible for you to turn the water off using the main valve on the street, although it may not be 100% allowed by the authorities, and it may be quite difficult.
This shutoff valve will be located near the street, so you have to find it first, and it will be inside some sort of cement box with a heavy metal lid covering it. You will likely also need some specialized tools in order to open up the compartment that contains the shutoff valve.
All of that said, it is technically possible to do it on your own. If for whatever reason you cannot do it on your own, you will need to call a plumber and/or the water company, a topic we will touch on in the below sections.
When Should You Shut Off the Main Water Valve on the Street?
As mentioned above, you should first attempt to cut off the water to your home by using the shutoff valve inside of your home, the one that you should have easy access to. Yet, this is not always possible.
If you have a burst pipe in your home that is leaking severely, causing a flood, and you are unable to fix it or have it fixed in a short amount of time, and you cannot find or operate the water shutoff valve in your home, then you may need to find the main valve on the street.
Moreover, if you happen to be leaving your home for vacation, especially during the winter when pipes can freeze and burst due to cold weather, and you cannot shut off the water using the shutoff valve in your home, then you may want to consider shutting the water off directly at the source, right at the street.
On a side note, in terms of legality or authorization, in most cases, as long as you are not behind on payments and don’t have any outstanding problems with your local water company, they should not have a problem allowing you, or more likely a licensed plumber, to access the main valve on the street. It is wise to call your water company for authorization.
However, if you are experiencing a severe flood that is causing hundreds of gallons of water to flow into your home, you are better off shutting off the water first and then calling the water company. As they say, it’s much better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission, especially because every second counts as your home floods with water and suffers severe damage.
How to Shut Off Water Using the Main Cut-Off Valve
Now, let’s take a look at how to get the job done, step-by-step.
Step 1: Locate the Main Valve
One of the hardest things here, depending on what your property looks like, will be finding the main valve to begin with. This valve is usually located in some sort of cement box, one with a heavy metal lid (so it’s not easy for just anybody to access).
This may be located right by the sidewalk, on your front lawn, or somewhere along the property line that borders the street (close to where the water from your city or municipality comes from). Remember that it should be flush with the ground. If you cannot locate it on your own, the property deed or blueprints to your home may contain the information, and if all else fails, call the water company and ask them where it is.
Step 2: Access the Compartment
That box is going to be covered by a heavy metal lid. You may be able to pry this off with just your hands and biceps alone, but chances are that you may need some kind of pry bar, such as a crowbar in order to lift it off.
Step 3: Access the Water Shutoff Valve
Once you are inside the main water valve compartment, the actual valve may or may not be exposed as-is. In most cases, the valve will be contained inside of a second box or compartment, just so that most people cannot easily access it for tampering.
Exactly how you are going to get into this compartment will depend on the specific setup that your city or municipality has created. Many of these compartments will be sealed with a pentagonal bolt (a rare five-sided bolt). These pentagonal bolts are specially chosen due to their rarity because most people do not have the appropriate tools to operate them.
That said, this will depend on the setup. There are a variety of wrenches and/or screwdrivers that you may need. Unfortunately, this is something that you won’t figure out until you get your eyes on the situation. If you do not have the appropriate tools to access the valve, call your plumber and/or the city right away.
Step 4: Shut Off the Water
The only thing left to do now is to shut the water off. The valve should be a simple turn valve, so turn it in a clockwise direction to close it and to shut off the water.
Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks
Let’s go over a few tips to help make your life easier when it comes to shutting off the water using the main line located on or near the street:
- Never ever force a valve. If it won’t move on its own with a reasonable amount of pressure, don’t try to pry or force it to move. This will very likely result in something breaking, likely leading to further flooding and damage.
- If you see that something is broken or damaged, call the city immediately. For one, it’s their responsibility to deal with it, and you definitely don’t want them footing you with the blame or the bill in case you break something (or they think you broke something).
- If you are unsure of what you are doing, and you can afford to wait a few minutes for an emergency plumber, we would recommend doing so.
If you can’t find the shutoff valve in your home, and your house is flooding with water, your only good option is to operate the main valve on the street.
In case anything ever happens that forces you to shut off the water from the main supply, we recommend familiarizing yourself with the system, where the valve is, and how to operate it. The faster you can react, the less damage and cost you will have to deal with.