06 Oct. 17

Household Plumbing 101: Emergency Shutoff Valves

The first thing that anyone who owns or rents a property should do, once they’ve gotten settled, is locate the emergency shutoff valve for the home’s water supply. Now, here in Chicago, it may not always be as easy as it sounds. That’s why we always advise people moving in the city to find out from their landlord or realtor where all the relevant plumbing valves are in the space. Just this simple knowledge, if things go badly, can save you untold stress and frustration if a real emergency occurred. So, let’s run through a few of the most common placements in Chicagoland:

Single-Family Residences: This category includes detached homes, most townhomes, and condos in and around Chicago. These types of residences normally have two cutoff valves – one at the water meter and one where the line enters the home, in the basement, or at the water heater itself.

Apartment Buildings: Unfortunately, depending on the building’s age, apartments don’t always have a cutoff for every unit – especially older ones. Modern building codes require it, but if you’re in an older building that’s not going to help you. One easy way to know for sure is whether or not you pay your own water bill. If so, your unit has a meter and a cutoff – just like a single-family residence. If not, your unit is probably controlled by a valve at the master unit. In an emergency, you could shut off water to the whole building if you know where to look and what to do. Best to inform the landlord and get permission to be safe. But, don’t drown in your attempt. Always be safe and protect you and your family first.

How to Shut Off the Water

In the event that you have an emergency and need to quickly shut water off from entering the home, you need to make your way to the home’s water meter. Once there, you’ll see two valves – one on the supply side of the meter (the side furthest from your home) and another on the demand side (the one closest to your home). The valve furthest from your home is the one you want to turn off to ensure all water is stopped from getting to your home and the trouble spot(s). Just remember that the water line supplies and your house demands. You turn off the supply.

Example of Toilet Shutoff Valve

Example of Sink Shutoff Valve

The vast majority of today’s plumbing fixtures come conveniently built with shutoff valves included – for both hot and cold where necessary. Toilets have them on the line that connects from the tank to the wall and is normally an oval-shaped metal knob that you turn counterclockwise to shut off. Sinks are much the same except they normally have two lines running from the bottom of the faucet assembly into the wall. Each of these lines will have a shutoff at the connector and are usually simply knobs you turn counterclockwise to shut down. It’s really just as easy as it sounds.

Tub & Shower Shutoff Valves

Shutting off the water to your tub or shower is normally a bit more difficult than your sink or toilet due to the fact that most valves and piping for these elements are hidden from casual view. In most cases they’re behind access panels recessed into walls in the bathroom or a hallway. In less than a minute of looking you’ll spot the panel and, with a screwdriver, have the cover off in no time. If you don’t spot the panel anywhere, then the valve and pipes are in the basement or in a lower floor ceiling access panel. Once you found the appropriate place and have access, just turn the valve all the way off to stop water flow.

Knowing where to cut water off is an important first step in controlling any water-based emergencies you may face in your home. It’s good thinking and could save you a bad day or night if things take the wrong turn. You can’t control everything, but, if you’re quick, you can control how much water damages your home. And, in our professional opinion, that’s a very smart move. Once you’ve got the water off, you can call Vanguard Plumbing & Sewer to come out and put your plumbing in proper shape. It’s what we do and we do it better than anyone else, so call the experts at (773) 633-6139 when you need a hand.