Water 101: Know how to shut off the water main.

In a previous post, I mentioned that my water line broke and we had trouble getting it turned off.

Knowing how to turn your water off is a basic home ownership skill that everyone should have.  Here are the basics.

Ideally, every home has two water main turnoffs, one inside the house and one on the outside of the house.  The valve on the inside of the house may or may not exist, it really depends on how old the house is.  Here’s an example of what it might look like:

I chose this picture because it shows two types of valves, a quarter turn valve (the one the arrow is pointing at) and a regular valve (on the spigot).  You could see either of these types in your home.
Even if you don’t have an indoor water shutoff valve, you definitely have one on the outside of the house.  Walk around the edge of your property and look for a cast iron box like this one:
CWM stands for “City Water Meter”

This metal plate is the hatch on your water valve.  If you lift the cover off you’ll find a shutoff valve as well as a dial.  This is the dial the city reads every month or two to determine usage.  If you can’t find your meter call: 206-684-5800 and they’ll help you locate it.

Underneath the metal cover, you’ll see the water meter and an access valve, if you have a modern valve, it’ll look like this:

This is the “modern” style valve.  Turning it is easy, use a crescent wrench or vice grip and rotate so that the two holes line up, that puts it in the “off” position.  This meter is currently in the “on” position.
But what if you have the old style?  If you don’t have this kind of valve, then your valve requires a special tool, a water valve key.  Unfortunately, keys come in a bunch of different styles, I *think* the old style Seattle one is the pentagon style key.  Be warned though, the old valves are easy to break, when the city came to turn off the water on mine, they broke it twice trying to turn it off.  A better option is to call city utilities at 206-684-5800 and see if you can talk them into switching you to the new style.  Otherwise, when you do need it off, you’ll have to call the city emergency number: 206-386-1800.  They use the term “emergency” real loosely, in my case, it took them a few hours to get to my house and this was in the middle of the day.

3 Replies to “Water 101: Know how to shut off the water main.”

  1. Hi, I have the exact same faucets like yours in my basement, ie a lever type that turns off water for the whole house and another round type which I am not sure what it is for. May I know what the round faucet does for you? And, do you have a separate faucet that only turns the outside water off? If so, where is it? I can’t find my valve for the outside faucet. If I turn off the level type valve, I will have no water at all for my house. Thanks for your advice.

    1. The quarter turn valve turns off water to the whole house. The other knob is for a spigot.

      You may not have to go to the street to turn off the outside spigots.

    2. Thanks! So you also don’t have a valve that turn off just the outside faucet? In this case, I guess I just have to drain the garden hose, put it away, drain the remaining water left in the outside faucet (with the water supply for the whole house temporarily turned off) and turn the water supply back on? Will that be sufficient? Sorry I am totally new to this plumbing stuff.

      Thanks again for your advice.

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