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What to Do When Your Shut-off valve Breaks

The water in your pipes is under pressure. The pressure pushes the water out, which is what gives your faucets and showers flowing water. Unfortunately, because it is under pressure when a faucet or pipe breaks or starts leaking, the water does its best to come out as fast as it can. 

A shut-off valve allows you to cut off the water supply to prevent flooding and water damage in your home, and running up your water bill. But, what if your shut-off valve is broken and doesn’t work?

Here’s everything you need to know about shut-off valves and what to do if yours doesn’t work.

shut off valve

What Is a Shut-Off Valve?

When most people hear the words shut-off valve, they think of the main water shut-off valve, which stops the water coming into your home. This is your go-to last defense against pretty much any plumbing catastrophe and should always be kept in good working order. 

Whether you have a leaking pipe, a broken shower knob, a busted water heater, or almost any other emergency you can think of, your shut-off valve is what will save you from endless water damage.

Besides the main shut-off, you also typically have shut-off valves at every toilet, faucet, and appliance in your home. These shut-off valves are perfect for any situation involving very localized issues. If you have a leaking dishwasher, broken faucet knob, or a toilet that won’t stop running, this small shut-off valve will stop water flow to just that location while preserving water to the rest of the house.

Either way, any shut-off valve can mean the difference between a minor plumbing fix and major water damage, so it’s important to check these regularly to make sure they work properly.

Types of Shut-Off Valves

The smaller shut-off valves are typically just a small metal handle you twist to close the valve and shut off water flow. You can easily find an example of one next to your toilet. 

The main shut-off valve, on the other hand, is usually a ball valve, identifiable by a large lever or handle, often red, that runs parallel to the pipe when open. To close it, you’ll turn it a quarter turn until it stops moving, usually perpendicular to the pipe. 

Some older homes will have a gate valve that has a small metal wheel, also usually red, which you turn to close the valve. Carefully and methodically turn it all the way counterclockwise to close it. If your home has a gate valve as the main shut-off, be careful, as these can break easily. It’s best to have it replaced with a modern ball valve as soon as possible.

What Should You Do If Your Shut-Off Valve Breaks?

The answer depends upon what the valve is actually doing. If it’s leaking, for instance, you could try grabbing a pair of pliers and tightening it up. If it’s stuck, you can try spraying it with WD-40 and letting it sit for a few minutes before trying again, in the hopes the oil will loosen up whatever is stuck.

If the valve is only partially closing, or if you can’t get it unstuck or stop leaking, you’ll need to call a plumber to determine whether the valve needs to be replaced. A shut-off valve that doesn’t close all the way can’t do its job in an emergency and is liable to leave you with a house full of water.

It can’t be stressed enough how important it is to regularly check your shut-off valves. Finding out one isn’t working in a non-emergency situation is much less stressful and gives you time to get it fixed. Finding out it doesn’t work when you need it most is going to make a bigger problem out of something that could have been little more than an inconvenience.

Causes of a Broken Shut-Off Water Valve

There are two main reasons a shut-off valve may break or become inoperable. The most common cause is physical damage. The valve or handle gets hit hard, and the internal valve pieces become loose or broken. Physical damage is the most common problem with plastic valve components and handles. 

Valves can also become corroded. This damage occurs over the course of many years, but humidity and other chemicals can speed up the process. While some valves are made of plastic, others are made with steel, cast iron, or brass, which are all vulnerable to corrosion damage. 

What If My Shut-off Valve Is Broken During a Water Emergency?

If there is water gushing into your home, follow these steps to stop the water:

  1. Turn off the localized shut-off valve. It should be located near your faucet in the cabinet or behind the toilet. If this valve is non-existent or broken, move on to the main water shut-off valve for your home. 
  2. Turn off your main water shut-off valve. It should be located in your basement or crawlspace at the edge of the house nearest the street. Sometimes, it is on the main floor, hidden in a closet. If this valve is broken, move to your water company’s shut-off valve at the edge of your property. 
  3. Turn off the water from the edge of your property. There is usually an access panel at the edge of your property that connects the municipal water lines to your home, and there should be a shut-off valve there. If not, or the operation is unclear, call your water company.
  4. Call your water company’s emergency line. Report the problem and ask them to help you shut off the water to your property. They will give you more information on how to shut it off, or they will send out an emergency technician to help shut off the water.

While you are working on the shut-off valves, get another household member to turn on other safe faucets to relieve pressure from the water break. Turn on faucets and flush toilets. 

Please note that the water shooting from a burst pipe may be dangerous if there are loose pieces of metal in the water. Stay safe and be careful when dealing with any water pressure. 

Home Water Clean-Up Tips

If your home has suffered flooding from a burst pipe or other plumbing malfunction, here are a few helpful tips. 

  • Take pictures of the water and damage before cleaning things up. This will help with any homeowner’s insurance claims. 
  • Call in a plumbing professional to fix the damage to your plumbing system. They can fix or replace pipes and faucets and can also repair or replace any broken or missing shut-off valves. 
  • Call your water company after your plumbing service has fixed things up. They often will extend a one-time water bill discount if you provide a receipt showing your plumbing repairs. 
  • Use mops, towels, and wet vacuums to remove as much water as quickly as you can. The more that seeps into the wood and drywall, the more likely you’ll have to tear those out to fix them and prevent mold. 
  • Rent high-power fans and dehumidifiers from your local home improvement store to speed up the drying of your home. 

If you’ve found a shut-off valve that isn’t working, call Dauenhauer as soon as possible to get it straightened out. Our experienced technicians can assess the valve and determine whether it needs to be replaced.

We know life happens, and you aren’t always going to catch a problem during business hours, so we also offer 24/7 emergency service. Call Dauenhauer at 502-706-6743 or contact us online for fast emergency plumbing services in Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky. 

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