In some emergencies, seconds count. A broken gas line pumping natural gas into your home, or a water main flooding rooms, needs to be shut down as quickly as possible to prevent damage or injury. Every homeowner should know the location of their utility shut-offs and be able to reach them quickly.
This information can also help prevent costly late-night emergency service runs. For example, if you can shut off a water leak yourself in the middle of the night, it might be possible to wait until morning to have a plumber come out.
Shutting off plumbing lines
The location of the main water shut-off valve varies depending on the age of the house and local building codes. Usually, if your home was built on a slab, it will be near the water heater tank. In homes with basements, you’ll often find the valve in the basement, on the opposite side of the wall from where your hose bib enters the house. If you have a crawl space, you’re likely to find it along the front wall of the house underneath the crawl space.
Turning this valve cuts off all flow of water into the house. Most fixtures also have their own shut-off valve. You can stop a leaking toilet, tub or faucet line by turning the valve, usually near the floor where it connects to the main line.
Working the breaker box
The panel in your breaker box will have a main circuit breaker that connects power to the whole house. In most cases this will be marked 100, 150 or 200 amps — whatever the case, it will be the highest amperage in the panel. Flip this breaker to quickly shut off electricity to the entire house.
If each breaker switch isn’t already marked for where it connects, ask an electrician to identify and label them for you. You don’t want to be fumbling to figure out where a certain breaker is when all you have to go on is “20 amps.”
Turning off the gas
Most homes with gas connections have a shut-off valve attached to the gas meter on the exterior. You can close this valve and completely shut down gas coming into your home by using a large wrench to turn it one-quarter turn. If you’re not sure how this works, ask your gas pro or utility company.
You should take gas leaks extremely seriously. If you detect the sulfuric, rotten-egg smell of a gas leak, evacuate the house immediately and call for aid — either 911 or your gas utility company’s emergency line. Do not call from inside the home.
When you’re in a situation that requires you to shut down utilities, you probably need expert assistance quickly. Keep the 24-hour emergency numbers of your utility companies and reliable contractors at hand so you can reach someone right away. Include your insurance agent’s number in that list as well. In some cases, especially natural disasters, your policy might require that your agent be involved in selecting the service provider.
Paul F. P. Pogue is a reporter for Angie’s List, a provider of consumer reviews and an online marketplace of services.