Your main shutoff valve is one of the most important disaster-stoppers in your home. When a pipe leaks or bursts, this valve lets you shut off water flow to your entire home. But there’s a good chance your main valve will fail when you need it. So take a few minutes now to make sure you can close it.
Ball valves rarely fail, and testing is easy. But if you have a gate valve, you might need a little patience and know-how. Turn the handle clockwise to close it. If you can’t turn the handle, loosen the packing nut just a little. A shot of lubricant or penetrating oil may also help. Then try again. Don’t worry about cranking too hard. There’s a small chance that you’ll damage the valve, but a valve that won’t close is useless anyway and needs to be replaced.
Reopening a stubborn gate valve is more risky than closing it; you’re more likely to break internal parts and could end up without running water. If the valve is stuck closed, tap it with a hammer. When the valve opens a little, stop for a few minutes. That allows water pressure on both sides of the valve to equalize, instead of pressing against one side and locking the valve in place.
Emergency shutoff tips
- If a toilet or faucet is leaking, try the shutoff valves below them first. If they won’t close, head for the main valve.
- If you’re able to close your main valve most of the way but it’s still allowing a trickle of water through, simply open the lowest faucet in your house. Water will trickle out of that faucet, but it won’t flow to the higher pipes in the house.
- If your home has a water meter, you have two valves—one on each side of the meter. If one won’t close, try the other. Closing either of them will stop the flow.
- If you have a hot water leak, you can stop the flow by turning off the valve at the water heater.
1. Close a Stubborn Gate ValveIf the handle won’t turn, loosen the packing nut. But be sure to hold the handle in position while you turn the nut. If the handle turns as you unscrew the nut, you risk breaking the valve.