Shut off the main valve
Shutting off the main valve that controls all the water for your
home is the best protection against catastrophic water damage.
Everyone in your home should know where the main water
shutoff valve is located so they can stop the water in an emergency.
And you should turn it off whenever you leave home,
even overnight. If you’re not sure where it is, look for your water
meter; the main shutoff will be located nearby.
Many water meter setups have two valves, one on the street
side of the meter and one on the house side. If you live in a colder
climate, you’ll typically find the main shutoff in the basement
near the front of the house. In warmer climates, it will be outside
your home attached to an exterior wall or in an underground box with a removable lid.
There are two types of main shutoff valves: the gate
valve and the ball valve. The gate valve is common in
older homes and has a round handle that must be
turned a number of times to open or close the valve.
Gate valves are designed to be fully open or fully closed.
Water flowing through a partially open gate valve can
wear away the metal and cause the valve to fail over
time. The ball valve is more common in newer construction
and has a lever handle that needs to be turned
90 degrees to turn the water on or off. You can immediately
tell if it’s open or not: In the closed position, the
lever is perpendicular to the pipes; in the open position
If you’ve never shut off the main water valve before,
test it before you leave on vacation. Turn on a faucet
somewhere in the house and shut off the main water
valve. All water flow should stop. An old gate valve can
break, so be gentle when you’re handling it. If the valve
is stuck, leave it alone. If it leaks or doesn’t shut off all the way, have a licensed plumber replace the valve or
replace it yourself if you’re comfortable with a straightforward
plumbing project. You’ll need to call your
water department (and possibly pay a small fee) to have
the water to your house turned off at the curb stop
while you make the repair.
If you have a well, shut off the electrical switch for
the well when you leave for an extended period so it
won’t pump any
water while you’re
Shut off water supply valves
If you can’t shut off the main water supply because you have an
automatic sprinkler system or someone watering the plants
while you’re gone, shut off the valves to the most common
sources of water damage such as dishwashers, icemakers and
washing machines, in case a hose cracks or lets go. Individual
shutoff valves or “stops” are installed on the supply lines leading
to most appliances as well as to toilets and faucets. Typical
supply stops have a small round or oval handle that you turn
clockwise to shut off the flow of water.
The shutoff to your refrigerator’s icemaker might be located
under the sink or in the basement. If your shutoff valve looks
like the one to the right, consider replacing it with a standard
Check your supply lines
Rubber or plastic supply lines that lead from shutoff valves to
appliances, faucets and toilets become brittle and can leak or
even break as they age. Since you’re messing with your shutoff
valves anyway, inspect the supply lines
too. If you find any leaks, cracks, bulges
or signs of corrosion, replace the lines
before you leave town. Your best choice
is line encased in a braided stainless
steel sheath. A pair of washing machine
hoses costs less than $20 at home
centers. Shorter versions for faucets or a
toilet are also available.
Don’t wait for a
vacation to check
your supply lines.
With 10 minutes
and a flashlight,
you can inspect
every line in
Test your sump pump
Sump pump systems help keep groundwater out of your basement.
Before a vacation, test your sump pump by filling the
sump pit with water and making sure the pump is actually
pumping out the water.
If it doesn’t, be sure the sump pump is plugged in (a surprisingly
common oversight) and check the breaker as well.
Also make sure the outlet pipe isn’t frozen or clogged and that
it directs water away from your home. Clean the hole in the
discharge line and check that the motor is running smoothly.
Also consider adding a backup battery to your sump pump so
that it functions during power outages, which seem to go
hand-in-hand with heavy rainstorms.
Check your gutters
A 1,000-sq.-ft. roof will shed about 620 gallons of water during
a 1-in. rainfall, or about 103 gallons per downspout if you
have six downspouts. That’s a lot of water dumped right next
to your basement. Although it may seem obvious, clean and
properly functioning gutters with downspouts that empty
away from the foundation are key to avoiding major and
expensive home repairs.
So before you leave for a vacation, take a walk around the
house and check your gutters. Check to see if leaves, sticks or
other debris are blocking the inlet of the downspout and preventing
water from flowing down the spout. Also make sure
your downspout extensions are discharging the water far
enough from the foundation and that you always reattach
them after you mow your lawn.
Shut off the water to exterior faucets
Outdoor faucets are the first plumbing parts to freeze and burst
when the temperature drops. So always close the supply shutoff
valve inside the house before you head off on vacation (see
Figure B). This is a good idea even if you have a frostproof
faucet, since you’ll probably turn down the thermostat
when you leave home. After turning off the supply shutoff,
open the outside faucets to drain the remaining water out of
the pipes. Never leave a hose connected to an outdoor faucet:
It traps water in the faucet, which can freeze and crack open
Another tip to avoid frozen plumbing is to turn the heat down
to 60 degrees F when you leave, but not lower. You want to keep
things warm enough inside the house so that water pipes running
through exterior walls don’t freeze and burst. Leave the
doors of bathroom vanities and kitchen sink cabinets
open to allow more heat to get to the plumbing, and consider
using a temperature sensor (see “High-Tech
Plumbing Protection,” below).
Save Energy While You're Away
- Unplug appliances that consume electricity even
when they’re not in use such as DVD players,
microwaves, coffeemakers and computers (also
make sure to disconnect the computer from the
Internet). This is both a cost savings and a safety
issue. It’s not unheard of to have a cat tiptoe across
a counter and unwittingly turn on the coffeemaker.
- Turn the water heater down to the “vacation,” “low”
or “pilot” setting.
- During the winter, set your thermostat to 60 degrees
F and have a neighbor check on the house regularly
for furnace malfunctions.
- In the summer, set your air conditioner to 85 degrees
F so it runs less often but keeps electronics cool and
gives the house an occupied appearance. Having no
air conditioner humming and no windows open on a
sweltering day is a sure signal to a thief that no one
- If you’ll be gone for an extended period, clean out
the fridge (and freezer) completely, shut it off and leave the door propped open.
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High-tech plumbing protection