Frequently Asked Questions

HOW DO I LOCATE AND TEST VALVES? 

You are ready for any water emergency when you know where the valves are located for all of your faucets and appliances. Plan a family house tour with husband, wife and older children. All should know what to do if water emergencies arise when they are alone in the house.

Start with the main water line valve, which totally controls the flow of water in your home. Find the valve, be sure it operates freely, and apply the tag to the main water line. If it is especially hard to find, place a second tag in a more visible spot. Continue the same procedure with the kitchen. Find the valves below the sink and test to see if they open and close easily. It is especially important to make this check because over a period of time a valve can become “frozen” if not used for years. Usually a wrench applied to the control wheel will free up the valve. Do this carefully to avoid breaking the control head. If the control head wheel just can’t be moved, it is usually best to have it serviced by your plumber. Until this is done, make a mental note to shut off the main water line valve if this section of your plumbing gives you trouble. After moving and freeing the valve, check for possible leaks around the stem. Applying a wrench to the cap or packing nut can stop minor leakage.

Continue the water tour -- the bathroom or bathrooms, water heater, water softener -- every place in the home where water is used. Label all valves with the proper identification tags. To repeat, locating the main shutoff valve is especially important because when closed, it stops all water throughout the house in seconds. Be sure that everyone, including the children, knows where this vital control is located.

WHERE ARE MY KITCHEN SHUTOFF VALVES? 

Below your kitchen sink you will probably find shutoff valves for both the hot and cold water. In most cases, the valves will be below the kitchen sink.

WHERE ARE MY BATHROOM VALVES?

Valves are provided for the lavatory, toilet and bathtub. The lavatory valves usually are below the fixture for easy access. Most tub valves do not have shutoff valves, but some can be behind an access plate in the back of the faucet controls behind the decorative cover. The toilet has a single cold-water valve normally installed below the water tank.

WHERE ARE MY WASHING MACHINE, DISHWASHER AND WATER HEATER VALVES?

Just about all that’s left, serviced by water, are the washing machine, the dishwasher and the water heater. These, you will find, have shutoff valves conveniently located on or near the appliance.

WHERE ARE MY MAIN SHUTOFF VALVES?

The water line coming in from the street is often connected to the water meter followed by a master shutoff valve for the entire home. Close this one valve and you have shut off water throughout the house—it’s instant action for serious emergencies. If you need to shut off the water at the main make sure the hot water tank is turned down to pilot. Electric water heater tanks require special attention, and it is best to enlist the aid of a plumbing and heating professional. However, if the emergency calls for the main water system to be shut off, the electric water system must also be shut off. The electricity can be shut off at the main electrical fuse box by either removing the fuse from the box or switching the breaker to an “off” position. (Check and see if your breakers are labeled.) The electricity to the hot water tank should not be turned on until the water tank has been refilled with water. See the owner’s manual that comes with the electric water heater.

WHAT TOOLS DO I NEED FOR BASIC PLUMBING EMERGENCIES? 

Wrenches

Medium pipe wrench and an adjustable end wrench 

Screwdrivers

A range of sizes to fit faucets, valves and other parts of the system. 

Stem screws

For faucet handles usually call for screwdrivers suitable for Phillips-type screws. 

Adjustable pliers 

Rubber force cup or plunger  for drain and toilet stoppages 

Pipe joint compound for connecting threaded pipes 

Plumbers’ putty  for reseating the drain on sink when leaks develop or when a new drain is installed 

WHAT SHOULD I DO TO SAFEGUARD MY HOME WHEN I’M AWAY ON VACATION?

Closing the main water shutoff valve before leaving for a vacation is recommended. Emergencies do arise when the house is unattended, and a periodic visit by a neighbor is of value. In winter months, a daily visit by a neighbor while you are gone is suggested. If the home is vacated for an extended period or a neighbor is not available, you can have your water system drained to prevent freezing. This should be done professionally by a qualified plumbing expert. If the main water supply is turned off, the hot water tank and the furnace should be turned down. Both appliances are equipped with pilot control valves.

WHEN SHOULD I SERVICE VS. REPLACE MY WATER HEATER?

Industry statistics show that the average water heater lasts 12 years. With regular maintenance and routine repairs, some keep operating two or three times as long. As with HVAC systems, however, it is not always to your advantage to hang on to older units. Modern high-efficiency water heaters often pay for themselves in energy savings within 3 - 5 years. Almost all components on a water heater can be fixed or replaced except for the tank. Once the tank rusts through, there is no way to rescue the water heater. Replacement is the only solution. Water heaters come with internal sacrificial anode rods to protect against rusting. An anode’s sole purpose is to corrode away so the steel of the tank can’t. Replacing the anodes every 3 - 4 years (more frequently if water is softened) will add considerably to the life of the water heater. Another main cause of failure is overheating from sediment buildup inside the tank. Ask your plumber to inspect the anodes and sediment periodically. Sometimes this can be done as part of an annual service agreement.

WHEN SHOULD I SERVICE VS. REPLACE MY DISHWASHER?

Automatic dishwashers are another appliance that should last a decade or more - though here, too, you often can save money by buying a newer energy efficient unit. Brand new units can be bought for $400 - $600, while repairs of various mechanisms typically run $150 and up. If your dishwasher is getting near the 10 - year mark, a major repair may be a signal that other components are also on their last legs. It won’t take many service calls to pay for a brand new unit.

WHEN SHOULD I SERVICE VS. REPLACE MY DISPOSAL?

Stoppages and minor malfunctions are worth repairing. But if the motor goes out, or the blades break, you are better off replacing the entire unit. Especially if you deal with a plumbing company that warrants the product for 5 - 10 years or even longer.

WHEN SHOULD I SERVICE VS. REPLACE MY TOILETS?

Unless you crack the porcelain, a toilet can easily last a lifetime. What will wear out are the flushing mechanisms comprised of moving parts. Leakage may occur from the wax ring seal by the floor, but that can be fixed short of replacement. Toilets commonly replaced for reasons other than malfunction.

Water conservation is one. Modern toilets operate with 1.6 gallons per flush or less, compared to 3.5 gallons for older standard models. (A few 5-gal. and 7.5-gal. flush versions from many decades ago also are still in operation here and there.) Depending on the water rates, sometimes you can save money by replacing a toilet.

Styling and quieter flushing are two other reasons to replace. This is a matter of homeowner choice than necessity.