Emergencies: Shutting Off Gas, Water & Power
A corroded washing machine hose, flickering lights and the faint odor of natural gas can each be a sure signed of impending disaster. A corroded washing machine hose can be the cause of a flooded home that can destroy a host of finishes from flooring to furniture.
Lights that flicker are a signal that there is a problem with the electrical system. Potential causes of such a problem could range from a loose wire connection to an overstressed circuit. Unfortunately, both can cause a fire that can level a house.
Finally, if your sniffer detects natural gas in the air, there is most likely a leak at a fitting that connects the individual pieces of gasline together or the gasline to an appliance. In either case, errant natural gas is a bomb waiting to go off.
Sound frightening? It should. All of these disasters can be avoided with some preventive maintenance. Sadly, however, even with the best of maintenance routines disaster can strike and when it does, your best defense from chaos and devastation is a strong offence – be prepared!
The first and most important step in being prepared for an emergency is knowing where and how to shut off the water, gas and power to your home. As remodeling contractors, we are amazed at the number of people who have no idea where these devices are located or how to turn them off. Furthermore, it isn’t enough that only one person in a multi-person household knows where these devices are located and how to turn them off. All adults and teenagers should be have this information as well.
When it comes to the water supply to your home, there are typically a couple of locations where it can be turned off. The first is at the water main. The water main consists of a large valve with an analog or numeric gauge that is used to measure the amount of water that you consume. Although a water meter can be located virtually anywhere surrounding your home, it is generally located below grade in a concrete box with a concrete or metal lid. The box is located in the sidewalk or in a planter near the sidewalk.
The lid can be opened using a large screwdriver or pry bar. In most cases the lid is regularly opened and closed by the utility company to read the meter, thus it should be easy to open in the case of an emergency. If, on the other hand the box is rarely opened, do so periodically to avoid having to struggle in an emergency.
The easiest means of turning off the water at the water main is with a water meter wrench. It is shaped like a “T” with a slot at the bottom that fits over a lug on the valve. This type of wrench is made of metal and stands about 30 inches tall. Other wrenches can be used, but may require more strength than most people have.
A second location to turn off all of the water to the house is the main water shut off valve – not to be confused with the water main discussed earlier. The main water shut off valve is typically located where the main water line enters the home. This is at the outside wall of a home or in the basement. It is a gate valve that must be turned clockwise several rotations to fully close it and prevent the flow of water. No tools are generally needed to operate this valve.
There is another means of turning off water – the “the fixture shutoff valve” or “angle stop.” Unlike the two previously mentioned valves, these valves only control flow to a given fixture and not the entire house. These valves are generally located at each plumbing fixture with the exception of a tub or show. Therefore, they can be found at toilets, sinks, automatic dishwashers and icemakers. A variation of this valve can be found at the clothes washer. A shut off valve can also be found at the top of a water heater.
Like water, gas can be shut off in more than one location. To turn off all of the gas supplied to your home, it should be done at the meter. As with the water main, although the gas main can be located virtually anywhere on your property, it is typically located at an exterior wall that is in close proximity to the street. The gas meter is used to join incoming gas from the utility company to the gas pipes that run throughout your home to the various gas appliances. The meter is also used to measure the amount of gas that you consume.
There is a gas whole house shut off valve located on the pipe at the utility side of the meter. To turn the gas off to the entire house simply turn the lug on the valve perpendicular to the pipe. An adjustable or open-end wrench can be used to operate the valve. We suggest attaching a wrench to the gas meter with a short length of chain. This will prevent the need to search for a wrench in the event of an emergency. Keep in mind that gas lines are still filled with gas even after the valve has been closed. Therefore, the lines should be bled before attempting any work.
If you suspect that there is a gas leak at an appliance or the gas to an individual appliance needs to be turned off, closing the appliance gas shut off valve located at each appliance can do this. As with the valve at the gas meter, an appliance gas shut off valve is can be turned off by rotating it 90 degrees or at a right angle to the gasline. CAUTION: If you suspect a gas leak, immediately turn off the gas to the house and call the utility company emergency service department.
Electrical power is supplied to a home via wires that are connected to a main service panel. The service panel can contain either fuses or breakers depending upon the age of the home and/or the panel. Often, if the main service contains only one breaker – “the main breaker,” there is are one or more secondary or “subpanels” that contain breakers or fuses that control power sent to various circuits throughout your home.
Use the fuse or main breaker in the main service to shut off power to your entire house. Pulling the fuse or tripping the breaker does this. If you wish only to turn the power off to a branch circuit (as when making a repair) tripping the breaker or removing the fuse for that individual circuit can do this.
Loose lips might sink ships, but loose electrical wires can level a home. If you suspect a problem with your electrical system, call the service department of your local utility company or a qualified electrician to make an inspection.