3 Ways to Turn off Your Water Supply in a Plumbing Emergency

Every home has multiple ways to shut a water leak down before damage becomes extensive. Which method you use depends on the severity of the leak. Most homeowners are aware of their property’s internal stopcock, but few know what to do if that fails.

3 Different Methods to Shut a Water Leak Down Fast

The Internal Stopcock

Every property has a main stopcock. It’s one valve that when turned clockwise, shuts off the water supply from the mains pipe that delivers water into the property. Turn this off and the main supply of water won’t be entering the property until it’s turned back on. It won’t instantly stop a leak. Leaks stop when the pipe or system is drained. If you don’t turn off the stopcock, water will continuously flood your property.

Where to find the stopcock:

In properties with a water meter, it’s usually located near that. Other common places are in the kitchen, the bathroom, under the stairs, near the gas meter and in old flats, in particular, those that have been converted into flats, you’ll find them in stranger places like under floorboards, and even in cupboards.

What it looks like:

A tap on a water pipe without a water spout. A tap that has no spout near it is a giveaway it’s your mains water shut off valve.

How to work it:

Turning it clockwise turns the water off. Anti-clockwise turns it back on. In the case of burst pipes, it can take a few minutes to see the water ingress stop.

As the stopcock isn’t used as frequently as every other tap in your home, it can get stiff. Sometimes frozen to the extent they can’t be turned without damaging the threads. Stopcocks should never be overtightened and when they do become stiff, excessive force to turn the valve is more likely to damage it.

If you struggle to turn the tap, do not apply a lubricant like WD40. It’s usually scale and debris that accumulate on stop valves causing them to become stuck. Lubricants work on rust. On non-ferrous metals (which most plumbing materials are) they just make them slippery.

A damaged main stop tap will need an emergency plumber to repair the stopcock valve first to stop water ingress, then repair the ruptured pipe(s).

It’s always a good idea to check your stopcock works in the summer because winter is when you’re most likely to need it. You do not want to find this connector tap jammed when you desperately need to shut off your water supply.

Isolation Valves

Isolation valves are also known as service valves because before you work with any appliance that’s connected to water pipes, it should be turned off to prevent mishaps.

The one most people are familiar with is the handled isolation valve usually found under the sink that has your washing machine connections. Blue handles for the cold-water feed, red for the hot-water feed. Turn the handle so it runs across the pipe and the water flow gets shut off.

Isolation valves are common throughout homes. You’ll have them for your toilet, washbasins in bathrooms, the bath, and on most modern radiators, as well as under boilers.

The majority are operated with a flat-head screwdriver, rather than having handles on them.

If you find a leak on any water appliance, be it your toilet cistern, washbasins, taps, or a radiator, look for an isolation valve on the water pipe that delivers water to the appliance. Give it a quarter-turn clockwise and it’ll stop water flowing beyond the valve, preventing any further leaking.

The main advantage of these is you can keep your main water supply running while isolating the supply of water reaching a leaking appliance.

External Shut Off Valves

When all else fails, there’s an extra safeguard that’s kept outside, underground, but you’ll probably need a key, or an emergency plumber locally with one.

All homes have internal and external stopcocks. The internal stopcock is a safeguard to use in most emergency plumbing situations. The most severe though is a water leak on the main water supply pipe. If that ruptures, the water needs shut off from the outside. This is the same if your internal stopcock has completely seized up or become so damaged that it’s impossible to shut your water supply off from inside.

The external stopcock is your emergency backup!

External water shut off valves are beneath the ground, covered with a metal plate and often marked with a W for water, or branded such as Thames Water indicating who is responsible for maintaining the external water pipes.

In emergency plumbing and drainage situations, homeowners are permitted to shut off the external water supply at street level. Depending on the age of your property, there may be an external stopcock beside your water meter. If it’s not, it’s likely in the street (or road) and shared by other residents, which will mean you’re shutting off the water supply to neighbouring properties.

In most circumstances, external stopcocks don’t have levers. A universal stopcock key is usually required to shut off water supplies at street level. The stopcocks can be crutch head or square head. Emergency plumbers will have both keys and be able to quickly locate and isolate water supplies from beyond your property’s boundary, and advise you on how long the repair is likely to take.

Your neighbours will want to know because until an emergency plumbing repair is done, no property on a joint supply is getting any water until the problem’s remedied and the supply turned back on when your plumber knows it’s safe.

In terms of priorities, when a leak strikes, these are the shut-off valves to use:

– For small leaks at appliance level, use the isolation valve
– For larger internal water leaks, shut off the main water supply by turning the stopcock clockwise

When your internal stopcock fails, the external stopcock is the backup for emergency use only.

Emergency plumbing repairs are required when there’s a rupture on a main water supply line, or any leaks on drainage pipes as those are wider to have a faster water flow rate.

Emergency plumbers and heating repair engineers are able to repair water supply lines, drainage pipes, and heating systems provided they’re Gas Safe Registered. Water penetration from a leaky roof or damaged downpipe is a repair better suited to a roofing specialist.

About Us:

Edgware Plumbers years of experience in keeping the water in North London and Hertfordshire properties flowing in the right direction. We serve residential and commercial properties within ten miles of Edgware, including Elstree and Borehamwood. Our emergency callout guarantees a qualified, registered and experienced plumber when you call us on 0208 959 8182. For non-urgent plumbing inquiries, contact us here.