Main water valve hidden in wall - I assume?

9 Replies

I have a 1935 house that has the water pipes coming out of a common center wall to the kitchen on one side and bathroom on the other side of the wall. I assume the main water valve is behind the wall on both sides, before it tees off to the kitchen, bathroom, and water heater. I'm doing a minor renovation of the house now, is it worth busting open the wall behind the water heater to locate the main water shutoff valve?

The water heater, kitchen sink, and bathroom all have their own valves so I don't think I need to worry about it. But I currently have no way to replace a valve if I wanted to. This probably falls under the category of if it's not broke, don't fix it. Thanks.

While I have never owned something built that long ago, my main shutoff has always been out near the street somewhere. This is so if there is an emergency, the water department can run through and shut if off without needing access to your home.

You should call your water company and ask them. I have bought 2 homes now where I couldn't find the main shutoff and both times they sent someone out to locate it for me free of charge.

@Andrew Schrader

@Nathaniel Hovsepian

So, there's the utility shut off, located usually by the street, and then often an inside main shutoff, sometimes 2 of them, on both sides of the meter.  In your case, if you can't see the incoming main pipe, that'd make me at least evaluate the feasibility of getting that access, installing a shut off valve if not there, and leaving access for future use.

Where's your meter?  Usually that's a logical place for your in house shut off valve.

If it cost me more than $500 to do this work, I'd just buy the utility stopbox tool and keep that handy (on site, labeled in a safe spot), going outside to use if needed.  At least with the local water utility here, you can buy the same tool they use at the municipal supply house.

Main shutoff valve should be either at your water meter or at the point where it comes through the basement wall. 

it's more in the category of find that valve and make sure it works before you have a major issue and can't turn off the water. 

You're in a cold climate there so no telling where the shut off is. Outside somewhere buried under 4 feet of snow may not be a practical location.

@Andrew Schrader

No, this problem falls under the category of getting this straighted out RTFN. You did the right thing by posting, Andrew.

Find that valve. If this property is in an urban environment, then you're going to have a buried water main outside in the street usually in the front of the house but sometimes in the back. The water will come in to a street shut-off valve. Then the water line will come in to a meter situated inside the property. Right after that valve will be the main shutoff valve. That's the most common setup.

If this is not an urban environment and you have water coming in from a well, then your setup doesn't include the same arrangement. It could be somewhere else, but this is not my wheelhouse and I know what I don't know. I'm pretty sure you would have seen a water meter if one was in your property, but you didn't mention one.

If you're buying houses from this era, you should already have a working relationship with a local experienced plumber. If you don't, starting to build that relationship should be another RTFN objective. Start calling other investors and asking them for recommendations for smaller plumbing service providers in your area. What you do not want is the residential call service where they send out a "plumbing tech" who shows up in a van and has to get on his phone back to an actual plumber sitting in an office somewhere to ask the time of day, let alone anything about plumbing. You also don't want the local giant who advertises $99 clog removals aggressively on every bus, billboard, and park bench to build a residential empire with a customer list full of homeowners and no landlords.

@Andrew Schrader hmm.. is it worth busting the wall out to locate the shut off valve? I would say definitely not, unless you are replacing pipe. Jim K had some good recommendations. If you want to be hands on, check the recommended areas. If you still can’t find a shut off, don’t assume it’s buried in a wall, as that would be very unlikely to do, unless the wall is covering something that used to be open. Plumbers don’t put shut off valves where they will be permanently enclosed in drywall ever. I wouldn’t assume they were that dumb back then, but then again I haven’t seen the rest of the house. You should call a plumber per Jim’s recommendation.

The property is a quadplex with 2 single family houses on it. The quadplex has a normal common main and each unit main. Both single family house don't have a main shutoff. It's in a small town, we don't have water meters. I receive 2 water bills so I assume there's a second sidewalk water main for the 2 single family houses but I don't know that for sure. I don't have any immediate need to shut the main off but trying to be prepared. Installing one would require opening a wall/ floor and most likely re-routing some plumbing to install one. I could do it myself with PEX.

I assume the houses do not have individual main shutoffs inside them and rely on the sidewalk main. There are both built on block foundations and the water just comes through the wall/ floor in multiple locations to their destinations. You can't see where the one line enters the house and tees off. There's only 1' under the floor until the dirt so access it's ideal. I can't easily identify the piping layout with a small boroscope.

I'll start with a call to the local water dept and work with them to locate the sidewalk main and my possible house mains.

My primary residence in a nearby larger town has a normal water main inside with the water meter, so I'm familiar with that traditional setup.