Basically the title says it all.

I turned the water for the house off to replace some leaking washing machine shutoff valves, and install stop-cock valves for a laundry sink. When I tried to turn the water back on, it came on a little bit, but now the valve-handle just spins without affecting the flow.

The main shut-off valve for the house is an old gate-valve, which I gather from reading here fail on a fairly regular basis (I'm going to stick a ball-valve in as a replacement).

I can replace the valve easily enough, but how do I go about turning off the water, since I need to replace the valve that I would normally use to shutoff the water to replace a valve.

Is there normally a second cutoff valve in with the water meter, or am I stuck having to call the water utility company?

This is at my parents house, which is ~1 hour drive away. I would just go digging around in the water-meter enclosure otherwise.

FWIW, this is in California, USA

  • 6
    WARNING! The Electrical breaker panel ground bus is connected to the water main. If the electrical ground wire is connected on the house side of the valve, then when you replace the main shut off valve you will be breaking this return path. This can give you a very nasty (lethal?) shock when you touch the pipes! You can either "jump" the two sections of pipe with a heavy wire (8-6AWG should be do it), or turn off the Breaker panel's Main breaker (leaving you in the dark), or move this ground wire to the street side of the valve (prefered methode - turn off main breaker panel first!).
    – SteveR
    Apr 2, 2012 at 12:41
  • Have you tried tightening the screw securing the handle to the valve? Sometimes that gets loose and the handle just spins even though nothing is stripped.
    – Steven
    Apr 2, 2012 at 14:42
  • @Steven - I can see that the valve stem is turning. It's not just the handle that is rotating.
    – Fake Name
    Apr 2, 2012 at 22:29

3 Answers 3


You need to find the main shut off valve in the road, side walk or somewhere on or near your property. They are usually placed in mini manholes with easy access:

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But if you're unlucky you will need to get some building plans and try to find where on the plans the supply pipe runs and find the valve at the connection point to the main supply. In most cases it will be near the connection point of the main supply:

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but if its not, or if you struggle to close it call your council to help you. You don't want to break that!


It is easy to snap these valves- if its rusted badly apply (known as WD-40, LN-40, HT-40) spray oil based rust release (spray leave an hour try again.. repeat a few times), TAP the valve with a hammer (!TAP!, do not whack it, to help release the valve. Also, usually opening the valve slightly helps to release it then try to close it.

  • Do you need a special tool to operate the valve, or do they have a standard handle?
    – Fake Name
    Apr 2, 2012 at 10:26
  • They can vary- allot I have seen are standard handle. Its more difficult opene the man hole... But some need a special alan key that building inspectors carry around- I have seen a Triangular one once, the same that opens the Electrical box on the street.. but this varies from country to country and you can use a flat screw driver to open the locks, I would not recommend using that on a valve! Try to find it and if you got issues let us know.
    – Piotr Kula
    Apr 2, 2012 at 14:41

Call the local water municipality, they will be able to shut the water off either at the meter or before it. This is something that should not be done by a homeowner.

While you may find that you can access the main supply shut off you should not use it, as you could end up being fined by the city/town/county. Also if you damage the shutoff or city/town/county water line, you could find yourself having to pay for the repair.

  • 1
    You see that varies form country to country.. but is probably the best advice.
    – Piotr Kula
    Apr 2, 2012 at 14:42
  • +1 This. In the US at least, the utility company is responsible for everything up to and including the meter (which is usually downstream of the shut-off). So, call them and have them come fix it. It may not even cost you anything, since it's their components which have failed.
    – KeithS
    Apr 3, 2012 at 17:07
  • @KeithS It may not be the utilities valve that failed, sounds like the OP is talking about a valve after the meter. But you'll need the utility to shut the water off before the meter, since they don't like people messing with their pipes.
    – Tester101
    Apr 3, 2012 at 18:17
  • I think Kieth is wrong. The township is responsible up to and including the outside shutoff. Everything from there up to and into the house is homeowners' responsibility
    – user27771
    Nov 9, 2014 at 20:09

Contact your local water utility it is usually through your town or city.In most cases they are responsible for repairing any thing before your water meter.You may have to pay a fee but is usually less than a plumber would charge.

  • This is the valve at the house, well after the meter. The meter is at the kerb-side.
    – Fake Name
    Apr 2, 2012 at 10:44

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