Fred

How to Turn Off Your Water Using the Main Cutoff Valve on the Street

January 14, 2015 | by Fred (email) |

In the event your inside main water valve fails, there’s one final backstop you can operate to shut off water to the house: the main water valve on the street. The picture below shows a typical water meter cover found in cities and counties across the U.S. With the cover off, you can see the water meter and the county’s cutoff valve (to the left).

Note that water meters and cutoff valves vary by district, but they all follow this basic setup.  In general, you are responsible for plumbing on your house’s side of the mater, and the city is responsible for the meter and everything before it. The further north you are located, the deeper the well will be that houses this water cut-off valve. This is because plumbing has to be buried deeper in northern climates to avoid freezing in the winter. You may need a wrench with a long extension to follow the instructions below if you’re in this situation.

You should only use the street water cutoff for three reasons:

  • Your inside water main valve fails and you have a water emergency (burst pipe).
  • You have a leak / burst pipe before the main inside valve (between the street and the inside valve).
  • You are replacing the main water valve.

How to Turn off Water at the Street

  1. Locate the outside water meter cover. The meter is usually close to the street or alley so that it can be easily read by public works’ employees.
  2. If this isn’t an emergency, contact public works in your jurisdiction to ensure they allow owners to operate their cutoff valve. Most districts will allow an owner or licensed plumber to operate the valve as long as they aren’t behind on payments.
  3. This particular meter cover has a pentagonal nut holding it down (apparently an attempt to let the average Joe know he shouldn’t be going in here). Remove the nut using the requisite pentagonal wrench. If you don’t have the special wrench, a pair of channel locks will work just fine.
  4. Locate the valve inside the chamber and turn the valve clockwise to close it (detail shown in the picture to the right). A pair of channel locks will help you grasp the valve.

Warnings and Tips

If the valve at the street has not been operated in a long time, it could be locked up. Whatever you do, DO NOT FORCE THE VALVE. If it will not turn with a reasonable amount of pressure, call a plumber and/or public works. If you attempt to force the valve, it is conceivable that it will break and quickly flood the access point. In order to fix it, the county will have to turn off the water at the next stop, and it could be some time before they get there. You could end up in a situation where you are flooding your neighbors’ basements or your own. So be careful.

If you find the valve is broken, it is the jurisdiction’s responsibility to replace it (since it sits on the city’s side of the water meter).

Never turn on a water meter that has been turned off by the city due to non-payment or for safety reasons. This can be a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances. If you are having trouble paying your utility bills, you should contact the utility/public works and learn your options for obtaining payment assistance.

50 Responses
  1. Todd says:

    Great post Fred. Around here the water meters are actually located in the house. This is done for several reasons, one is the extreme cold we have would freeze the water meter and valve assembly. We do have shut offs at the street, the valve is actually at least 4′ below grade. There is an extension rod that goes from the valve up to the street. However, around here that shut off is off limits, you must call the local water authorities to have it shut off.

  2. Fred says:

    Todd – Good information. I was surprised at the valves around here. While NH gets really cold in the Winter, MD has no shortage of really cold days itself. Most of our plumbing sits below the 36″ freeze depth, however, the meter is only buried about 18″ (the plumbing basically comes up out of the ground and then goes back into the ground), which you can almost see from this picture.

    As far as permission goes….As far as I’m concerned, if there’s an emergency I would use any valve I had access to, regardless of the permission required 🙂

    • kate says:

      does water companies put plates inside the holes outside to keep people from turning water back on? If so how can u remove it?
      just bought a house that’s been empty for 2 yrs and I’m taking it they stole water.
      now I can’t get them out here until Monday and I need to check for leaks before they come. I’ve tried my tool however it’s a flat surface which tells me something like a plate is covering the key. I’ve tried a heavy duty magnet also. any suggestions?

  3. Shirley says:

    Sure. In Australia they are found just inside the property. We can trun them on and off as we like. I have turned mine off whenever I need to work on the plumbing.

  4. John says:

    I have to replace the line into my house. The shut off valve has not been turned for 30 years. it is located 12″ down. I removed the access screw cap, inserted the key down the access pipe onto the tongue on the valve but it, as expected would not turn with considerable force. I poured a half cup of WD40 down the 1″ access pipe and let it soak over night.
    Same results the next day. I gave the key a good wack with a hammer then closed the valve with ease, and no leaks. Great valve to still operate after all this time.

  5. Leslie says:

    Grate stuff, I enjoy doing plumbing at home. Where can I learn to be a licence plumber. I love it. I have so far done everything at home. Love it.

    Your web sight is very very good thanks,

    Leslie

  6. Leslie says:

    Great stuff, I enjoy doing plumbing at home. Where can I learn to be a licence plumber. I love it. I have so far done everything at home. Love it.

    Your web sight is very very good thanks,

    Leslie

  7. Ryan says:

    i have a duplex rental and i need to repair the valve under the bathroom sink. I have done this many times in other duplexes right next door, but when i go out to the street and turn off the main, the water does not turn off. To me this means the city’s valve is broken , i used chanel locks to turn it until it closes or stops.
    i do not know of another valve in or around the house. Is calling the city my only hope?
    please let me know what i can do

    Ryan

  8. Fred says:

    Hi Ryan, thanks for the question.

    If you’re sure you’re operating the right valve, then yes, it sounds like the city’s valve is broken and you’ll need to call them to repair it. In our county, replacement of the city’s stop would be the responsibility of the city, and in general, they’re pretty fast at getting someone out (2 weeks), unless its an emergency.

    So I take it you’ve already looked for a main inside the duplex? Most of the time the city valve is a backstop for another valve inside the house that should be operated first.

  9. Jim says:

    This is a new housed in NC. The plumbing does not have a shut off valve inside on the water main. The only cut off valve is at the meter outside. Is this in compliance with Code?

  10. Fred says:

    Jim – I’m not familiar with NC local codes – you could check in your library to see if they’re available there. Very unusual not to have an inside cut off though.

  11. sir says:

    May I suggest for you too have your own cut off valve installed.
    Fact is this meter is owned by the water company and many have fine-able
    anti tampering laws. Not too mention its a NC Plumbing code too have one.

  12. Peter says:

    I have a leaking valve before the indoor water meter. I have been struggling with, but finally got the cap off at the street valve. The brass nut was badly damaged probably from past attempts to open cover. The valve is similar to the one pictured, although without the meter and in a very narrow pipe. I don’t have a key, so I cut a slot in a piece of steel 1/2 inch pipe so to fit over the valve. I’ve turned it and the water will not turn off. My question is, is the street valve a screw type valve that requires it to be turned clockwise until tight, or is it a ball type valve that only requires a 1/4 turn to stop the flow. I’ve tried different positions with no success. The valve never felt tight, (closed), so I’m wondering if I am in fact turning the valve at all. The access is so narrow I can’t see much. What are your thoughts on freezing the supply pipe with dry ice to stop the flow. I’ve heard of it but it may be an urban legend.

  13. What most people don’t know is there are 2 types of water keys, a meter key as explained, and a gate valve key which has a square 2″ inner diameter socket and is much bigger than a meter key, These are what the city uses to shut down entire streets, large buildings, and repair fire hydrants. Although some meters may have an adapter from t-head to square nut, in this case you would need a valve key to shut off the meter. Valve keys are sold at waterworks and plumbing supply stores but usually not hardware stores. There are also many other security devices and tools I can explain if you have furter questions.

  14. Laura says:

    Great article! I am trying to do some plumbing work on the inside of my home (replacing valves in the shower/tub) and the main water shut off does not appear to completely shut the water off to the house – there is still a slow stream of water draining from one of the pipes. Should I try the city meter, or is there something else I should try before resorting to that?

  15. Fred says:

    Laura – city meter is the last resort. You should replace the inside main while you’re at it to put a good one in place.

  16. edward says:

    Hey im having water problems. My toilet wont fill up with water. And now my sink is clogged up probably from frozen drainage pipe. I keep running the water though in the sink and everywhere else to keep it from freezing. but im tired of draining out the sink by hand and all. And i will call a plumber once the weather gets warmer. So in the mean time would it be ok to turn the main water off from my shut off valve outside? I know it will freeze and all but will it bust the pipe from under the ground?

  17. Fred says:

    Edward – hard to say given the fact that it sounds like you have serious plumbing problems. Perhaps the builder did not properly insulate your house? A good question would be whether the main pipe is deep enough under ground.

    How old is your house?

  18. Larry Fawcett says:

    I would like to purchase a water cut off wrench with the following requirements.
    1st that the wrench also have the pentigon type of ntut socket built into it.
    2nd that the valve shut off portion of the wrench be on a Tee type of rod that is adiquitly long enough to reach down a standard depth hole, say 24″ or better, 36 prefered.
    Anybody know where I can find this?
    Larry 20100119
    larry.fawcett@ngc.com

    • Dennis Welch says:

      hi did you ever find the wrench you was looking for. I’m wanting one myself. so I can work on my house . please if you would let me know what it’s called or where I could purchase one thanks .
      denwel.DW@gmail.com.

  19. Claudio says:

    I need to replace the main water valve in my house so I have to shut off the water at the meter. I will not be asking the city for permission. I have to get this job done soon and can’t wait for them to come out. Any advice?

  20. Keith Lingenfelter says:

    Question

    I live in Potomac, MD. and receive water from WSSC. I need to shut off the main valve at my driveway (the internal main gate valve won’t shut off and leaks). The copper main line entering the basement is 1 inch. I’ve removed the brass driveway cap for the main valve. The house is about twenty years old and has the original installation main line and shut off valve. The brass cap is made by Tyler Pipe (Tyler 6500). When I looked down at the valve I was a bit surprised. It’s 18 inches below grade, so far so good; however, my trusty curb key won’t engage the valve tang as the tang is only about 1/4 inch wide by about 7/8 inch. My curb key engages a 1/2 to 5/8 inch wide tang. Is it safe to assume this valve is just a 1 inch ball valve with a smaller than usual actuation tang. I’m afraid to bear down on it until I’m sure what I’m dealing with.

    Thanks for any help

  21. ted says:

    Question,
    Recently our water company installed new lines on the street where I have a summer cottage.
    Normally, I have used the Curb valve to shut off the water for the winter. However, when they replaced the lines they buried the curb valve down about 5′.
    I can shut it down for the winter using the house valve in the crawl space under the house, However, there is about 1.5 ft of the service line exposed before the valve. Would heat tape prevent freezing that short length of pipe. We are located in northern Pennsylvania so it gets quite cold for weeks at a time. If anyone can give me some guidance, I would appreciate it.

  22. ann paulson says:

    I just recieved a letter form the city of minneap[olis minnesota saying the shut off valve for the water service line to the property does not work. They said it is the owner’s responsibility to keep the shut-off valve and the entire service line in working condition. I am responsible to hire a plumber to fix this. I am barely surving with a huge mortage and awaiting surgery for my leg and I don’t have any money to fix a huge expensive problem. How hard is it to fix myself and how wpuld they know that the shut-off valve isn’t working? I ask this because I have been billed many times for things that were wrong. Thank you for your time.
    Sincerely,
    Ann

  23. ann paulson says:

    Dear Sir: I was sesnt a letter telling me the city of Minneapolis Minnesota discovered that the shut-off valve for the water line to the property doesn’t work. The letter states that I must fix it according to city ordinance . I am wondering how difficult it is to fix? I also have been billed many times for different charges that were’T correct from the city so my next question is how would they know this? Please let me know as I am waiting surgery for my leg and unable to get around well and have very little money to fix this problem. Thank you for your time.
    Sincerely,
    Ann

  24. Wes Richmond says:

    Does anyone know what type of wrench/socket is used in Maine/ southern maine…kennebunk area to turn off the water at the street? is it a special socket? pentagonal or something..maybe with a slot? where wolud i get one.

    Tthe valve (down 3 or 4 ft below grade), Is ita a ball valve..or a gate valve with a stop.

    Thanks , Wes… Ogunquit Me.

  25. roy says:

    The shut off valve at the street is filled with dirt any suggestions on how to remove it? The valve is around 3-4 feet deep in phila.

  26. Fred says:

    Roy: Very carefully 🙂 … probably using a hose to moisten the dirt and then a trowel to remove it.. just be careful not to damage the plumbing.

  27. Bob Baker says:

    I have a city water meter shutoff like the “typical” one shown in this article about shutting water off at the meter. Does it take 1/4 turn, 1/2 turn to shut off or some other fraction of a circle???

  28. Fred says:

    Bob, on the one pictured it takes 1/2 turn.

  29. Lee says:

    I recently purchased a residential duplex (built in 1977). During various inspections, I was amazed to learn that there are NOT separate isolation/gate valves installed within the individual units! In order to perform plumbing service to one side, the water supply must be turned off at the meter! … rendering both units without H2O supply for the duration of the service requirement. YIKES! I was of the understanding that an isolation valve was required by code in virtually all states?

    The structure is built on a typical foundation with an 24″ crawl space. I have had an inspector examine the crawlspace. He is unable to identify the specific location of where the main supply services entry to the individual units without removing a substantial amount of the floor insulation to “track it down” … very expensive!

    My question: Does the typical water supply enter (in this type of scenario) somewhere close to the Hot Water tank? … they are opposite of each other on the common wall. If that is the case, then I should be able to remove sheet-rock and install separate gate valves?

    • Fred says:

      Lee,
      Apologies for not getting back to you on this one in a quicker fashion. I would say there is not necessarily any correlation between the location of the hot water tank and where the water enters the building…. Unfortunately, water entrance is usually dictated by where the exterior pipes lie, and water heater placement is done based on optimum location within the house from a storage/accessibility standpoint.
      The code does require separate cut-offs to the best of my knowledge. Might not have been the case when the building was built.

  30. Debra says:

    Thank you for the simple and quick way to shut off the water at the Main meter…I followed the instructions on our City Water Site and they only had you run a test from the outside main, by the house to see if there was a leak. I did that, but it was still running, so I looked online quickly to make sure the shut off was done correctly…Thank you.

    now we are waiting for plumbers…any guidelines on good honest plumbers???

    • Fred says:

      Debra, You are most welcome! We really like ServiceMagic.com for finding plumbers and other help. If you’re in a major city, you’ll get return calls in a few minutes – it really is a pretty amazing service.

  31. Fawzi Himada says:

    I have a house on the beach that we use on the weekends only. Can I shut off the water meter valve when nobody is living at the house during the weekdays.
    I had a busted pipe last month with a water consumption of 24000 galons that was repaired now the water company had sent me a statement showing a 35000 galons consumed despite the fact that nobody lived at the house for 3 weeks. what would you suggest and advise me to do?????

    • Fred says:

      Fawzi, this is so jurisdiction dependent we just can’t give you a good answer. The general rule is if the leak is on your side of the meter, then it’s your responsibility. You may have some appeals process locally to try and do something about it, but we have seen these types of situations before where the homeowner ends up spending $1,000 on water because they fail to recognize a leak. It really stinks.

  32. Kelly Goodley says:

    I have a question, I have water noise in wall behind toilet. Ive been quoted over a grand to fix it. But I was planning on moving anyways. Just not this soon. This house I was renting, and the owner dissapeared. Anyways, Can I turn the water off and on when needed until I move? It is an old house here in Orlando.

    • Fred says:

      What do you mean “water noise” – do you mean a leak? If it’s not your house, I wouldn’t spend the money to fix it unless I absolutely had to to make it livable. (That is of course unless your lease agreement says you are responsible for repairs).

  33. gary murray says:

    I have a house at the shore and need to turn the water on the top value will not turn . I remember the plumber who turned in off saying there was another value he used because this one was broken have you eveer heard of that? And if so where would that one be

    • Fred says:

      If the valve at the street is broken, it will need to be replaced, which requires a stop higher up to be turned off. Call the municipality for help on this one.

  34. Vivian says:

    Hi Fred, I live in Orlando, FL. I have a leak from the main line that’s approximately 1′ from the meter. The meter, as u know, is located on a small property between the street & the side walk. I called my public works company, OUC, & they came out to turn off the main valve at the meter. I don’t have any water running to my house at the moment. A friend of mine told me that the public works is responsible for repairing the pipe on that property because it’s considered governmental/city property. Can you advise if this true?

  35. […] Project Closer can show you how to turn off your water using the main cutoff valve on the street.  Go find out.  Go and […]

  36. hector says:

    whats the name of the key you use to open a valve that is 12″ down….

  37. Last November ,we started having water pressure issue, I started checkingout the lines and valves in house,the last thing was at kitchen sink where pressure lost got to zero. I took it all apart check every thing ,then romoved the fauccete spicket and slowly open valve ,close that side opened other side Hot side. slowly open and closed,somesmall granules ofand stone came out.Put all back together and pressure was restored. then couple days later no water anywherein house. I went out side to front cub and water was streaming down side walk I called the City.They came out shut curb side valveand water stopped Then City man says its yours to fix.
    So called a plumber. He came looked and told us would cost X amount to fix if at that point.If had to put newline ,it would be more money. OK. Proceeded to dig it up nextday. Then a problem cropped up. The leak was on city side of a valve that was fullopenend about 4 feet from the valve that city closed off.They had abandoned that valve and put new one in out of and away from side walk. I want them to pay as it was do to bad work manship on who ever abanded that valve and put in another away from side walk . Can I get payed back my $3,000.00
    .

  38. Jim Cahill says:

    I have corp. owned brass stopcocks buried in my front yard. They are the cutoffs for my house and my neighbor’s. I would like to find some sort of plastic well for them for ease of location and access. The valves are angled so that a white PVC pipe is too small. Irrigation valve wells are not deep enough. Any suggestions?

  39. Chris says:

    San diego downtown brunswick hearf some bad stuff about our owner terrible class action lawsuit approved he doeant like ti pay bills skimps out and hates authority the water is out and he left his workers here told em ti just keep telling us another hour or ao who do i call

  40. Chris says:

    San diego downtown brunswick heard some bad stuff about our owner terrible class action lawsuit approved he doeant like to pay bills skimps out and hates authority the water is out and he left his workers here told em to just keep telling us another hour or so who do i call

  41. Mary weaver says:

    My son has a problem. The city came out yesterday to operate the curb stop. Today when he came home it was leaking. The city says he is responsible. How is that so? The valve is before the meter and THEY BROKE IT. HELP thank u

  42. Joel says:

    I see everyone around my neighborhood has the flat too to their meter on the street n mines has a circle cylinder looking one that twist but won’t come off, can anyone help

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