Avoid Disasters at Home While Traveling or On Vacation This Winter!

Going on vacation this winter? Be sure to turn off the main water shut-off valve where it comes into the house. Also turn off the gas (or electric) for the hot water heater.

The reason for this recommendation is that there’s always the potential that your electric power will go out while you’re away, or that something will fail in your furnace (ignitor, flame sensor, smart gas valve, etc). Either way, your home could suddenly lose its source of heat, water pipes could freeze and burst, and water would keep flowing continuously into your home until someone shuts it off.   Or, a leak could simply develop because a weak valve or pipe connection finally fails.

Many people can tell stories of when their clothes washer, icemaker, or dishwasher sprung a leak while they were asleep or at work, resulting in a major flood that ruined carpets, furniture, computers, hardwood flooring, drywall ceilings, etc. Just imagine if such a leak occurred while you were away for a long weekend, or for a full week or more?

To avoid that situation, you could run around the house shutting off supply lines to toilets, sinks, and all appliances before you depart, but that not only takes time, it still leaves many pipes in walls and ceilings fully pressurized. Thus, it’s much easier (and a better, more complete solution) to shut off all pressure into the home at the main shut-off valve. It’s always best to anticipate the “what if” situation and prepare to avoid it than face the possibility of returning to the “what DID” – in this case, a burst pipe and a flooded home!

If you’re on city / municipal water, your main shut-off valve is usually located in the same area where your water meter is located. If you have a well, the water shut-off will be close to your pressure tank. There are two common types of shut-off valves – gate valves and ball valves; we’ve included photos of both types here. A gate valve is turned off by turning the handle on the valve stem clockwise several times until it stops in the closed position. A ball valve has two positions, on and off. The valve is ON when the handle on the valve is parallel to the water pipes feeding through it, and OFF when it’s perpendicular (at 90 degree angle) to the pipes. Just a quarter-turn of the handle moves it from on to off or vice versa.

Location of Main shut-off valve – near water meter
Typical gate valve
Ball valve – shown in the ON position

The reason for also shutting off the energy source to the hot water heater is two-fold: first, it saves energy to not keep that static tank of water heated for a week (or more) while you’re on vacation. Second, if the pressure relief valve on the water heater were to fail and release and dump a good portion of the water out of the heater and you’re not there to notice it and shut things off, not only would you have 40-50 gallons of water (or more) all over everything, but the water heater would then try to heat what’s left in the tank , trying to get to a “full tank of hot water” indication, and would burn itself out trying since the tank would be almost empty. So you’d have a watery mess, and a ruined water heater.

Safe travels this winter, and rest easy knowing the water is shut off back at home!