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What sort of water valve does my home have and how do I turn it off?

The earliest evidence we have of man-made valves dates back to the Roman Empire. In fact, the Romans had extensive plumbing systems that included storage tanks, lead piping, and tunnels. Valves, of course, played an essential role. Without valves, it would be impossible to control water supply to different houses, or to different outlets in the same house.

In our modern world, there is a surprising variety of water valves that we rarely see, except when something goes wrong in our home’s water system. Then, it suddenly becomes extremely important to understand your home’s plumbing infrastructure. In order to avoid an emergency, it pays to know the type of valve that your home uses. Here are a few of the main water valve shut off types in your house and how to turn them off. 

Ball Valves

Ball valves are the best and least problematic valves. They're very simple to operate. Structurally, they utilize a sphere within the pipe that can be turned to shut off the flow of water. Externally, they have a straight lever that is pushed (instead of a round handle to turn). In order to turn them off, simply give the lever a quarter turn. 

Washered Valves

Washered valves are the most common type of water service shut off valves. Although they vary in exterior design, they all work in roughly the same way; moving a washer onto a hole in order to stop the flow of water. A common problem with washered valves is that washers can wear out and then the water won't shut off properly. If a washer breaks, it's very important to replace it with one of the correct size. They usually have a round handle that can be turned in order to close the valve and restrict the flow of water. 

Butterfly Valves

Butterfly valves are similar to ball valves because both types utilize a handle that is turned ninety degrees to shut off the flow. In the case of butterfly valves, that is because they have a disc inside the pipe that turns as the outside lever is turned. One advantage of a butterfly valve is that water flow can be controlled by how far the disc has been turned. To fully shut them off, simply turn the handle ninety degrees. 

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