Water Main Shut-Off Problems

Our water main is nearly entirely stuck. The biggest t-bar wrench thingy available at Home Depot is not up to the task – you can actually see the metal twisting as you try. Professional plumbers seem to be able to do it, using more substantial tools combined with wrenches or PVC pipes, but I can’t seem to find anything like a more substantial tool for this job online or anywhere. I don’t want to have to call the plumber every time I need to replace a faucet. Where the are these heavy-duty wrenches that people are apparently using?

Can you post a pic?

I do plumbing work (although I avoid it in favor of HVAC/Elec) for a living and it looks like you’re describing a valve. Is this right?

If it’s froze, sometimes you can unscrew the stem and de-lime it. Of course that means you need to be able to shut it off upstream of the valve.

Be careful not to twist off and break the valve stem. I would use an 18" pipe wrench (maybe 24" but I doubt it) and if necessary a “cheater bar”----a piece of 1 1/4" of black iron about 20" long to give you leverage. (obviously inserting the handle of the pipe wrench into the pipe to effectively lengthen the wrench)

Be careful though----that leverage may come back to haunt you if you break off the valve.

A good pipe wrench will cost you something north of $40 though.


Are you talking about about a valve in the ground? If so you can pick up a ‘stopcock key’ from a plumbing supply house.

If you’re talking about the valve in the ground with the bar sticking up with which to turn it, that’s called a curb stop. The t-handle to shut it is a curb key. You can get them at plumbing supply houses. I can find them at Safe-T-Lite out here also, but I don’t know where you are.

Curb Key

But like raindog said, there’s a real hazard of twisting a corroded or stuck valve right off the water line, especially if you apply too much leverage. Then your neighbors are going to be really unhappy with you, as it’ll probably take shutting off the street to fix your service line. Won’t be cheap either.

You might also check with your water utility. In mine, and in the surrounding areas, all parts upstream of the meter belong to the utility. We’d really rather you didn’t mess with these, and if you break it, we’re going to charge you for it. It’s probably not a huge fee to get an operator to come out and shut it off for you.

That’s if it’s the valve in the ground. If it’s after the meter, it’s probably yours.

What would it cost to have a plumber come out one more time, to install a new whole-house shutoff just downstream of the problematic shut-off?

It sounds like you are describing the water shut-off valve inside the house below the water meter (if you have one). DO NOT try to force this open or closed without having control of the outside CC - aka undergound valve - lest you want to risk the entire lake/well/pump station/whatever water supply system your town has from rapidly emptying it’s entire contents into your basement should something break… which probably will happen. First call whoever sends you your water bill and say your inside main valve is broken and you need the CC turned off for repairs. They’ll send out some guy in coveralls (like me) to dig up your underground valve and shut it off; almost always for free. Then at your leisure you can either fix or replace your inside water valve with no risk of flooding. Call again and it’ll get turned back on when you’re done. Don’t bother screwing around with seized water valves; just replace them.

Then again every faucet/toilet in the house should already have it’s own shut-off valve. But you should still make sure your main water valve works.

The water valve in question is the one by the curb. I have heard that others have a secondary such valve closer to the house, and it would be nice if there were one, but we don’t have it. The plumber I spoke with said that the problem is that as these devices get aged, some nut gets tight in the underside of the apparatus which is problematic to get to, so they just tighten the valve at the top. So, there’s no great solution to making the thing easier to deal with from that end.

I wouldn’t mind putting in a valve closer to the actual house, though I don’t know what they would charge for such a thing.

Sounds like you have no inside shutoff for the whole house, nor any stop valves at each sink or toilet. Is that right?

Must be an old home as it’s normal, if not code, to have stop valves at all locations.

It would be worthwhile to at least have a stop valve installed inside the home. I’d recommend a ball valve over any other type.

It wouldn’t be that expensive, as plumbers go. I had it done in my house (built in 1928) because after moving in, we learned that we had no main valve.

They’d shut off the street valve, cut out a portion of your main inlet pipe, and install a new section with a shut-off valve. Two-and-a-half hours’ work maximum, maybe?

Note that this course of action tasks the professional with turning the street valve.

There are cut-off valves for the sinks and toilets, none for the showers or tub. Or, if they exist they’re buried between the walls and these booth-like structures which would be a major production to move out of the way.

I don’t know that I can have local tap installed inside, if it normally goes in a basement. But it is looking like ultimately nothing will answer but to have one installed closer to the house.

Things may have changed in the years since I worked installing water meters and different areas may use different valves but if its the valve on the upstream side of the meter (city side) that uses the slotted T-wrench to fit over a “bar”, is it possible you are trying to turn it the wrong way?
From what I remember, those valves could be installed either direction and the only way of knowing for sure which way to turn it was if it had the pad lock ears that lined up in the off position (so it could by locked by the city). Our standard way was clockwise closed them and counterclockwise was open, but sometimes they got put in backwards.

You might have one, but the handle is probably broken off anyway, seeing it’s so old. The valve close to the house is usually about six feet under the ground and inside a stone caisson. Check the shrubbery around your house near the front patio area on a line from the main valve.

What? :confused:

I’ve never seen a supply line more than 4 feet deep, never seen a shut off valve in a ‘stone caisson’ and have certainly never seen a valve in a shrub, and I’ve been working with water and plumbing for 20 years.

The OP’s best bet is to have a shut off valve installed in his house’s basement or crawl space right where the supply line comes in. Of course, the curb stop must be closed to do this, but he’ll only have to do it once.

I don’t think you can really say “usually” when it comes to plumbing issues. It’s very regional. I’m in California and we don’t really have basements. Shut off valves are usually on the outside of the houses, above ground or very slightly below. In colder climates, it makes sense to have them deeper underground or indoors. I have plenty in my system that have been overgrown with shrubs, or buried and lost.

The terminology varies by region too. There are several names for the valve on the service line - I call it a curb stop, but it’s also called a stopcock, for example.

You really should have one installed on your line that belongs to you, so you can deal with these issues as they come up.

I didn’t measure how deep it was, but I had to dig out a lot of sand with my hands. :frowning: It might have been only 4 feet, but it was well underground. And the “valve” was a handle, which had rusted off, so I could not use it, but had to use the main. I don’t know if “caisson” is the right word, but it was protected by a stone surrounding, which was topped by a stone cover. And it was in the middle of some holly bushes.

When your pipes spring a leak you will wish you had a shut off valve you could actually use. You should get one installed. Up to this point it is only frustrating. One day it might be more than that.

That’s looking like the upshot. Even if there was a tool out there that could wrestle that thing open, it would only be kicking the problem down the road.

I appreciate the feedback.

Is the valve before or after the meter?
If it is before the meter, does it have a 90 degree bend or not?
If it does, call the utility and have them shut down the service line at the main and replace it.
If it does not, dig out underneath the valve. Loosen the nut on the bottom a quarter turn, and then try to close it.
If all else fails, call the water company and ask them for help. The workers would rather come out during the work day and figure out the problem, then get called out after work to do an emergency shutoff.

The valve on mine is above the meter. Actually, I did have a leak, but did not know that until my water bills rose astronomically. I shut off all my water, but the meter continued to move. (There’s a small red arrow near the bottom which moves with any water usage.) To determine more precisely where the leak was I shut off the main. The arrow continued to move, which meant that the leak was on my side of the meter, meaning it was my responsibility, not the water company. I then wanted to shut off the water near my house, to determine if the leak was between the two valves or nearer to my house, but was unable to do so, as described above. The one by my house was under holly bushes and the root of one of those bushes intruded into the line. It cost me over $1100 to repair it, not to mention the increased water bills.