If a pipe burst in your home, would you know how to quickly shut off the water to prevent water damage? What about your natural gas supply? Would you know how to turn it off if you suspect a leak?
A PEMCO Poll from a few years ago suggests the answer may be "no," especially if you're under age 35.
Only 47% of poll respondents in Washington and Oregon under age 35 knew where to turn off their home's main gas line in an emergency. Half knew where to locate their home's main water shutoff. The poll found that older generations, men in particular, were more likely to know what to do.
Before an emergency strikes, locate both shutoffs so you could find them quickly or when searching in the dark with a flashlight.
How to shut off the water
Generally, it's best to shut off the valve closest to the problem (for example, turn the valve by the toilet clockwise to quickly stop an overflowing toilet).
If you need to shut off water to the entire house, you'll likely find your main water valve in the garage, basement, next to the water heater or even under the kitchen sink. You also have a shutoff valve outside, adjacent to your in-ground water meter near the street. (The street valve often needs a special wrench or "key" available at hardware stores. But it may be the best choice if your plumbing is old and indoor valves are brittle.)
Depending on the type of hot water heater you have, you may need to shut it off, too, when turning off water to the house. Check your owner's manual.
An important safety note: Don't wade through standing water to reach the water shutoff until you've turned off electrical power to the house. That's because there's a chance the water is in contact with electrical current (particularly if it's several inches deep) and could pose an electrocution danger.
Consider installing water detectors in leak-prone areas like the laundry room, bathrooms and kitchen. You can monitor them with your smartphone, and some systems come with automated water shutoffs if they detect a leak. As an added bonus, you'll get a discount on your PEMCO homeowner or renter policy.
How to shut off the gas
Safety first. If the smell of gas is strong or you're feeling physical symptoms, get out immediately. Don't use a landline phone or anything electric (even switching off a light, unplugging an appliance or using your garage door opener), which could create a spark. Find a safe place away from the property and call 9-1-1 and then your utility provider. Consider seeking medical help.
If the smell is faint or other signs of a leak are minor and you feel no symptoms, go through your home quickly and open windows and doors to keep gas from building up. Get out and call your utility company or 9-1-1 from a safe place.
Follow the utility company's instructions before you act, but if you do need to shut off the main gas-line valve (usually the first fitting on the natural gas supply pipe next to your meter) you'll need the right kind of wrench. We recommend storing a crescent wrench inside a plastic zippered bag near the valve just in case.
Once the gas flow is stopped, don't turn the gas back on until the leak is fixed. (Your gas company can confirm the source of the leak, but you'll likely need to hire a contractor to fix the problem.) Make sure a qualified technician checks that all pilot lights and appliances are operating safely before you go back to using gas.
A gas/propane detector can alert you to a leak before danger escalates. As with water sensors, gas detectors can qualify you for a discount on your PEMCO insurance.
If you're still not sure what to do or can't find your shutoffs, talk with a service technician the next time you have plumbing or gas appliance maintenance done at your home. If you live in a condo, check with your building manager, who can guide you specifically for your unit.