Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Utility Shut-Offs

Every place in this world has its own particular breed of disasters. One thing that they all share, though, is that they can require you to shut off certain of your utilities for a short time. Which utilities, when, and how long to shut them off all depend on what kind of disaster and local governmental instructions.

Knowing the location of these shutoffs is also very helpful if you have to have a service technician work on systems in your home.  If they don't have to search for needed shutoffs, it saves time, which saves on the cost of repairs. Unfortunately, these kind of shutoffs are frequently inaccessible to apartment-dwellers. I wish I had better news about that, but it's just the way it goes.


My water shutoff
Any time there may be contamination of the water system, turning off your water can protect your interior piping, as well as any devices in the house that hold water, from contamination. Floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes can all cause this type of contamination, as can accidents during utility maintenance.

 Water shut-offs are usually low, in a basement or crawlspace.  They are also very commonly on the street-facing side of the house. (Mine happens to be in my crawlspace, at the very front of my house.) They'll be a simple valve -- just turn until it is closed.


A common natural gas meter.

Earthquakes are notorious for damaging natural gas lines. Powerful hurricanes and tornadoes can also damage internal gas lines in a home.  Natural gas has a noxious "rotten egg" smell that can be a dead giveaway to other leak issues as well.

A close up of the shut off valve.
A natural gas shut-off valve is a flat protrusion mounted on a gas meter. It  is a quarter-turn type valve, meaning it only needs to turn 1/4 rotation to shut off the flow. The adjustable wrench that I recommended for your basic tool kit is ideal for this task.

If you use propane or fuel oil instead of natural gas, contact your supplier and they can likely advise you on the location of your valve and method of emergency shutoff.


Power meter
Power is shut off with a special circuit breaker or fuse known as a "Main."  It will be larger than your other fuses and breakers, and is usually clearly marked. Some are located in the same panel as the rest of your breakers or fuses. Some, like mine, are located adjacent to your electric meter, before power actually enters the house.

Main breakers
Power shutoff is especially important for folks who run a back-up generator to supply power during an outage. Permanent installs should have an automatic switch that shuts off the main breaker when the generator takes over.  Non-permanent situations should, at the very least, turn off the main breaker manually. This prevents power back-feeding onto the utility lines, and protects workers who are attempting to repair damage and restore power.

Locate and identify your shut-offs ahead of time, so you won't be scrambling to find them in an emergency.


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