I own a couple of rental properties and also do work as a handyman.
Why Shut Off Utilities During a Disaster?
There are many reasons that may require you to shut off all or some of your home's utilities during a disaster. You may need to shut off your home's gas or water supply, or even your phone and electricity if the structure has suffered damage due to earthquake, hurricane, etc. Here is how to do it.
Shutting Off Your Home's Water Supply in an Emergency
(If you are uncertain about any of the following procedures or have a different setup from the one below, call a licensed plumber or the city first!)
First, you will need an emergency water shutoff key, such as the one in the photo above. There are more compact types, however, ones with longer handles are safer for areas where there may be poisonous spiders and snakes living in water meter boxes. In a pinch, you can use a Crescent wrench or adjustable wrench, also pictured below.
Step 1: Find Your Water Meter
Locate your home's water meter. This may be located close to the street, along a fence line or even in a basement in some northern locations. A typical curbside water meter looks like the one below.
Step 2: Remove the Water Meter Lid
Remove the lid by inserting a screwdriver or other tool into the keyhole, which may look like the one on the right-hand side of the image above. You may have to jiggle the lid up and down a bit for it to release. As you remove the lid, beware of poisonous snakes or spiders like black widows, which love to make meter housings their home.
Step 3: Turn the Valve Stem All the Way to Off
Place your emergency water shutoff tool over the flat valve stem and turn it toward the right until it stops. Many of these valves turn off by rotating clockwise. If it does not rotate in that direction, try the other way, since your valve may be different. Off is typically when the valve head is lined up perpendicular or across the water line. It may take a bit of effort since these valves are seldom used. Once you have turned off the emergency shutoff valve at the meter, check at the nearest faucet to see if your water is really off.
Note: When you turn your water supply back on, make sure that all leaks have been fixed and that you have shut off all faucets throughout the home.
How to Turn Off Your Home's Electricity in an Emergency
(If you are uncertain about anything or have a different setup than what's shown above, call an electrician first!)
You may have to turn off your home's electricity if there is a problem, such as a damaged outlet, exposed wire or leaking natural gas. (In case of a gas leak, get out of the house and call your gas company for instructions first!)
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Step 1: Locate Your Electrical Breaker Box
A typical home breaker box may look like the one above. Yours may be different and feature a sub-panel inside the home and a larger main breaker or disconnect switch. If so, turn off your smaller inside breakers first, followed by the main switch or breakers outside.
Lift up on the breaker box's outside cover and pull it toward you and up and over the small closure tab with a hole in it at the lower front. At 90°, you should be able to lock it into place by pressing back on the lid and into the slotted hinge.
Note: If you see bare wires and no covering for breakers under the lid, shut it at once and call an electrician!
Begin by shutting off all of the individual circuits first and then turn off the larger breaker at the top or bottom. The main breaker switch should be marked with a large number, such as 100 amp or 200 amp.
Step 2: Close the Door to the Breaker Box
Once the electrical problem has been resolved, you can turn on the main breaker switch, and then slowly, one by one, turn on the smaller breakers so as not to overload the system, as things like refrigerators draw lots of power.
How to Turn Off Your Home's Gas in an Emergency
If you have a suspected natural gas or propane leak, first do this: Do not touch anything, especially light switches (which can cause a spark and ignite gas), and get out of the home immediately and call the gas company! Don't shut off your gas unless absolutely necessary. If you are safely able to do so, you may want to shut off home gas supplies for reasons such as a gas leak, approaching wildfire or major structural damage.
Note: Once your turn off your home's gas supply you will have to call the gas company to turn it back on since they are legally required to check that all pilot lights have been re-lit.
Step 1: Locate Your Home's Main Gas Shut-Off Valve
Your home's main gas valve may be located on an outside wall. There is usually a short, rectangular valve head that may have a hole in it so that it can be locked in the off position. If the valve or pipe is heavily rusted and won't budge, or appears loose or damaged, do not proceed and call a professional or your gas company.
Step 2: Use a Wrench or Gas Shut-Off Tool to Turn the Supply Valve Off
Use a Crescent wrench or gas shut-off tool to turn the main supply valve so that it's perpendicular (sitting across) to the gas line. It may require turning the valve left or right to do so. (If there are small holes in the valve head, it will be in the direction that lines the two holes up so that a lock could be placed through both holes). Often, it is hard to turn these valves, since they are seldom used.
Other Services That May Require Disconnection in an Emergency
If your home has suffered structural damage, then you will want to cut off all services, including phone lines and cable, which carry low voltage and can spark a fire if they have been cut. Again, call your phone or cable company first, if you can.
A phone service box should be located on the exterior of the home near the other utility connections. It will often have two sides, a company side and a customer access side. The customer access side can be opened with a screwdriver or wrench, however, the company side of the box may require a special key.
Open the Customer Side of the Phone Service Box
Locate the phone jack plug, as seen in the image above, and unplug it. In most cases, unless there is another wiring situation going on, this should disconnect phone service going into your home. For multiple lines, there may be multiple phone jack plugs to disconnect.
Note: Please use common sense. The types of utility connections vary, and the procedures listed above may not work in every situation. Consult with your local utility company before an emergency occurs to determine which procedures you are allowed to complete and how to perform them.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Nolen Hart
Dr Kulsum Mehmood from Nagpur, India on August 21, 2020:
Thanks for sharing such an important emergency article .....
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on August 21, 2020:
This is important information to know. Thanks!
Danny from India on August 21, 2020:
very informative and useful article doodlebugs. You have listed some very important points for every emergency.