Stop valves and gate valves: lack of, lubricating, checking

Hand operated valves are used in domestic plumbing and heating to isolate sections of pipework when:

  • Pipework modifications are being carried out.
  • A fitting such as a basin tap is being repaired or replaced.
  • There’s a crisis.

Continuing in prophet-of-doom mode from the section on gas leaks; picture water jetting from a leak or burst in your property in the middle of a cold night. Do you know how to turn off the water to your property? If not, it might be a good idea to go looking.


There may be a mains stop valve (or “stop cock”) in the kitchen, perhaps tucked away under a sink or in a corner like this one:

Does it turn easily (bet it doesn’t)? If not, don’t wrench at it – apply some “penetrating” or “easing” oil or WD40 to the spindle, and leave it – be patient, wait at least an hour, maybe come back tomorrow. With a bit of luck the valve will now turn. If you turn it off (clockwise), there should be no flow from the kitchen tap – you’ve probably found the main stop valve (it’s worth checking that the water to the whole property is off – you may have found a local stop valve).




If you can’t find an internal stop valve or it doesn’t work, retire to the street and look for the external stop valve cover:

Using a flat-bladed screwdriver, lift the cover. You may find a round plastic protector which you can swivel and pull out of the way to reveal a stop valve. This may be like the one shown above in the kitchen, or a modern quarter-turn valve, like this one attached to a water meter:

You may like to check that you can reach and operate it, and that it works, turning off your water and not that of a potentially angry neighbour.

If the street stop valve is out of reach, or covered in a layer of mud, your luck is not holding. At this point, I’d consider asking the water utility company to fit a water meter. This will get you a new stop valve for free, though of course if you’re a heavy water user, your bills will go up (providing an incentive to economise).

If you are sorted out with an external stop valve but don’t have one indoors, it may be wise to get one fitted to avoid having to mess about in the street with a torch in the dead of night.

Gate valves too benefit from lubrication, and it’s a wise move to seek them out and do this at least once a year. Ten to fifteen minutes is all that’s needed – an excellent investment of time.

Finally, don’t leave stop or gate valves fully open, as they’re more prone to stick in this position. Open them fully, then just close them a little, perhaps by turning through 45 degrees. This will hardly affect the flow of water through them.