Well Sandy has had her way with us on the East Coast. I live in Delaware, exactly Dela…where, and was lucky enough to be on the south side of the storm. For reference Sandy hit land fall approximately 50 miles ENE of us. Sure we got pounded by rain and wind. Just north of us, the capital Dover had over 8.5 inches of rain. Much more and we could have gotten the five dollar discount from Subway. But, we were pretty lucky, a little flooding here and there and some small scale power outages. In fact, the lights only flickered once at our house and there is minimal debris clean up in our neighborhood. But many more were not so lucky. This will be the first in a series of disaster prep basics on HF.
Before we talk about shutting off your gas and water in emergencies, let’s talk about the why you should. Many forms of disaster such as earthquakes and tornadoes cannot be planned for. But for big events like hurricanes you may have a week of prep time prior to being hit. For many, shutting off water and gas may not seem all that obvious, and for those that decide to remain and ride out the storm, they might not even want to. But for those, like many of my in-laws in New Jersey, that evacuate, it can be a wise thing to do. Most people think “I’ll only be gone for a day or two and I’ll need my water and heat when I get back.” But often those who evacuate don’t think that there may not be anything left when they do get back. Looking at some of the images from NJ and NY as well as older pictures from Katrina, it should be clear that in some cases all you may have left is a foundation. If your gas and water is left on not only will you have a potential swimming pool in your basement or crawl space, but you can also have a potentially explosive and deadly situation on your hands. We’ll be discussing electric service in an upcoming article in the series.
In some cases utilities like these may be severed by government order. For example, Con Ed shut off electricity to portions of New York in preparation for Sandy. This minimalized electrical fires or overloads to the system. However, you can do this to prior to evacuating to make sure that there are not serious hazards at your home when you return. The first thing you need to do is know where your valves are for both your water and your gas. You should probably know where these are well in advance of cataclysmic storms for that occasional DIY project that goes awry. Knowing where the shut-offs are in an emergency will reduce cause for panic or anxious concerns.
In most cases, (keep in mind this article is general and details vary from house to house) there should be a supply-side or street side-valve and house-side. This supply-side valve is the valve that is directly before your meter. For the most part utility companies don’t want you to ever touch this valve. The valve itself is a pretty simple looking valve and generally it’s a quarter turn valve. Parallel with the pipe means it’s on perpendicular means it’s off. I personally wouldn’t have any problems turning it off in an emergency situation, but that’s just me. You need a wrench or pliers or an emergency gas valve wrench to turn it. The same goes for your water supply.
Further down the line you should find the house-valve. This may look similar to the supply-valve or it may be a large lever handle or a spinning gate valve that you need to turn a couple of rotations to close. These tend to be just inside the house either in the crawl space or basement, just prior to the first junction. They can also be found outside the house typically by the foundation wall closest to where the water service enters your property. With any luck, the valve will be easily accessible and won’t require any trips into unpleasant crawl spaces.
In the event of a disaster evacuation I’d suggest closing both water and gas valves. This simple step can protect your home from floods or explosions, so that’s always nice. Turn the valves perpendicular to the pipe or counterclockwise (depending on the type of valve) until they stop turning. Then I tend to bleed off any water pressure just in case a line gets cut there is no water spraying all over the place. I personally wouldn’t recommend trying to bleed the gas line but that’s just me. The amount in left in the lines is pretty minuscule and with no constant flow the gas should dissipate below the lower explosive limits (LEL) fairly quickly.
Finally, make sure that any pilot lights have been extinguished. While turning the water back on is simple, some areas require that the utility co be involved in turning back on the gas. If you’re doing it yourself, make sure you know what you’re doing. keep in mind some of your appliances may require a pilot light to be relit (by you, or the utility tech). Better to be safe than sorry!