Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Question: Our home is in the City of Santa Barbara, our bathroom faucet has been dripping for months and now the drips have become a trickle. I have replaced the washers on faucets before but my problem is that I can’t shut off the water in order to do the job. The small valves under the sink are old and the handles no longer will turn. Our house doesn’t have a main shut off valve and in the past I have turned the water off at the meter on the street, but now it will not completely shut off any more either. How can I get the water turned off for a few minutes so I can work on my faucet?
Your Handyman: It is not uncommon for an older home to not have a main shut off valve that is usually located near the front door where the water pipe enters the house allowing the water to be shut off quickly in the event of a plumbing emergency, or for the type of routine maintenance that you want to perform. However the water meter on the street is the property of the City of Santa Barbara and they do not want anyone other than a public works employee using the meter valve for any reason. So your first step is to contact the City Public Works Department to report that your meter will not shut off and they will schedule a time for repair or replacement of your meter and or meter valve. The next step after public works is finished is to install a shut off valve where the main water line enters the home.
The shut off valve should be a ball style valve that is easily operated and it should be installed above ground. A ball valve turns off and on with a 90 degree turn of the handle and is much more reliable than the older style gate valves which inevitably get fouled by mineral build up from our very hard water or from corrosion. This is a relatively simple plumbing job if you are proficient in the cutting and sweating of copper pipe and if not, call a contractor to do the job correctly.
Once you have the shut off valve in place you can then easily turn off the water for your faucet repair project or if needed in the event of a future plumbing emergency. You should also replace both the hot and cold angle valves under the sink so that they too can be quickly turned off when needed. Purchase and install new angle valves that are also of the ball valve style, which are a little more expensive but will hold up much better over time.
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259