Knowing the basics of your home
Whether you are new to owning your home or have had your home for several years, you have the keys to your very own home! Congratulations! No more rent increases, no more loud neighbors banging on the walls or walking above your ceiling. But then again there is no more landlord to call when the toilet get clogged or is running, or any other issues that may come up.
Depending on your comfort level with tools and the various areas of your home that need to be maintained or have the occasional problems there are some must need to know items like where are your water shut offs, gas shut offs, and power breakers.
WATER SHUT OFFS: Also called angle stops, are located near the fixture they feed. Usually these days they come from the wall, but occasionally can be found coming from the floor. There are two types of angle stops, MULTI-TURN and QUARTER TURN valves. Multi-turns are just that, you keep turning the valve to the right until it stops and the water is turned off. They are designed much like a gate valve (think of the water spigot you connect your garden hose to). Quarter turns are also just that, you turn the valve a quarter of the way and the water is either on or off. When the valve handle is perpendicular to the water pipe the water is off, when the valve handle is pointed up, the water is on. These are basically a ball valve type. Personally we like these better because they have less mechanical issues and don't fail as often as the Multi-turn valves, which in an emergency is the difference between a small puddle and huge pool of water. Water damage is one of the biggest causes for property damage in homes. Teaching your children where these shutoffs are is also important, because if they see the toilet overflowing, they can quickly turn off the water and slow or stop the spilling.
Look for shut off valves around toilets and sinks (usually directly under the sink), and for refrigerators with automatic ice machines and filtered water (usually behind the fridge).
You will usually have two location to turn water off to the entire home. One will be located along the outside of the house, usually tied with a hose spigot, and two gate valves one that will turn water on/off for the hose and one (usually the lower of the two) that will shut of the water to the house. Gate valves have a tendency to "freeze" or get stuck if they left alone for too long, or if they are used too often. So we generally recommend replacing these valves with ball valves that operate easier/faster and last much longer. The second location for your water main will be at the street. Here you will find a (usually green) lid covering a hole in the ground. If you lift the lid, you'll find your water meter, and a valve on both sides of the meter. The valve on the street side of the meter is usually considered to be the property of the city or water municipality that provides water to the residents (only in extreme circumstances should you try to turn this valve). The valve that is closer to your house is usually considered to be the property and responsibility of the property owner. These valves vary between gate or ball valves, but it is a good idea to exercise these valves semi-annually and to keep them lubricated with a corrosion protector to prevent them from ceasing. Also use caution when opening the lid to these valves as they are favorite hiding places for spiders like Black Widows.
GAS SHUT OFFS: Gas shut offs will also be near the appliances or machines that use natural gas to operate. The most commonly thought of are your gas stove/oven and gas powered washers and dryers. Don't forget about the furnace. In many older homes the furnace is located in a closet in a hallway. Many of the newer homes have them in the attic space. Also your water heater will have a gas shut off valve if it is not an electric heater. Gas shut offs usually have a yellow handle on them and are usually ball valves. Turn the valve so that it crosses the inlet pipe and the gas is closed off from the appliance. You will also have a valve at the gas main of your home. It is a good idea to contact your gas provider to have them send someone out to show you where the shut off is for the gas main, and it usually requires the use of a large wrench.
ELECTRICAL BREAKERS: Electrical breaker boxes replaced the old fuse type call knob and tube wiring a long time ago, but there are still plenty of old homes out there with the old wiring, and even some that have a mixture of old and new in them. We will only focus on the newer type of wiring in this article. If you have an older home and have knob and tube wiring, it is highly recommended that you contact a licensed electrician regarding what you have and how to operate your power.
Circuit Breakers are found at the breaker boxes. There can sometimes be sub-panels, that house breakers for specific areas of the house or offices, and then there is the main box. This is where you can turn off power to individual sub panels, individual rooms or the entire house/building. We will assume for this article that there is only a main box. This is usually located outside the house and where your electric meter is located. CAUTION needs to be taken when removing any covering for the breakers. The breaker panel will have circuit breakers (little levers), if you open a panel and see large cable wires DO NOT TOUCH. DO NOT TRY TO PLACE A METER ON THESE WIRES! Close the panel immediately.
Make sure that before you go to look at the breakers that the ground you are standing on is dry and without moisture, standing on wet ground can facilitate electrical shock. Where rubber soled shoes/boots, where gloves and do not have any metallic jewelry on. SAFETY FIRST.
If you have lost power to specific room or electrical appliance, first see if you have power in any other rooms or any outlets that are near by. Look for GFCI outlets that will interrupt power to several outlets if tripped. These are found in bathrooms and kitchens most commonly, but we have found them in hallways and other "odd" locations. This will help you narrow down where your problem is. If there is no GFCI outlet tripped, unplug the appliance, then check your breaker box. If you find a breaker that has been "tripped" meaning it is in the OFF position you'll want to push it back to the ON position. In order to this, first press the breaker all the way OFF and then back to ON. The breaker should stay in the ON position. If it doesn't, try one more time repeating the sequence. If it still doesn't stay, you could have a bad breaker.
If the breaker stays in the ON position but you still are having no power to your appliance, there could be a problem with the outlet/switch. If you have a outlet tester you can find out what the problem is by plugging that in, or depending on your level of comfort, call an electrician or handyman (we can help you find both!).
These are just some of the basics of what you should know and feel some comfort around. Knowing where these things are is especially important in the event of emergency and should be part of any emergency plan you have for you and your family, but also at work.