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Water Damage Destroys Home from Break in Overhead Plumbing Line

Newly revised and updated

 

Any break in an overhead plumbing line has the potential of causing serious damage to the home, especially when the homeowner is on vacation or is otherwise not around to address the problem. Here is some information that is designed to inform homeowners on what they can do to help mitigate against the likelihood of such damage when they are staying away from their home.

What Can the Homeowner Do?

At a minimum, a homeowner should familiarize themselves with the water turnoff valves in the garage. There is at least one such valve, typically in the garage where the water line enters the house from the street.

At that location, in addition to the valve there is also a pressure regulator, pictured at left. This regulator reduces the incoming water pressure from the street to an acceptable level for home use.

 

 

Phase 1 homes were originally fitted with a gate or screw valve, pictured at left, to shut off the water going to the KITEC plumbing lines. Over time, gate valves may become difficult to turn and are known on occasion to slightly leak (internally) since the shutoff mechanism is less effective than a ball valve in completely stopping the flow of water. As a result, another more effective shutoff valve can used.

 

When it came time to remedy the KITEC problem, many contractors replaced the original screw valve with the more effective ball valve, which utilizes a steel ball that rotates open and close as the handle is turned.

How do you know when the valve is closed? When the handle is turned in the same direction as the water pipe, the valve is OPEN. When the handle is turned to a 45 degree angle or perpendicular to the water pipe, the valve is CLOSED.

Another shutoff option available to homeowners with a water softener is to use the ball valve at that location since virtually all of the water going to the attic above the living portion of the home is routed through the water softener.

This water softener option includes all of the hot water lines, the recirculating water, and all of the cold water lines with one major EXCEPTION. The exception is the cold water line to the kitchen, which also feeds water to operate the reverse osmosis system and the water line to the refrigerator. Since that cold water line to the kitchen keeps operating when the water softener valve is turned off, closing this shutoff valve will NOT not address the entire plumbing system over livable portions of the home. These options are discussed more fully below.

What Options Does a Homeowner Have?

  1. Do nothing. In light of Mary’s experience, when you are going to be staying away from your home, doing nothing about your home's water supply may expose you to an unnecessary risk. As a precaution, Del Webb/Pulte recommends shutting the home's water supply off while you are living away from your Sun City Anthem home.
  2.  Do ONE of the following two OPTIONS: [Do not do both.]

OPTION 1: Close the shutoff valve for the water softener.

However, as noted above, closing the water softener valve is not a complete water shutoff remedy. This valve is located near the wall where the house water line enters through the garage wall and connects to the water softener. The water softener is typically located next to the water heater.

Because the water softener's shutoff valve does not provide complete protection over the livable portions of the home, this is not a preferred solution.

[NOTE: Some homes with kitchen island sinks may have been plumbed using the discarded KITEC pipe to slip new hot and cold water lines to the kitchen. This was done in our home. If such use happends to bypass the attic, consideration could be given to using the softener's shutoff valve in lieu of Option 2.]

A close up picture of the water softener valve is shown above and can also be seen in the far left image to the right of the softener's combination transformer/electrical plug.

In addition to closing the shutoff valve pictured above, homeowners will also need to do two things. 1) pull the electrical plug that is connected to the recirculating pump; and 2) pull the transformer plug out of the electrical outlet that is connected to the water softener. Both the water softener and the recirculating pump should not be running while the water is turned off.

Remember to reconnect these two plugs when you return home and to reset the timers on these devices.

OPTION 2: Close the shutoff valve that sits next to the water pressure valve. This valve (pictured below) is the main shutoff valve for the home and will shutoff all water going to 1) the water heater; 2) the water softener; and 3) all water lines going to livable portions of the home. This valve is typically located inside the garage near the garage door car entrance. It is located where the water line from the street first enters the house. [In a Villa, the shutoff valve is buried in a green box just outside the exterior wall.]

If you close the shutoff valve at this location, Phase 1 homeowners need to make sure that the landscaping line is not also connected to this valve and will continue to operate when the valve is shut off (see Other Issues below).

Also, homeowners will need to do two additional things: 1) pull the electrical plug that is connected to the recirculating pump; and 2) pull the softener wall transformer plug out of the electrical outlet that is connected to the water softener. Remember to reconnect these two plugs when you return home and to reset the timers on these devices.

Another Option NOT RECOMMENDED is to close the shutoff valve at the water meter located in a vault in the sidewalk or near the parkway. This option is not recommended since all water to the house, including the landscaping lines, will be disabled. Also, unless you have a special tool, although not absolutely necessary since a locking vice or similar grip will do, access to the shutoff valve can be difficult for a homeowner to manage. Located to the right and left of the meter are two control valves. To close, turn the top of the valve until the top hole lines up over the bottom hole. When the two holes are perpendicular to one another, the valve is open. Also, creepy and occasionally deadly spiders may consider that water meter vault their home.

What About the Water Heater?

When turning the water off because the homeowner will be staying away from the home, the homeowner should modify the temperature setting on the water heater. When on vacation, change the setting on the temperature control knob to VACATION.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Issues

Phase 1 Landscaping Line.

Not all Phase 1 homes were replumbed in the same manner. While some homeowners included the landscaping system in the replumb, others chose not to do so. For those who left the landscaping line untouched in the replumbing project, the landscaping line shutoff valve is above ground and outside the garage wall near where the landscaping line controllers are located.

For those homeowners who opted to include the landscaping line in the replumb, a potential problem may exist depending on how the contractor performed the replumb. For reasons that are not entirely clear, some replumb contractors may have routed the landscaping line off of the main water line going to the water heater/softener rather than keeping those two lines separate. In those instances where the landscaping line is not separated from the main line, the main line shutoff valve at the point of entry into the garage from the street controls BOTH the house water supply and the landscaping line. NOTE: In such cases, turning the main water line valve off will shut off all water going to the home as well as all water going for landscaping purposes.  

Can homeowners test to see if their home is plumbed in this manner? Yes. You can test by manually turning on one of your landscaping lines, or wait until the controller turns on one of the lines. While the water is running to your grass, trees or bushes, etc., rotate the main water shutoff valve in the garage to the off position and see if that action turns off the landscaping system. If the landscaping watering is unaffected by turning the shutoff valve off, then everything is fine and no further action on your part is required.

On the other hand, if closing the main water shutoff valve in the garage also stops the landscaping water from running, then you know that BOTH the house and the landscaping lines are controlled by that single shutoff valve. If both the indoor water supply lines and the outside water lines are controlled by that shutoff valve, that’s very important information for the homeowner to have. Since any household leak, or for that matter any landscaping leak, can be spotted and fixed in a matter of hours or days, it matters little that both indoor and outdoor systems are controlled by the same valve--as long as the homeowner is home to take care of the problem.

The real problem comes when the homeowner is away from home for any length of time and wants to shut their water supply off to the home but keep their landscaping system operating. While a day or two away from home will make no difference in meeting your landscaping needs, and thereby cause no lasting damage to the landscaping, longer stays away from home would likely pose a problem, especially in the hot summer months. If you fall into this category, the use of OPTION 2 above would not be good idea for longer stays away from home. Such homeowners may wish to consider adopting OPTION 1 (water softener) to close the water line in order to keep their landscaping line operating. As explained above, this can pose some risk since the water softener valve does not control the cold water line to the kitchen.

No Water Softener.

If you do not have a water softener and therefore no water softener shutoff valve, the homeowner is dependent on using the main shutoff valve and OPTION 2. However, Phase 1 homeowners should make sure they know whether that valve controls only the house water line or both the house and landscaping water lines. Phase 2 homeowners may assume that the main shutoff valve controls only the house water line.

Separating the Landscaping Line From the Main Line.

In Phase 1 homes, if the main shutoff valve controls both the house and landscapping water lines, the homeowner may wish to consider contracting with a plumbing company to separate the two lines in the garage so that the landscaping line is not controlled by the main water line shutoff valve. This would be important to know in instances where there is no water softener.

Out of Business.

Some plumbing contractors in business in 2007 may not be in business in 2010. Sadly, this is true in the case of Town & Country Mechanical, the company we used to replumb our home. Town & Country did not do Mary's replumb work.

Ron Johnson, 1 January 2010, with corrections on 2 Jan