Shutting your water off
Customer shut-off valve
A customer shut-off valve controls water from the water meter to the service line. It is typically installed on the side of the meter that is closer to the building, referred to as the "property side" of the meter. This valve will shut off ALL water to the property and is your quickest option to stop all leaks.
A customer owned and maintained shut-off valve is required of all properties, per City of San Luis Obispo Municipal Code §13.07.
It is the responsibility of the owner to install and maintain the customer valve. It can be operated at any time by you or a plumber to shut water off.
House or Building Shut-Off Valve
The building shut-off valve is typically located outside next to a hose bibb, or inside your garage. The piping is usually either copper or PVC and comes out of the ground then enters the building through the wall. It can look like a straight handle that you turn ninety (90) degrees, or it can look like a round handle or wheel that will have to be turned several times to fully turn off the water.
Remember to turn valves on and off slowly to avoid excess pressure to build, called a water hammer. These can be damaging to water pipes, especially after a leak. When turning the water on after a leak or major plumbing repair, it is recommended to turn on a sink or faucet when slowly turning the water back on to reduce a damaging pressure shock to the system.
Call the Utilities Department
If you know that you or a plumber will be working on the property to fix a leak or do plumbing repairs, you can call the City of San Luis Obispo Utilities Department at (805) 781-7215 to schedule a temporary water shut-off for repairs at no cost.
Underground Service Line Leak
The service line is located between the meter and the building. If no water is being used in the building, irrigation is not running, and the meter is actively running, there could be a leak between the meter and the house. To check if you have a service line leak, shut off the building shut-off valve and check the meter. If the meter is turning and the building shut-off valve is off, it is highly indicative of a service line leak. Remember that confirming a service line leak does not mean you don’t have other indoor leaks as well. It can be difficult to check and use the meter for indoor issues with an active service line leak.
Now that you know how to check service line for leaks, you can check more easily serviceable areas. By far the most common and costly leak is a running toilet, followed by leaks in automatic irrigation systems or errors in irrigation timer programming. Here are a few things you can easily do at your home or business to check for leaks and/or reduce water consumption.
Fully running toilets consume 2 gallons of water per minute. If it were to run a full month, this would equate to 115 units of water, or $1,204.37 in water charges alone.
When you look in a toilet bowl, the surface water should be still, not moving. If the water is rippling, even slightly, water is flowing and will show up on your bill. This can be remedied by (a) changing the flapper valve in the toilet’s tank; (b) running your finger under the lower surface of the flapper valve to make sure there are no ceramic chips or other particles preventing the valve from seating properly; (c) making sure the chain is not caught under the flapper valve preventing it from seating properly; and, (d) making sure the chain is long enough that it’s not pulling the flapper up, preventing a complete seal.
Also check the water level in the toilet tank: Remove the lid and locate the vertical tube in the center of the tank. The water level should be at least ½-inch below the top of this tube. If it’s running over the top, it is going into the sewer and onto your bill.
Turn on each station one at a time, walk around and check each area to be sure there are no “geysers” where a sprinkler head has been damaged or broken off. If you have a drip system, look for missing emitters and breaks or cuts in the line where excessive water is flowing out.
Take the time to become familiar with how your irrigation timer works. Some models can have up to 9 separate start times, so be sure the start times, run times, and days per week are what you intended. The City recommends installing a 9-volt battery in your timer to prevent it from resetting itself in the event of a power outage.
Other Water-Using Appliances
If you have a water softener, reverse osmosis system, or other water-using device, be sure to have them serviced regularly. There is usually an (800) phone number on the appliance.
- Check your toilet’s gpf (gallon per flush). If your toilet is an older model, it could use 3 gallons of water per flush or more. For a family of four, that averages out to 24-36 gallons of water per day. That can be over 1,000 gallons per month. Updating to a newer, 1.26 or lower gpf model can reduce usage by over 60%.
- Install efficient fixtures. A standard water faucet or shower head can use 2-4 gallons of water per minute. Low-flow fixtures can reduce that to as low as half a gallon per minute.
- Take shorter showers. If you’re taking 10-15 minute showers on a 2 gpm shower head every day, that’s using up to 1,500 gallons of water per month or more. If you cut that back to 5 minutes, you’re reducing that to 600 gallons per month. If you had a 1 gpm shower head, it would decrease to 150 gallons. A full 90% reduction!
- Use a shower bucket. You can put a bucket under the faucet in your shower to collect the water while you’re waiting for it to get warm. Often this will be enough water for a number of purposes such as washing a sink full of dishes or watering some houseplants.
- Let the lawn die. Keeping a lush, green lawn uses a LOT of water. Depending on what type of irrigation system you have, a 20’ x 20’ lawn could use 20 gallons of water per minute or more. Water that lawn four hours per week and that’s about 20,000 gallons (26 billable units) of water per month. Reducing irrigation in years with little rain will help not only your bill but the whole community.
- Turn off the water when you… Turning the faucet off when you’re doing short activities like washing your hands and brushing your teeth may seem nitpicky, but if you have a 2 gpm faucet, washing your hands and brushing your teeth twice daily can equate to 180 gallons per month. For men who let the water run while shaving, there’s an additional 150-300 gallons per month. And letting it run while you wash the dishes can waste over 1,000 gallons per month!
- Use the dishwasher. If you have a dishwasher, these are a surprising water saver. Newer model dishwashers use as little as 4 gallons of water for their entire cycle, with 6 gallons being the average. Older models rarely use any more than 12 gallons. That's the same amount you'd use washing dishes for six minutes with a 2 gpm faucet.
- If it’s yellow… You may have heard the phrase “If it’s yellow, let it mellow” or, when you use the restroom, if it’s yellow, don’t flush it. While this uses a bit less water, there are also reasons advising against this practice:
- The naturally occurring minerals in urine can cause buildup and calcification in a toilet if left for too long, potentially damaging both the toilet and the plumbing.
- The ammonia and other chemicals present in urine increase the cost of wastewater treatment as it takes more treatment to get the water clean again.
- The City recycles its wastewater for use of landscape irrigation. Many customers, including several large City parks are irrigated with recycled water. Recycled water is considered an additional water source.
- The majority of new toilets are now 1.6 gpf or lower and therefore are no longer significant water wasters.
Spread the knowledge
No one wants to deal with a plumbing emergency, but by knowing how to find and operate your home’s shut-off valves as well as check and isolate a leak, you’ll be prepared in case of an emergency. Share your experiences with neighbors and friends!
If you or anyone you know has questions about water line responsibilities, requests to temporarily stop service, or thinks there may be a leak, call the City right away. If you know you have a leak or have questions about your privately-owned plumbing system, call local plumber right away.