Emergency Water Shutoff, Sharkbite Fittings, And Mice

9 Aug

In my book, I emphasize it’s important for preppers to learn a bit about home repair so that we can deal with basic emergencies. The usual advice if you spring a major plumbing leak inside your home is to turn off the water. Then, call a plumber or fix the problem yourself, with the water turned off.

Every homeowner should know where the basic turnoff valve is for their water supply. It’s usually located near the water meter. The newer shutoffs have a little lever that might rust. It can be replaced if it rusts out completely. If necessary, a vice grip can be used to turn the stem of a shutoff valve. Many modern water meters have shutoff valves on each side. This is great. If one fails to stop the flow, you have one more to go to.

What if you can’t turn off the water? What if it keeps gushing out? The valve has failed. Even a slight trickle of water is enough to make sweat soldering repairs difficult. Here are some tricks to help you out.

Because of water pressure, it’s really tough to put a cap over a gushing torrent. But, you can put an open valve over it. Let the water run through the valve rather than fight it. (Think of this as plumbing judo: You go with the flow rather than oppose it with brute force.) Secure the valve to the pipe. Then, shut the valve. This youtube video (from OldKid888) shows you how you can block the flow of water out of a pipe with a Sharkbite fitting:

Here’s another video about Sharkbite fittings:

I briefly mention Sharkbite fittings in the book. They’re an alternative to sweat soldering copper in an emergency. To use one of these, you’d first want to cut the copper pipe clean with a pipe cutter (a very useful thing to have). The cutter is better than a hacksaw because it makes a clean cut, and the blade won’t get bombarded by water as you cut, in cuts from the outside in. (if this is to be a permanent repair, you might want to use a small deburring tool to clean the inside of the new cut. The good news: You won’t need to shower after deburring!) Then, push the fitting onto the copper to secure it.

If you can work your way back to a clean fitting or threaded pipe, you can use the same trick on galvanized pipe, using a threaded valve and a pipe nipple and some teflon tape or pipe dope.

When water companies want to replace a main valve but don’t want to turn off the water to the house at the B-box under the street, they sometimes use pipe freeze kits. These kits use liquid nitrogen or carbon dioxide to freeze the water in the pipe before the valve to be replaced.

In The Prepper Next Door, we talk about the yin of freezing pipes: it’s usually a bad thing you want to prevent. I guess this is the yang part, freezing water creates a plug to help you. It’s a good thing. The freeze only gives you a short time to make the repair or you need to keep adding cooling material. To use a freeze kit, the valve must slow the water flow sufficiently for the ice plug to form. This won’t work on an all-out gusher.

I found three nice videos about using pipe freeze kits. (Not that I’m recommending you go out and purchase one of these. They’re expensive, and you probably won’t need it. But, it shows you one more way to stop water flow. One guy is a professional maintenance man who is using a pipe freeze kit for his first time to stop the flow in a major supply line in an apartment building filled with people. Love his comment: “Hope this works or I’ll be looking for a new job.”)

(maintenance guy at apartment)

The farthest point away from your house you can turn off the water without affecting other homes is the B-box or Buffalo box. For city folks, if you look at your sidewalk, you might see a small metal cover with a pentagon-shaped bolt. The pentagon shape is designed to deter homeowners and others from shutting off the water at the B-box. Underneath it, several feet down below the frost line, is a valve to shut off the water. To reach the valve, you’d need a special, expensive wrench.

While you can purchase curb keys and wrenches, most local governments seriously frown on homeowners messing with this valve. Many communities don’t even let plumbers mess with this valve. Some cities impose heavy fines. Others have a “you break it, you bought it” policy. If you mess with it and something goes wrong, the city will bill you for the repair. They’ll show up with four trucks, two bulldozers, and eight guys all on union time. As a homeowner, I’d never mess with the valve at the B-box!

Even a small trickle of water can make sweat soldering copper pipes difficult. Water in the hot pipes vaporizes and pushes itself out between the pipe and fitting. This means your soldering won’t hold.

The old school trick to block off water was to bunch up some bread and force it into the pipe. It will stop the water for a bit but eventually harmlessly work its way out. For more serious drips, there are gizmos to stop the water flow long enough to solder a joint. These won’t stop a gusher.

This is a video presentation by one of the companies making a water-stop soldering gizmo:

Here’s a link to the pipe repair clamps I mentioned in the book. They come in different sizes. For the typical homeowner, if you have on for 1/2″ pipe and one for 3/4″ pipe, you’re probably all set.

In the chapter about sanitation, I discuss mice. Here’s the Youtube video I referred to about the 1993 Australian mouse plague. You can find the video on other channels too:

Here’s a nice video about making a 5 gallon bucket mouse trap:

I didn’t mean for this post to get so long, but wanted to share a few video links readers might like. I wanted to mention one thing I forgot to include in the book. We just talked about emergency plumbing and we talked about mice. Now I want to talk about emergency plumbing and mice.

No. I’m not going to say something silly, like you can plug up a pipe and stop a leak by stuffing in a dead mouse. One piping material for making emergency plumbing repairs is PEX. In general, I like PEX. One downside: mice are able to easily nibble through PEX. Unlike copper, PEX doesn’t corrode. If you’re PEX starts leaking in all sorts of odd places, mice might be to blame. Well, you can’t really blame them, they’re just rodents.

Charlie P, author, The Prepper Next Door: A Practical Guide For Disaster And Emergency Planning.

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