All about stopcocks
Calling out professional tradesmen can be expensive (plus parts, plus labour & plus VAT!), and whilst sometimes, it’s inevitable – in many cases, you can do the work yourself, as long as you’ve got some basic knowledge, and the right tools.
In this new series of posts, we’ll be take a look at some common DIY jobs and skills, designed to give you the knowledge you need to maintain, repair and improve your home, without calling in the professionals.
This week, we’re starting with basic household plumbing – looking at how to find and identify the stopcock and the kind of water system you have in your home, so that you can turn off your water if you’ve got a leak or blockage.
The single, most important thing you need to know about your household plumbing is the location of your stopcocks, and how to use them.
Stopcocks are used to switch off the cold water to your home, and are absolutely invaluable for if you spring a leak, or need to do any repairs.
If one of your pipes bursts and begins to shoot out pressurised water, it can release hundreds of litres of water an hour, quickly flooding your home, and learning where your stopcock is will help you to minimise this damage.
Locating your stopcocks – indoor and outdoor
Generally, homes have two stopcocks – one inside, and one outside, and you’ll need to know where both of them are located. Generally, your inside stopcock will be found in the kitchen, under the sink, but this isn’t always the case – it could be hidden behind a cabinet kickboard, or may even be in another room.
Outside stopcocks can be more difficult to locate. If you’ve got a water meter fitted, then generally, they will be located in the same chamber to this. Sometimes (especially on older properties, or in flats), you may share an outside stopcock with multiple properties.
As a rule, your outside stopcock will be located in an underground chamber, somewhere near the boundary of your property. Look for a small manhole cover – it could be metal or plastic, and may have the word water, the letter W, or the name of your water provider printed on the top.
Operating a stopcock
Operating a stopcock is usually a simple case of turning it fully clockwise. Often, the stopcock works just like a tap, but sometimes, you may need a special key to operate it.
Usually, these keys are located in the same cabinet as the stopcock, but it isn’t unusual for them to break, or go missing. Thankfully, you can pick up a universal replacement fairly cheaply at any plumbers merchant or DIY shop.
Caring for your stopcock
Stopcocks can become stiff and difficult to operate if they aren’t used for a while, and the last thing you want is to be unable to close off the water in an emergency.
To keep your stopcock in good operating order, you should open and close it every couple of months, and give it a spray with some WD40 to keep the parts lubricated and rust free a couple of times a year.
If you’re struggling to open the stopcock for any reason, then try using a towel or rag to gain additional grip. If this fails, then spray it with some WD40, and leave it for 10 minutes, before trying again.
If you’re still struggling, then the safest thing to do is to call out a professional plumber, who will be able to loosen it for you, or replace any ceased parts as necessary.
Direct and indirect water
There are two types of water systems – direct, and indirect. As the name suggests, in direct systems, the water comes directly from the mains, whereas in indirect systems, your water comes from a cold water tank, which is fed by the mains.
It’s important to understand which system you have, as n an indirect system, you may still end up with water coming out of the taps, even if you’ve shut off your stopcocks.
The Gate Valve
Indirect systems utilise both a hot water and a cold water storage vessel, which are usually located in the attic, loft, or an upstairs cupboard.
A gate vale is located under each of these tanks, and before doing any plumbing work, it’s important to turn these off, as the water held in these tanks will flow even if you’ve already turned off your stopcock.
You might not want to cut off water to your entire house, and with small jobs, like fixing a tap, it usually isn’t necessary – all you’ll need to do is to find the right isolation valve (also known as a service valve).
An isolation valve should be fitted to the water pipe that feeds each tap, and water-using device in your home, including washing machines, toilets, showers and dishwashers.
To locate them, look along the water pipe for what looks like a flat, slot headed screw. The direction of the ‘slot’ should be parallel with the valve itself (and sometimes, with an arrow printed on the valve) – this means that the valve is open, and water can flow through it.
To close it, take a flat-headed screwdriver, and insert it into the slot, before turning it one quarter of the way round (90°) until it is perpendicular to the valve.
Next month, we’ll be looking at Plumbing Basics Part 2, including how to stop a dripping tap, how to unblock drains, and how to remove limescale.
In the meantime, you can pick up all the tools you need to do a wide range of plumbing jobs in the DIY tools section of our website – all at great trade prices!