An important part of your home plumbing system that often gets ignored is your water shutoff valve. A water shutoff valve cuts off water flow when you need to repair leaks or make replacements.
Like most parts of your plumbing, water shutoff valves occasionally go bad and need to be replaced. Recognizing the different types of valves can help you pick out the right type if you need to make repairs.
By far the most common of the types of shutoff valves, the washered valve works pretty simply. Inside, there is a washer made of rubber. When you turn the handle “off,” the washer is screwed down to stop the flow of water.
Since rubber can eventually wear down, washered valves do occasionally stop working. If this happens, you can either replace the washer part of the valve, or you can replace the entire valve since it’s an inexpensive part.
When the handle of a gate valve is turned “off,” a metal gate is lowered to stop water flow. The metal gate lasts longer than a rubber washer. However, if the handle isn’t turned fully to “off” or “on,” the bottom of the gate will get worn away by water flow. Eventually, this will cause the gate valve to fail.
The sturdiest type of valve is a ball valve. The handle is attached to a steel ball that has a hole drilled through it. In the “on” position, the hole lines up with the water pipes and lets water flow. In the “off” position, the ball rotates to cut off the flow of water.
Even though the steel ball doesn’t tend to wear or break down easily, ball valves aren’t used as often in residential plumbing as washered valves. One reason is that they tend to be expensive. Another is that the handle is designed to only make a quarter turn, making it awkward to fit on pipes that are flat against a wall.
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