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Stop Tap: What is it, Types, Locations and How to Turn it Off


old stop tap

Water is a precious resource, and there are times when you may need to shut it off in your home or at a specific location to deal with plumbing issues, make repairs, or simply conserve water. 


One essential component in your plumbing system that allows you to do this is the stop tap, also known as a stopcock or shutoff valve.  Knowing how to locate and turn off the stop tap is a valuable skill for homeowners and renters alike. 


In this blog, we will guide you through the process of finding the stop tap in your home or property and safely shutting off the water supply. 


Whether you're a seasoned DIY enthusiast or a complete novice, this guide will help you gain the confidence to handle water emergencies and routine maintenance tasks effectively.


Let's dive in and empower you with the knowledge and skills to take control of your water supply.


What is a Stop Tap?


A stop tap, often referred to as a stopcock or shutoff valve, is a vital component in your plumbing system. It serves the crucial function of controlling the flow of water to various parts of your home or property. 


Stop taps are strategically placed at key locations throughout the plumbing network, allowing you to isolate the water supply to specific areas, fixtures, or appliances.


This capability proves invaluable in numerous scenarios, such as addressing leaks, performing maintenance or repairs, or shutting off the water to an individual fixture without affecting the rest of your plumbing.


What is an inside Stop Tap?


An inside stop tap, also known as an interior stopcock or indoor shutoff valve, is a plumbing component located within the confines of a building or property.


This valve is used to control the flow of water within your premises. Inside stop taps are typically positioned within the home, close to the main water inlet or along the plumbing lines that supply water to various areas and fixtures.


The inside stop tap is crucial for several reasons:


  1. Emergency Shutoff: It provides a quick and convenient way to shut off the water supply to your entire property during plumbing emergencies, such as a burst pipe or a severe leak.

  2. Isolating Fixtures: Inside stop taps enable you to isolate specific areas or fixtures within your home. For example, if you need to work on a bathroom sink or replace a kitchen tap, you can shut off the water to that specific location without affecting the rest of the plumbing.

  3. Maintenance and Repairs: Plumbers often use inside stop taps when performing maintenance or repairs. By controlling the water flow, they can work on the plumbing system without disrupting water service to the entire property.


Inside stop taps can be found in various locations, depending on the layout of your home. Some properties may also have a single main stopcock near the point where the water supply enters the building.


What is an external Stopcock?


An external stop tap, also known as an outside stop tap, outdoor stopcock or external shutoff valve, is a critical component of your plumbing system located outside your home or property.


It serves the primary function of controlling the flow of water into your premises from the main water supply pipe, typically originating from the water company's water source.


External stop taps are essential for a variety of reasons, including:


  1. Emergency Water Shut Off: An outside stop tap provides a convenient and immediate means to shut off the water supply to your entire property in case of a plumbing emergency or maintenance work.

  2. Property Isolation: It allows you to isolate your property from the water company’s water supply. This can be helpful when conducting repairs, renovations, or maintenance that affects the entire property.

  3. Metering and Maintenance: Water metering devices are often located near the outside stop tap. These meters are essential for measuring your water usage, and access to the outside stop tap is necessary for meter reading and maintenance.

  4. Water Company Access: In some cases, Water Companies may need access to the outside stop tap to turn off the water supply to your property for maintenance or repairs on their end.


External stop taps are typically situated in a protective underground chamber or a water meter box. The external stop tap is often located near the boundary of a premises under a small cover, about the size of a CD case. If you have a water meter, it will generally be located in the same pit or chamber as the meter.


The exact location can vary, but it's often near the boundary of your property, close to the connection between your property's plumbing system and the Water Company supply pipe. 


If you still can't find your external stopcock, it's possible your home may not have one fitted. This is more likely if you live in a flat or an older terraced property.


It's important to know the location of your outside stop tap and how to operate it in case of an emergency or when conducting property maintenance.


How to Close Stop Taps Based on Type


The way a water stop tap works can vary depending on its type, but the most common types are the gate valve and the ball valve.


Here's an overview of how each type works:


Gate Valve


A gate valve has a round or rectangular handle, also known as a wheel or knob, which is typically perpendicular to the flow of water when the valve is open.


When the valve is fully open, the gate or wedge-shaped disk inside the valve is lifted or lowered, allowing water to flow freely through the opening.


To close the valve, you turn the handle clockwise (righty-tightly).


As you turn the handle, the gate is lowered into the valve body, effectively blocking the flow of water. The tighter you turn the handle, the more the gate closes, stopping the water flow completely.


Ball Valve


A ball valve has a lever handle that is parallel to the flow of water when the valve is open.


Inside the valve, there is a hollow, perforated ball with a hole through the center. When the handle is in line with the pipe, the hole in the ball is aligned with the pipe, allowing water to flow through.


To shut off the valve, you turn the handle 90 degrees, from being parallel to the pipe to perpendicular. This action rotates the ball inside the valve, causing the solid part of the ball to block the flow of water completely.


In both types of valves, the principle is the same: turning the handle or lever operates an internal mechanism to either open or close the valve. When the valve is fully closed, it effectively seals off the flow of water, and when it's fully open, it allows water to pass through freely. 


It's always a safe bet to open the tap fully and then turn it back half a turn. This prevents the valve from seizing in the fully open position thus avoiding any issues shutting off the water in an emergency


Closing the stop tap will not reduce the pressure, it will just reduce the flow rate.


What happens if it's not fully open?


Partially open or another way to say it, partially closed stop taps can be problematic. 


It's important to note that gate valves, especially older ones, can over time have sediment buildup, so they could cause discoloured water at your kitchen tap especially if flows change. Gate valves may not completely shut off the water due to corrosion so they become less reliable. 


Ball valves are generally more reliable for this purpose. Regular maintenance and occasional testing of these valves are essential to ensure they function correctly when needed, such as during plumbing repairs or in case of emergencies.


Where do you find your internal Stop Tap?


The location of your inside stop tap, also known as an interior stopcock or indoor shutoff valve, can vary depending on the layout of your home and the local plumbing practices. However, there are some common places to check for the inside stop tap:


Under the Kitchen Sink


In many homes, especially those with a kitchen on the ground floor, you'll often find the inside stop tap located under the kitchen sink. It's typically attached to the cold water supply line.


Bathroom


In properties with bathrooms on the ground floor, the inside stop tap may also be located under the bathroom sink, close to the point where the main water line enters the building.


Utility Room or Laundry Room


If your home has a utility room or laundry room, you might find the inside stop tap there. It's usually located near the main water inlet, often close to the water heater or washing machine hookup.


Basement or Crawl Space


In homes with a basement or crawl space, the inside stop tap may be located in this area, near the point where the main water line enters the building. It's often placed in a utility box or enclosure.


Internal Garage


In some cases, particularly for properties with internal garages, the inside stop tap may be found in the garage, usually near the wall where the water supply enters the building.


Service Cupboard or Water Meter Box


In modern homes, you might find the inside stop tap in a dedicated service cupboard or within the water metre box. This location is often common in apartment buildings or properties with shared water meter setups.


It's important to note that the exact location of the inside stop tap can vary, so it's a good practice to familiarise yourself with your home's plumbing layout.


You can also check your property's blueprint or ask the previous homeowner or landlord for information on the location. Once you find the inside stop tap, it's essential to know how to operate it to shut off the water supply in case of plumbing emergencies or for maintenance purposes.


Maintenance


Regularly testing your inside stop tap to ensure it functions correctly is advisable, as these valves can become stiff or corroded over time. Knowing how to shut off your water supply can be invaluable in the event of a plumbing emergency or when performing maintenance and repairs.


For everyday water usage, you do not need to turn off the inside stop tap. It should remain open to provide a continuous water supply to your home.


When turning the inside stop tap back on, do so slowly and carefully to prevent water hammer (a sudden increase in pressure) and ensure the system pressurises gradually. Additionally, check for any leaks or signs of damage as you restore water flow.


If you encounter difficulties, or if you notice leaks or other problems, consider seeking the assistance of a professional plumber to avoid potential issues or further damage to your plumbing system.


When do you use an external Stop Tap?


An external stop tap, also known as an outdoor stopcock or external shutoff valve, is typically used in specific situations when you need to control or shut off the water supply to your entire property from the main water source.


Here are common scenarios in which you would use an outside stop tap:


Plumbing Emergencies


In the event of a plumbing emergency, such as a major water leak, burst pipe, or a broken water main on your property, you can use the outside stop tap to quickly shut off the water supply to prevent further damage and flooding. This is a crucial step to minimise water damage and address the issue.


Maintenance and Repairs


When conducting maintenance or repairs that involve the entire plumbing system, such as replacing the main water supply pipe into your property, working on the water meter, or making significant changes to the plumbing layout, you may need to use the outside stop tap to isolate your property from the main water company supply.


This prevents water from entering your property during the work.


Vacant Property


When you leave your property unoccupied for an extended period, such as between changes in tenants or for seasonal absence, it's a good practice to shut off the outside stop tap to prevent any leaks or water-related issues during any long-term absence.


Water Company Service Work


In rare cases, the water company may need access to your outside stop tap to shut off the water supply to your property for maintenance, repairs, or when making connections to the water system. They usually inform homeowners in advance if this is necessary.


It's essential to know the location of your outside stop tap and how to operate it in these situations to ensure you can respond quickly and effectively.


Regularly testing the outside stop tap and keeping it in good working condition is also advisable, as these valves can sometimes become stiff or corroded, making them difficult to operate when needed.


Proper maintenance and understanding how to use the outside stop tap can help you manage water-related issues and emergencies effectively.


Conclusion


Having the knowledge and skills to locate, operate, and maintain stop taps is essential for homeowners and renters alike. 


Being prepared for plumbing emergencies, managing home repairs, and practising preventive measures like managing outdoor plumbing fixtures in winter can save you time, money, and the hassle of water-related issues. 


Regularly testing these valves and keeping them in good working order is a proactive step toward efficient home plumbing management. By being informed and proactive, you can confidently take control of your water supply and maintain a well-functioning plumbing system.


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