How to Repair Leaking Water Shut-off Valves Without Turning Off the Main Water Valve

A leak in one of your bath or kitchen water shut-off valves can cause a significant mess in a short amount of time. Replacing a leaking water shut-off valve is usually an ideal solution, but that procedure requires shutting off the water supply to your entire home. If you are unable to shut off the main water valve to your home due to limited access or other reasons, then you will need to take fast action to stop the water flow. Below is what you need to know about these valves as well as how you can repair them at home.

How shut-off valves work & why they leak

The shut-off valves found in your home are of the type known as gate valves. Gate valves have a simple mechanism of operation; the wheel or handle causes a gate to be raised or lowered in the path of the water flow. They are reliable and inexpensive, and their use is almost universal as a result.

However, the most-vulnerable spot found in gate valves, among other types, is the joint between the valve stem and the valve body; this junction between the rotating stem and valve body can permit water to escape around the sides of the stem. The solution used by manufacturers is to place a waterproof barrier between the stem and body. Known as a packing gland and made of rubber, leather, grease-impregnated fibers or other materials, the gland works well for the most part.

However, over time, the gland material can break down or harden due to age. Or, in some circumstances, high water pressure can push the gland out of position. Either way, a leak is the result, and your urgent task is to stop it. Here is how it's done:

Tools & materials needed

  • Adjustable wrench
  • Flat blade screwdriver
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Plumber's Teflon tape
  • Scissors
  • Flashlight or lantern
  • Paper towels or bath towels

Step-by-step procedure

1. Dry the valve and area—Before starting, you will need to dry the working area by mopping up the water with paper towels or a bath towel. Wet surfaces could cause you or your tools to slip.

2. Close the valve, then remove the valve wheel or handle—Next, turn the valve's wheel or handle all the way in a clockwise direction until it won't turn further; this will shut off the water flow leading from the valve.

Once the water is turned off at the valve, you are ready to remove the wheel or handle. The wheel or handle is held in place on the stem with a single Phillips screw; remove the screw, then pull the wheel or handle off the stem. Set the wheel or handle and screw aside in a safe location during the repair.

3. Remove the gland follower—The packing gland must be under compression to work properly, and the gland follower exists to push the gland into position. Remove the gland follower by unscrewing it with an adjustable wrench; the gland follower wraps around the stem and is held in place by threads. When you release the gland follower, there may be a slight release of water, but don't be alarmed unless the flow is excessively heavy.

4. Add plumber's tape to the stem and packing gland—Give the stem another wipe down with dry paper towels, then begin wrapping several layers plumber's Teflon tape around the lowest part of the stem where the gland follower was previously attached. Wrap the tape tightly in a counter-clockwise direction until you have built up a layer about 1/16-inch thick. Cut the end of the tape and tuck the end down.

Next, use the blade of a flat-blade screwdriver to push the Teflon tape down the stem into the gap where the packing gland is located. Be careful not to tear the tape and push from all sides to seat the tape evenly. Continue pushing the tape until it is snugly held in-place inside the valve.

5. Replace the gland follower and stem wheel or handle—Once you wrapped the stem with Teflon tape, slip the gland follower over the stem and slide it downward until it meets the threads. Turn it by hand in a clockwise direction to start tightening, then finish-up with an adjustable wrench. Reattach the wheel or handle to the stem with the Phillips screwdriver.

6. Test the valve—After the gland follower and handle are reinstalled on the valve stem, slowly turn the handle back on to test the seal. Watch it for a couple of minutes to check for drips and leaking.

These tips will help you fix the problem. For more assistance or tips, visit resources like 

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what goes into adding a bathroom to your home?

Having a house that only has two bathrooms and three teenage girls reached a point where I thought I was going to lose my mind. In all seriousness, I thought I was going to go crazy listening to the girls battle over whose turn it was to shower or who used whose makeup. After several months of dealing with the insanity every single day, I finally talked my husband into hiring a plumber to run the plumbing we needed to install a third bathroom. Adding a bathroom was a lot of work, but it was worth it. Our blog will help you understand what goes into adding a bathroom to your home.