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Learn Where Cutoff Switches Are Before an Emergency

Don’t wait until you’re in the midst of an emergency to learn where the cutoff switches are for your home. There can be dozens of cutoff switches and kill valves for your home, but most often there is no map showing where they are all located. In the dark, that’s a problem.

Power Cutoff Switches

Power comes into your service panel to doubled breakers, called the mains. They feed power to the rows of breakers below. Normally, if a single breaker trips, the mains stay engaged and power still flows to most of the home. Tripping the mains cuts off power everywhere.

Circuits. Each one has a breaker. It may protect several outlets or one high-use appliance like an electric stove or dishwasher. Labeling breakers so you know what they control ought to be standard operating procedure and part of every installation. But you may have to make your own labels. Otherwise, to check a minor problem at one outlet, you have to trip the mains. You can use circuit-tracing tools to discover what each breaker controls. In renovated homes it may be a major guessing game. Or you can take the tedious route, work with a partner room by room, turn everything on, then trip one breaker at a time to see what goes off. This can take a while, but it’s better to do it this way than to try to find the right cutoff switches in the dark.

cutoff switches known as kill switches usually have a red wall plateKill switches. These emergency switches should have a red wall plate. The most common is a power cutoff for the furnace located away from the appliance, say, at the head of the basement stairs. If there’s a problem, it cuts off power and stops fuel pumps, igniters, fans, the works, so they don’t make the problem worse.

Water Cutoff Switches

Mains. A system-wide cutoff valve is located near the water meter in most homes. In houses with a private well, you can also stop the flow in an emergency by cutting power to the pump. Because of pressure in the line, water will continue to flow (and leak) but at a decreasing rate.

Fixtures. The way breakers isolate circuits, cutoffs isolate fixtures — under the sink, below the toilet water tank — everywhere water is used. Most are left open for years, which means some may stick, particularly older, wheel-shaped valves. It’s wise to try them. More modern lever-shaped valves are less likely to stick: lever in line with the pipe for on, perpendicular to the pipe for off.

Heating and Cooling Cutoff Switches

Mains. Heating and cooling systems (HVAC) usually have cutoff switches near the actual appliance — one-switch box often exposed at the end of exposed conduit of BX (armored) cable. It’s convenient, say, when cleaning or changing filters. That makes three ways to kill the system: the red-plated emergency switch, the switch at the appliance and the breaker in the main service panel.

Gas Cutoff Switches

Mains. You shouldn’t have to turn off the main, located close to the meter, because, like the water system, each gas appliance has it’s own valve. If you did for some reason, you’d probably need a wrench to turn the paddle-type valve in the pipe.

Fixtures. Lever-type valves control the flow to each gas appliance: stoves, fireplaces, clothes dryers and more. They work like water valves — in line with the pipe and gas flows; perpendicular to the pipe and the gas flow stops.

Appliance Cutoff Switches

For all-electric HVAC, you have the three cutoffs. For oil, there is also a fuel valve, usually located near the furnace close to the fuel filter — a canister that holds a removable cartridge. Similarly for gas, there is cutoff valve in the line near the appliance. If you kill the power to central systems, consult the manufacturer’s restart and safety instructions before restoring fuel and power.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure counts for knowing where all your cutoff switches are too. If you don’t know where all these cutoff switches are, make it a weekend project to learn so you won’t be stuck if an emergency strikes.

Brown and Reaves Services, Inc., Serving the entire Myrtle Beach and Grand Strand area. 843-497-9867. Remember to grab our 20% off coupon on your next service call by Liking us on Facebook.

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