That said, there have been plenty of tasks that have come as a surprise since becoming a homeowner — things I used to leave to a landlord or, more often, leave totally unattended because I didn’t realize they even needed to be done.
But when I was working on redoing our bathroom last fall, I hit a snag that came with a pricey lesson. I had hoped to replace our standard-issue low-neck faucet with something more modern and stylish, which the internet assured me I could totally do. I assembled my tools, I pulled up my YouTube videos, and I slid myself underneath the vanity to get to work.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get far. I knew that step one to any project involving plumbing was to turn off the water locally. That meant reaching under the sink to turn two shutoff valves — one for hot, one for cold — so that they were completely blocked and no water would make its way from the main water line to the sink. I turned on the water at the sink so I had real-time feedback on my progress. I turned the handle that controlled the left valve, which turned off without issue. Then, I turned the handle for the right valve until I couldn’t any more. I looked up to the sink, and the water was still running. Huh.
Over two hours, I fussed and futzed over the two handles, using my hands, my hands plus grippy rubber bands, my hands plus pliers, and my hands plus WD-40 to try to get the valve to close. And while I was able to turn the actual handle, the valve housed inside of it would. not. close. Nothing worked. Finally, I gave up and called a plumber.
Backup was thankfully fast to arrive, and even faster to fix the issue. It turns out the shutoff valves in my 65-year-old house had become sticky over time, a common issue among older homes. My bill came to around $200 to have the plumber replace the old valves with new ones that would effectively open and close when you turned them, allowing me to (hours later) finish my full remodel.
While he was working, my plumber told me a secret: This pricey visit could have been avoided by giving the shutoff valves under the vanity a little workout by fully closing and opening them a couple times about once a month — a chore that takes literal seconds. Giving those valves a bit of a stretch helps prevent mineral buildup that can lead to them sticking in the future.
Functional shutoff valves aren’t just important for doing DIY home upgrades like I was. In the event of an emergency — an overflowing toilet, a clogged sink — the shutoff valves help you to cut off the water supply to the affected fixture. If you’ve ever tried to staunch an overflowing toilet, you know how important that can be.
Since my plumber’s visit, I’ve been periodically giving all the valves in my house a little twist. It’s not always once a month; usually it’s just when I remember to do it, but that’s better than nothing. When you think of it, try to give yours a stretch, too. It could save you from paying hundreds of dollars for a plumber visit — or even thousands for repairing avoidable water damage.