Do you know where your stop-cock is?

This entry should really be sub-titled “Floods and other biblical-style disasters”. Ok, maybe not a disaster as such, but not exactly the sort of thing you want to wake up to. Which of course is leading up to saying that that’s exactly what I did wake up to. Not inside the house (thank goodness), but in the back garden.

I got up this morning, and went into the kitchen. It was quieter than normal, so as I walked towards the sink to fill the kettle, I noticed a sound I might not normally have heard over the traffic and other noisinesses of city life – the sound of water running through the pipes. My first thought was that the bathroom tap was probably running (it needs a new washer, so sometimes starts running again when you think you’ve turned it off), so I checked, and it wasn’t. A quick check round the house, and all the other taps were off too. Which meant it must be outside. We hadn’t put the sprinklers on last night, because the forecast was for rain, so I was a bit puzzled, but thought maybe the neighbours kids had been playing round with the tap or something. So I got dressed and went outside to have a look. Which was when I discovered the flood.

A bit of background is probably necessary here. We’ve been in this house about five years, and we’re still discovering its idiosyncracies. One of the weird things we discovered early on is that the tap in the back garden has an extra outlet with a short length of hose hanging off it. The outlet seems to come out of the pipe before the tap, so the tap doesn’t control it, but no water ever came out of the hose. Later, as we were making changes in the garden, we discovered more of the same sort of hose running under the lawn to the back of the garden (where it looked like there used to be a glasshouse), and figured out it must have originally been connected to that tap and been used for an irrigation system in the glasshouse. Anyway, as the hose didn’t seem to do anything now, and the tap worked normally, we didn’t pay it any more attention.

I bet you can guess now what was causing the flood. Yep – water was pouring out of the short length of hose that had been dry for all those years. Obviously it had been blocked by something, and the blockage had for some reason shifted last night, and was allowing water to pour out. Ok, so I knew what the mysterious sound was now, but I didn’t know how to stop it. Turning the tap just made water come out of the tap as well as the hose, and there was no other tap to be seen. The walls are brick, so it’s not like there could be a tap behind the wall or anything. I ran inside and woke up MrPloppy, and got him to confirm that the tap didn’t turn the water off, and there wasn’t any other tap (I was starting to think I was going mad by this point). We’re guessing now that originally the hose had had a tap at the end (presumably inside the glasshouse), and that it became blocked, so someone had cut the hose at the house end looking for the blockage, but hadn’t been able to unblock it so just left it as it was, with the cut end of hose dangling – but right now the immediate problem was to stop the water – not only was it causing a flood, but we had almost no water pressure inside the house.

This is our first house, so we’re still learning all those grown-up skills of home maintenance like how you turn the water supply off (why don’t they teach you that sort of stuff at school???). I vaguely remembered hearing one of my more experienced home-owning friends mention a stop-cock once, so I seized on that idea. “We need to turn off the water at the stop-cock” I told MrPloppy, proud of my practicality in a crisis.

“Ok, where do you find the stop-cock then?”

“Um… somewhere? Maybe it’s under the house?”

So we looked under the house. This is not an easy operation, because the access to the underside of the house is through the bottom of one of the wardrobes. First you need to remember which wardrobe it is, then move all the junk sitting in the bottom, then lift the carpet, then finally (after realising it’s actually in the *other* wardrobe and repeating the first few steps), lift a few loose floorboards to reveal a space that might just about be big enough to squeeze through if you were incredibly skinny. Luckily MrPloppy is incredibly skinny, so he stuck his head down through the hole, and shone a torch around.

The stop-cock isn’t under the house.

Next thought was to look under all the sinks. I was pretty certain I’d never seen any extraneous taps under any of them, but by this stage I was ready to beleive there were parts of the house I’d never seen. After all, there was suddenly water pouring out of places where it hadn’t before – maybe taps would appear just as mysteriously. Of course, it wasn’t there. Neither was it anywhere outside the house. We even checked the papers from when we bought the house, in case there was a plan or something that showed its location, with no luck.

I remembered another plumbing-type term I’d heard someone mention – header tank. I knew header tanks are used to increase the water pressure, which means all the water must go through them, so that seemed like a likely place to find a stop-cock. And I knew the header tank was in the attic, because last time we’d gone into the attic we’d discussed what that large tank thing in the corner was. Getting into the attic isn’t as complicated as getting under the house, but it still involves getting a ladder from the garage, setting it up in the very confined space of the laundry, removing the ceiling panel, discovering the torch’s batteries are about to run out… Eventually MrPloppy made it up into the attic, and I stood on the top of the ladder giving directions as he precariously stepped from joist to joist, trying not to step in the wrong place and fall through the ceiling. The header tank, as it turned out, didn’t have a tap at the bottom as I’d hoped, but it did have a tap at the top! MrPloppy turned it off, and then we discussed how long it would take for the rather large tank to completely drain so that water would stop coming out the other end… I went and turned on all the taps in the house in an attempt to speed the process, and in the meantime, the flood in the back yard was growing ever bigger.

While we waited, we went back out to look at the gushing hose. We’d already tried blocking the end, but the pressure was too high – that would have to wait until the water was off. We thought about clamping the hose somehow, but we didn’t have a strong enough clamp. And then MrPloppy did something so simple and obvious it should have been our very first thought: he bent the length of hose over. Which of course constricted the hose, so only a tiny trickle of water could get out. Problem (at least temporarily) solved! We tied the hose in place so it would hold for today at least (there was still a little bit of water dribbling out, but not enough to cause a real problem for now), and tonight after work we’re going to go to a hardware shop and try and find a proper cap piece to block off the hose permanently.

Of course, by this time I was well and truly late for work (and hadn’t even had breakfast or a shower yet (other than an involuntary shower while we were trying to block the hose!)), so I rang my boss to apologise, and we turned the water back on so I could get ready for work – I was only two hours late by the time I made it in…

I haven’t had any panicked phone calls from MrPloppy yet, so I’m assuming our temporary measures are still holding, and hopefully tonight we’ll be able to effect a more permanent fix, but at least some good has come of this adventure: we’ve learnt where to turn off the water supply to the house 🙂

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One Comment

  1. Yes – and no 🙂

    At the house: yes. It’s attached to that great big rainwater tank.

    At the apartment: it shows its age. This block used to be council flats, and there’s a single tap that turns water on and off for the whole block. This comes up occasionally when people have work done, and one finds the shower stops running just when one’s hair is full of shampoo.

    Actually it’s only happened twice, so I can’t really complain. The last time was when we had the Great Water Cylinder Disaster last year, and it was only off for a couple of minutes.

    I don’t actually know where that stopcock is. Nowhere too obvious, which is a good thing on balance 🙂

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