Upgrading an old water valve

Valves are piled in the plumbing aisle, but which water stopper is best for your cottage job? Replace an old one with the same type, and you could miss out on a more reliable upgrade. Take a closer look at what’s inside your supply-system valve.

Get this: Ball valve
A spherical stopper with a hole through its centre rotates inside the valve, and a quarter-turn starts or stops the flow. There’s no rubber seal to wear out or threaded stem to seize up and, in the open position, the ball mechanism won’t restrict flow. Plus, a glance at the handle tells you whether it’s open or closed. Is there a downside? Ball valves cost more: about $10 for a ó” valve, while a gate valve of the same size is about $6.50. And ball valves open so fast they may send a potentially damaging pressure surge through your system. Follow the plumbers’ practice of slowly opening any valve to avoid a pipe-pounding tsunami.

Not that: Globe or gate valve
With globe or gate valves you twist (and twist, and twist, and twist) a garden-tap-style handle to raise and lower a rubber seal or a brass gate, respectively, inside the valve. These valves are common, despite being less reliable: Rubber can get brittle with time, especially in cottage lines left dry for much of the year. These valves are cheaper and fit better in tight spaces but, as Henry Blanchard of Austin Plumbing in Port Carling, Ont., points out, reliability is what counts. No savings in part prices will cover the cost of a plumber’s visit. “Ball valves are the way the industry is going,” he says.