Water Supply Control Valves


Fire service personnel often need rapid access to valves. If a valve is closed during an incident, it may need to be opened to permit flow of water. If a sprinkler valve is open, it may need to be closed to assist in manual suppression efforts. NFPA 13 requires marking for all water supply control valves including main valves, pump valves, sectional valves, and zone valves. The wording “control valve” by itself does not tell a user the specific use of the valve or what portion of the system is downstream of a particular valve. Using more descriptive labels such as “12th floor” or “pump bypass” will avoid confusion (Figure 3.1).

If a valve identification is not obvious, an additional diagram should be provided. For instance, if a floor has multiple zones, each control valve sign should identify the corresponding zone, such as “12th floor east” or “zone 7-2.” A diagram of zones and the boundaries between them should be mounted adjacent to each valve (Figure 3.2). This will enable firefighters to quickly determine which valve controls each specific area.


(Fig. 3.2) Sprinkler zone diagram.(Fig. 3.2) Sprinkler zone diagram.

NFPA 13 requires valves to be accessible for operation. If valves are located in stairs, they will be protected and easily accessible during a fire event.

When a water supply control valve must be located in a room or in a concealed space, a sign outside the door or access panel helps firefighters to quickly locate it (Figure 2.20). If the concealed space is above a suspended ceiling, the appropriate place for the sign is on the fixed ceiling grid, rather than on a removable ceiling tile. In addition, some jurisdictions require exterior signs that indicate the locations of interior valves (Figure 3.3).


(Fig. 3.3) Exterior sign showing valve location (in this case for a standpipe system).(Fig. 3.3) Exterior sign showing valve location (in this case for a standpipe system).

Valve handles are often located high enough to be out of vandals’ easy reach. However, such placement requires a ladder to reach them when necessary. Although some jurisdictions may require that valves be low enough to reach without a ladder, all minimum height requirements for obstructions must be followed.

Valves for testing and draining purposes should also be labeled. This will prevent any potential confusion.

Exterior valves should be placed in locations accessible even during a fire incident. Wall-mounted valves should be positioned no higher than 5 feet above grade (ground level) and located at least 40 feet from openings such as windows, doors, or vents (Figure 3.4). Post indicator valves should be at least 40 feet from the buildings they serve. The 40 foot distance is called for in NFPA 24.


(Fig. 3.4)  Wall control valve next to window.  Fire issuing from this window could prevent access to the valuve.(Fig. 3.4) Wall control valve next to window. Fire issuing from this window could prevent access to the valuve.

Designers should require proper notification when their designs require systems, or portions of systems, to be temporarily shut off. This would typically occur during system alterations, or phased installations. In these instances, the design documents should require notification of any system impairments to the responsible fire service organization and coordination with the fire service about any requirements that these impairments may entail.


Considerations – Water Supply Control Valves
  • Label all valves for specific use or area covered.
  • Provide interior valves in enclosed stairs wherever possible.
  • Provide signage for valves that are outside stairs or in concealed spaces.
  • Provide exterior signs showing the location of interior valves.
  • Locate exterior post indicator valves 40 feet from the building.
  • Locate wall-mounted valves 40 feet from openings and within 5 feet of grade.