At the Portland Water Bureau, we are prepared for winter! Our crews respond to emergencies, including water main breaks, 24-hours a day, and seven days a week. On average, crews respond to 200 main breaks a year, which is relatively low compared to cities of similar size.
Reporting Water Main Breaks
Anyone observing water running from streets or sidewalks is encouraged to report the leak to the Water Bureau's 24-hour
In Portland, water mains tend to break during the colder weather. Cold water can cause pipes to become brittle. Adding cold air temperatures can cause the ground above a pipe to freeze and thaw, increasing stress on a pipe. The age of a pipe, soil conditions, pipe corrosion, and ground movement can also cause a main to weaken and break over time.
During a main break, nearby customers may notice a reduction in water pressure or have their water temporarily shut off while repairs are made. Customers may also experience discolored water from sediment that can get stirred up during a main break. The discoloration does not pose a health risk, but avoid using hot water or running the washing machine or dishwasher until repairs are made. You can run the water at one tap for five minutes to see if it clears. Repeat hourly until clear.
How to Protect Your Home’s Plumbing During Winter
Everyone has a role to play when it comes to preparing for winter. Below are tips for protecting your home’s plumbing through rain, snow, and ice.
- Caulk around pipes where they enter the home.
- Close all foundation vents and fill vent openings with wood or Styrofoam™ blocks.
- Wrap outside faucets or hose bibs with insulation if you don’t have a separate outside valve to turn them off. Use molded foam-insulating covers which are available at hardware stores. Newspaper or rags (covered with plastic wrap) are another option
- Insulate pipes in unheated areas, such as attics, crawl spaces and basements.
- When below-freezing weather is forecasted, open cupboard doors in the kitchen and bathrooms. This allows these pipes to get more heat from inside your home.
- If you leave home for several days, put your furnace on a low setting. This may not prevent freezing pipes but it can help.
- Let a slight drip of water run when temperatures dip below freezing.
Thaw plumbing lines safely with a hair dryer or heat lamp. Once the pipe has thawed, make sure to leave a little water running so the pipe doesn’t freeze again.
Do not open the water meter box near the curb. It could increase the chance of freezing water at the meter.
Close your main water shut-off valve to your house. Most shut-off valves are located where the water line enters the house, either at the front of your house where you connect your hose, or basement near the hot water heater, or inside the garage.
Turn off the water heater. Locate the dedicated shut-off valve on the cold water inlet.
Repairing broken pipes on the customer’s side of the meter is the customer’s responsibility. Contact a plumber for repair work.
- Portland Water Bureau: Contact Info
- Regional Water Providers Consortium: Winterize Your Home
- Portland Bureau of Transportation: Tips for Traveling
- Portland Bureau of Emergency Management: Winter Weather
- Oregon Department of Transportation: TripCheck
- Trimet: Service Alerts
- National Weather Service: Portland
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): Winter Storms and Extreme Cold
- FEMA: How to Prepare for a Winter Storm (PDF)
- Centers for Disease Control (CDC): Be Prepared to Stay Safe and Healthy in Winter