Portland Water Bureau shares tips on what to do if you have a burst pipe

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As the Portland Water Bureau is responding to a high volume of water main breaks amid the thaw period following freezing temperatures, they are letting customers know what they should do should it happen to their home. 

From Saturday to Tuesday, the Water Bureau responded to “over 1,250 calls for service,” officials said in a release. Though they have crews responding to emergencies 24/7, PWB gave recommendations for steps people can take to protect their pipes and property.

The Oregon Humane Society’s Portland office suffered flooding due to burst pipes caused by freezing temperatures in the Willamette Valley in January of 2024. (Oregon Humane Society)

Temperatures began to rise above freezing in Portland on Wednesday. However, that also makes this post-winter storm period the most at risk for frozen pipes to leak or burst as thawing commences. What’s more, the risk of freezing and breaking pipes won’t go away until the temperatures remain consistently above freezing, PWB said.

Until that time, it is wise to take basic steps to keep the pipes moving, including:

  • Leaving cabinets open underneath faucets to warm the pipes.
  • Keep indoor faucets on a drip.
  • Outdoor faucets should remain covered.
  • A safe technique for thawing frozen pipes includes using a hair dryer or heat lamp.

Another preventive measure for main breaks includes being aware of where the emergency water shut-off valve is located in the home. They could be located in a variety of places, including where the hose connects in front of the home, in the basement near the water heater, or inside the garage. It may be necessary to contact the property manager of the building if the tenant is in an apartment or multifamily structure. 

An illustration shows the zone of responsibility for broken pipes. January 17, 2024 (courtesy Portland Water Bureau).

Residents who do experience a main break should immediately close the water shut-off valve, turn off the water heater and shut off the valve on the cold-water inlet. If the water shut-off valve can’t be located, there is a 24-hour emergency dispatch line that one can call to request an emergency water shut-off: 503-823-4874.

Though the emergency line is available, officials warn that the high volume of requests — as well as slow-downs from downed trees and power lines — could negatively affect response times. 

PWB also advises that it is wise to preemptively store emergency water in case a pipe does burst. Emergency water can also be used “to fill your toilet tank for flushing toilets,” should a broken main render the home without flowing water. 

People can report a busted water main if they see the tell-tale signs, such as the ground buckling with water coming up from the street or sidewalk, by calling the 24-hour emergency line at 503-823-4874 and selecting option 1. 

Homeowners who may be wondering whose responsibility it is to repair a broken main should know that it all depends on the location. If the broken pipe happened on the customer’s side of the water meter, it would be their responsibility to repair it. If it happened past the water meter, and onto the street,  it would be the city’s responsibility. However, there are resources available for making the repair that can be found on the City of Portland’s website. 

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