cold weather

Tips to Keep Old Man Winter’s Icy Grip from Freezing Your Home’s Plumbing


Watch and share our video on preventing frozen pipes!

With the National Weather Service calling for a blast of Arctic air that will drop Philadelphia temperatures into the teens by Thursday night, the City of Philadelphia is putting out a Code Blue alert.

In addition to keeping an eye out for those left vulnerable by the extreme cold, Philly residents should take steps to protect their home plumbing from below-freezing temperatures.

#PHLSnow Tips: Don’t Let Snow Slow Response to Water and Fire Emergencies!

If you have a pipe burst, we need to access the curb box seen above to shut off water in an emergency. Make sure it's free of snow and ice to reduce the chance of major property damage. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
If you have a pipe burst, we need to access the curb box seen above to shut off water in an emergency. Make sure it's free of snow and ice to reduce the chance of major property damage. Credit: PWD

While we’re usually busy dealing with that wetter form of snow (rain!), the white stuff comes with a special set of challenges and risks—both for Philadelphia Water Department infrastructure and our crews out on the streets.

We’re asking citizens around Philadelphia give us a hand once the snow falls. Your assistance helps to make sure our crews can efficiently tackle any potential problems as they come up.

Here’s what you can do to help:

  • When shoveling, do not pile snow on top of storm drain inlets. Blocked storm drains can create flooding.
  • Make sure all fire hydrants are clear of snow, visible, and easily accessible.
  • Make sure your valve cover (see image at top) and other utility access points are clear of snow and ice and are easily visible to ensure the fastest shutoff in an emergency.

Another Reason to Love Spring: Winter Will Loosen Its Grip on Our Water Mains

This Friday, March 20, is the Vernal equinox--the first day of spring (even though it's supposed to snow)! Here at PWD, we're taking one big collective sigh of relief, hoping that the harsh cold of winter is behind us. With warmer temperatures, the
natural forces that put so much strain on our hundreds of miles of cast iron
water mains will begin to relent and we should experience less water main breaks. 

Recently, Philadelphia Magazine published Philadelphia: We’re Not Alone in Water Main Breaks, which explores winter's effects on water mains and makes clear that Philadelphia is not unique when comes to this problem. In fact, it points out that Philadelphia grades better than the national average. 

The piece notes, when compared with other cities and the national averages for water main breaks per year, we're actually doing pretty well. Our average 240 breaks per 1000 miles of pipe per year beats the national average of 270 per 1000 miles. And our water system's life-cycle average (which is the average number of years it would take at our current rate of replacement to replace the entire system) is 125 years, which sounds like a long time until you compare it to the national average of 200 years. Starting in 2016, PWD will replace old pipes at an even faster rate to get that life-cycle average down to 100 years. A baby born in 2016 could live long enough to see every mile of pipe replaced in his or her lifetime! So that's something. 

As we replace the cast-iron pipe we're using newer ductile iron pipe. (Remember "ductile" from physical science class? Think flexible... not brittle.) This will help to cut down even further on the number of breaks per year. While we may never be able to completely avoid water main breaks, our hope is that we can reduce the number and continue to improve our response and resolution time so that when the inevitable break does happen, it causes as little disruption as possible.

In the meantime, we appreciate our customers and the people of Philadelphia helping us out by keeping an eye on the streets. And we appreciate our crews that work around the clock to fix water main breaks in less than desirable conditions. If you see a water main break or suspect one because you see water where you don't think water should be, please call our 24-hour hotline at 215-685-6300.

Thanks to Our Cold Weather Heroes!

If you’ve been listening to the radio or watching TV news any morning over the last couple months, you’ve undoubtedly heard several reports about broken water mains all over the region. Though we’ve been able to dodge the snowfall that has made life very difficult in other cities, the extreme swings in temperature have done a number on our pipes.

During a mild winter, when the temperature outside only occasionally dips below 32 degrees, the temperature of the ground below tends to remain at a constant, slightly warmer temperature. As a result, we tend to see fewer wintertime water main breaks. 

During a winter like this, with air temperatures dropping into the low single digits and staying there for days, the water in the mains gets colder and denser and the traces of water in the ground freeze and expand.  The cold, dense water flowing through the pipe causes the pipe material to contract at the same time the expanding ground around the pipes pushes and pulls them in all directions. It’s a recipe for broken joints, which we’ve seen plenty of!

Each broken main has the potential to make a real mess as water coming to the surface quickly freezes over and service to homes and business is disrupted. Into these breaches, go our cold weather warriors. These repair crews are tasked with identifying the leak, shutting off the water going to the broken section of pipe (made complicated by frozen valves), pinpointing the exact location of the break (often the hardest part!), digging up the frozen ground around the break to repair it, and quickly patching the street to return life to normal. And they do this in ideally less than eight hours, usually while working in sub-freezing temperatures… with water flowing all around… in the dark! 

So what can you do to help?

PWD monitors 3,200 miles of water mains and has crews all over the city inspecting and maintaining the water and sewer system to find and repair leaks before they become bigger problems. But we need you, citizen of Philadelphia, to help out by acting as another set of eyes and ears. When you see any water that looks like it’s in the wrong place, get in touch with us to report it.

The good news is we have a bunch of ways to do so. The way to reach us directly is by calling (215) 685-6300. Granted, when the water starts flowing down your street at 5am you’re not likely to have this blog post handy so you can also call 3-1-1 and ask to be transferred to report any water or sewer emergency. Finally, if the phone isn’t your bag, you can get in touch with us directly through Twitter (we read all of the Tweets directed toward us and respond as quickly as we can). Follow us at twitter.com/PhillyH2O.

Oh, and please… feel free to let that crew who is out there in the cold, getting wet and trying to fix that break as quickly as possible, know that you appreciate the tough job they’re doing. The rest of us here at PWD certainly do!

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