Cold snap puts pipes, power and heat in peril

EUGENE, Ore. - With the National Weather Service forecasting overnight temperatures well below freezing though Saturday, Eugene-area residents should take simple precautions to avoid frozen pipes and be prepared for possible power outages.

"Typically we have repair crews on standby 24/7, 365," said Joe Harwood with the Eugene Water and Electric Board. "It's their job to get the lights back on ASAP."

"We have our crews on standby, and then they roll out and get the power back on," said Meredith Clark with the Springfield Utility Board.

Both utilities are confident in their crews for this week's cold snap.

They have advice, too, on how to effectively heat your home.

"We like to tell our customers in order to save money," Harwood said, "only heat the house when they're home."

"If you can step back from your door and you can see light around it," Clark said, "you need to get some weather stripping in there."

Icy winds and sub-freezing temperatures can do a lot of damage to homes or businesses if exposed or unheated pipes freeze. In addition to leaving residents without running water, repairing the damage caused by frozen, broken pipes can be expensive. The cold snap that gripped Eugene in December resulted in hundreds of customers with frozen and burst pipes.

The Eugene Water & Electric Board is urging all of its customers to follow some basic, low- or no-cost tips to help cope with the cold weather and avoid expensive repair bills:

Insulate all pipes located in unheated areas, such as the garage, basement and garden areas. Inexpensive foam insulation is available at most home improvement stores.

Disconnect outside hoses, wrap faucets and cover them with plastic or faucet covers.

Cover crawl space vents with cardboard or plywood when temperatures dip below freezing. Remember to uncover vents when the weather warms up.

At temperatures near 20 degrees Fahrenheit, turn on a small but steady stream of cold water at the inside faucet furthest from the water meter. Also, open cabinet doors below the sink to let warm air circulate around water pipes.

Drain and winterize underground irrigation systems, including yard sprinklers and backflow preventers. Be sure to wrap the backflow preventer with insulating material.

If your pipes do freeze and you know where the frozen spot is, wrap the pipe with warm towels.

Never use a flame or hair dryer to thaw frozen pipes.

If your pipes break, shut off your water using the hand valve at the meter. If you cannot get the water turned off, call EWEB at (541) 685-7000 for assistance.

Weather forecasts are also calling for a chance of snow or freezing rain, which can bring down trees and branches onto overhead electric lines and cause outages. If your lights do go out, be sure to first check the electric panel for tripped breakers or fuses. If that isn't the problem, call EWEB's electric outage reporting line at (541) 484-2300. Follow EWEB's Facebook and Twitter pages for updates during prolonged outages.