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Water Safety in Buildings

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Week two of Building Safety Month 2020 is Water Safety. We've teamed up with the Portland Water Bureau to learn about bacteria growth in still waters. We'll also share some plumbing and water heater maintenance tips.

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The Portland Water Bureau ensures you receive safe and reliable drinking water. Customers have responsibilities to maintain water quality in their homes. Get your free Customer Guide to Water Quality and Water Pressure to learn more.

Customer Guild to Water Quality and Pressure Cover
The cover of Portland Water Bureau's Customer Guide to Water Quality and Water Pressure. An illustration of how water flows through a home (bathtub, laundry, kitchen and bathroom sink, water heater, emergency water supply, outdoor hose, and water supply coming into the house).

Legionella Growth in Still Waters

For commercial or industrial buildings, letting water sit in pipes for long periods of time can create water quality problems.

Two potential health risks from allowing water to sit include:

  • The growth of harmful bacteria, such as Legionella, that can make people sick. People can inhale the bacteria in water droplets or steam (such as in the shower or from a fine spray).

  • Increased levels of metals in the water, including lead if it is present in the plumbing.

Building owners or tenants should take the following actions to reduce these risks:

Make sure you use protective equipment when performing building maintenance.

Go to Portand Water Bureau's website for more information.

Plumbing Maintenance Tips

Can the plumbing in my home impact my water quality?

Yes. Older iron plumbing can impact the taste and color of your drinking water, but it is not harmful to your health. If lead is present in your plumbing, it could dissolve into your drinking water. Lead is a health concern, especially for young children. If you are concerned about the impact of your home’s plumbing on your water quality, call the Water Quality Line for more information at 503-823-7525.

Your home’s plumbing may contain lead.

The main source of lead in water is home plumbing. Homes built or plumbed between 1970 and 1985 may have lead solder in their plumbing. Homes built before 2014 may have brass plumbing parts that contain lead.

How do I determine what my pipes are made of?

Examine any exposed pipes in your basement or crawlspace, or pipes at the wall underneath sinks. Copper pipes are the color of a copper penny. Plastic pipes are typically a white or clear plastic. Galvanized iron pipes are a dull silver-gray color, and are common in older homes. Lead pipes, while also silver-gray, are not commonly found in Portland. Lead pipes are soft and scratch easily with a coin.

How can I get my water tested?

To request a free lead-in-water test kit, contact the LeadLine at 503-988-4000 or visit www.leadline.org. Testing for other metals is available upon request by calling the Water Quality Line directly at 503-823-7525.

Do I need a plumbing permit?

Here's a list of residential projects that require a plumbing permit:

  • Repair, replace, relocate or add to the piping system within your home.
  • Install new plumbing fixtures such as toilets, sinks, showers, tubs, dishwashers, etc.
  • Replace a water heater.
  • Replace existing plumbing fixtures if the replacement involves concealed plumbing connections.
  • Install rain drains, cesspools, septic systems, drywells, sewer lines, water lines, backflow prevention assemblies for lawn sprinkler systems or cap a sewer.
  • Cap of fixtures that have been removed.

Note: Adding a bathroom requires a plumbing and building permit, and may also require an electrical and/or mechanical permit. Check our website for more information on residential plumbing permits.

Water Heater Maintenance Tips

Common Problems 

Water Heater Anatomy (gas heated model)
Water Heater Anatomy (gas heated model)
  • White plastic particles in water: The dip tube is breaking down inside the tank.
  • Rust-colored water or tank is leaking: Sacrificial anode (used to prevent metals from breaking down) no longer works, which leads to tank corrosion or failure. Hot water pipes can also corrode faster than cold water pipes, leading to rust-colored water.
  • Brown or green-tinted water: You may need to flush sediment from your hot water tank, or your hot water pipes may be tinting your water.
  • Water is no longer hot: Check your tank for leaks, and ensure the heating element is operational. You may need to have your water heater serviced or replaced.
  • Hot water pressure is suddenly low: Check your tank for leaks, and clean out aerator screens on faucets. Pipe or tank corrosion may be restricting the flow of water.
  • Pressure relief valve is leaking: The valve may need to be replaced, or you may need an expansion tank. In rare cases, there could be a pressure surge in the water system. Call the Water Quality Line at 503-823-7525 for more information.

Water Heater Facts

  • Tank-style water heaters keep hot water stored for use, while tankless systems only heat water as it is needed. There are gas and electric models for both.
  • Most manufacturers recommend flushing or maintenance of water heaters annually or every few years.
  • The typical lifespan of a water heater is 10 years (tank style) to 20 years (tankless).
  • The property owner is responsible for maintaining their water heater, and hiring a plumber may be required.

Safety Precautions

  • Setting the thermostat: Depending on who you ask, the optimal temperature setting on water heaters ranges from 115°F to 140°F. A temperature of 115-120°F can reduce the risk of scalding (burning your skin) and save energy, while a temperature of 135-140°F can prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, such as Legionella, but can cause scalding. If you set the temperature between 135-140°F, be sure to have a plumber install anti-scalding devices.
  • Maintenance safety: Always turn off the heating elements before doing maintenance on your water heater. Call a plumber for assistance if you are not comfortable doing it yourself.

Portland Water Bureau Blog

See what Portland Water Bureau has in store for you for week 2 of Building Safety Month.