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How do I protect my pipes in winter?

Many people welcome the crisp, cold winter weather, but nobody welcomes pipe-related headaches that can come with the dropping temperatures. On average, a quarter-million families have their homes severely damaged each winter because of frozen pipes that have burst or cracked, soaking carpets, ruining furniture, and damaging walls. But you can prevent your pipes from freezing or bursting by taking the following steps.

Before the temperatures drop…

  • Insulate pipes in your home’s crawl spaces, attic, and garage. These exposed pipes are most susceptible to freezing. The more insulation you use, the better protected your pipes are.
  • Wrap pipes with heat tape or thermostatically controlled heat cables. Be sure to follow all manufacturers’ installation and operation instructions.
  • Seal leaks that allow cold air inside, near where pipes are located (i.e. around electrical wiring, dryer vents, other pipes), with caulk or insulation. When it’s extremely cold, a tiny opening can let in enough cold air to cause a pipe to freeze.
  • Disconnect garden hoses and, if practical, use an indoor valve to shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets, drip irrigation systems, sprinklers, and evaporative (swamp) coolers.

When it freezes…

  • Let warm water drip from your faucet overnight, preferably from a faucet on an outside wall.
  • Open cabinet doors to allow heat to reach uninsulated pipes under sinks and appliances near exterior walls.

If you’re away…

  • Don’t set the thermostat in your house too low.
  • Shut off and drain the water system by shutting off the main valve and turning on every water fixture (both hot and cold) until water stops running. It’s not necessary to leave the fixtures open. But remember, if you have a fire protection sprinkler system in your house, it may be deactivated when you shut off the water.

Finally, if your pipes do freeze…

  • Turn on your faucets. If nothing comes out, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve, leave the faucets on, and call a plumber.
  • Thaw frozen pipes with warm air from a hair dryer, if practical. Start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of the pipe. Never thaw a pipe with a torch or other open flame.

Want more information? See the “How to protect your pipes from winter weather” video on Cal Water’s YouTube channel.

How do I read my bill?

Cal Water’s bills feature an easy-to-read account summary, usage history graph to help customers keep track of consumption, detailed description of charges, a place for important messages, and meter information.

A sample bill is below.

Sample Bill

Billing date
Date your bill was printed.
Account number
Your 10-digit account number, which you will keep even if you move to another location within our service areas.
If you receive more than one bill from Cal Water, you will have more than one account number —
contact our Customer Center at the phone number on your bill if you would like your bills combined.
Bill message
This is where important messages will appear.
Contact information
Your local Cal Water Customer Center.
Summary of your account information
Current charges
Amount due from current billing period
(flat or metered as applicable). A detailed description of charges for city services will appear below.
Prior balance
Previous balance. Includes payments applied to your account since your last bill and any unpaid balance (due upon receipt).
Amount due
The amount that you owe, including
any unpaid previous balance. Reminder: All bills due upon receipt and past due after 19 days. This sample bill is for a customer enrolled in the Automatic Payment Service (APS), so payment will be automatically applied.
Service address
Address of service location.
Service dates
The beginning and end of the billing period for water
service. City services (if applicable) are billed monthly.
Service charge
Monthly charge based upon the size of
your water meter (if applicable).
Quantity charge
Measured in Ccf (hundred cubic feet) (if applicable).
Sum of California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) fees, surcharges, and surcredits
Other charges and credits
Local fee
Tax we collect for city or county governments (if applicable).
Public Purpose Program fees.
Subtotal for this service
Usage history (metered service only)
Thirteen months of consumption history.
Meter and reading information (if applicable)
City services
Current itemized charges for city services (if applicable).
Portion of bill to return your payment (unless enrolled in APS)
Bills are due upon receipt and are past due after 19 days
Amount due. In this case, the bill will be paid with APS. For more information, see the Payment Options page.
What forms of payments does Cal Water accept?

Cal Water accepts the following forms of payment:

  • Cash, checks, money orders, credit card payments made over the phone.
  • Electronic payments made through banks or online services like those offered by Yahoo! and Microsoft.
  • Payments made through Automatic Payment Service. Customers also have the ability to manage their accounts 24 hours per day, seven days per week, online through electronic bill presentment, payment, and document management. The online bill pay feature supports payments with a checking account or VISA credit or debit card, and customers have the capability to set up their own recurring payment options and threshold payment limits.
What are my payment options?

Cal Water offers a number of options for paying your water bill:

Pay Online

Enrolling in Cal Water’s Electronic Bill Presentment and Payment will eliminate paper bills. By enrolling in the AutoPay feature (recurring payments), your payments will be automatically deducted from your bank account or Visa* credit or debit card. Billing and payment histories are available online 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

Automatic Payment Service (APS)

APS automatically pays your water bill by deducting the amount owed from your checking or savings account each month. Contact your local Customer Center for more information about APS or print an application form APS_Application_Form.pdf.

Pay by Phone

To pay your Cal Water bill over the phone using your bank account or Visa* credit or debit card, call 1-866-734-0743 (toll-free).

Pay in Person

You can pay Cal Water bills in person at your local Customer Center or at designated drop boxes or Western Union pay stations in your community (there is a $1 service charge to pay through Western Union). The address of your Customer Center and the location of pay stations (if available) can be found on the Your District page.

Pay through the mail

To pay your bill by mail, send a check or money order to:

Cal Water
PO Box 940001
San Jose, CA 95194-0001

Be sure to include your account number on the check. Do not send cash through the mail.

* Cal Water currently accepts only Visa credit or debit card payments. This is because Visa has reduced its transaction fee to Cal Water, which enables us to accept credit or debit card payments without charging you a fee.

What do I do if I have billing questions?

Use the Contact Us  page to either send Customer Service an e-mail or find the phone number of your local Customer Center.

What should I do if my bill seems higher than usual?

See the High Bills page for more information and suggestions.

Is there a special discontinuation notification service for elderly or handicapped customers?

Yes. A special notification service is available for elderly (age 62 and over) and/or handicapped residential customers. In order to help prevent discontinuance of service should your account become delinquent for non-payment, Cal Water will provide at least 48 hours notice by telephone or visit prior to discontinuance of your service. In order to provide this service, it is essential to have in our records those residential customers who qualify as elderly or handicapped. In addition to the 48-hour notification service, a third party may be designated by the customer to receive such discontinuance notices. Eligible customers may receive a form to sign up for this notification service by contacting their local Cal Water Customer Center.

I received a message to call my local Customer Center. When is it open?

Office hours vary among districts. You can find your local Customer Center’s hours on the District Information page.

Who should I call in case of a water emergency, such as a water line break or broken fire hydrant?

For water emergencies during normal office hours, contact your local Cal Water Customer Center. For water emergencies after normal office hours, call your local Cal Water office at its after-hours phone number.

How do I turn off the water supply to my house in the event of a break in my plumbing or a repair?

You can interrupt the flow of water to your home by turning off your house valve. House valves are usually located beneath a faucet outside the home, most typically near the faucet for the garden hose. If you cannot find your house valve, please call your local Cal Water Customer Center for assistance.

Is Cal Water responsible for plumbing leaks?

The California Public Utilities Commission only authorizes Cal Water to take responsibility for the water system on the Company’s side of the meter. Customers are responsible for maintaining the plumbing on their side of the meter.

Cal Water’s affiliate CWS Utility Services has contracted with HomeServe to offer optional insurance coverage for residents’ plumbing. For details, see the insurance page on this site.

How do I discontinue or transfer my water service?

To stop your water service, please either use the “Stop Service” link after logging into your online account, or Contact Us to send your local Cal Water Customer Center an e-mail or locate its phone number.

If you are moving within our service area and would like to transfer your service, please call your local Cal Water Customer Center.

Why does someone need to be 18 or older to sign up for water service or be present when water is turned on?

To comply with insurance and liability requirements, an adult must be present when water service is turned on.

How do I read my meter?

Reading your water meter will tell you how much water you’re using and whether you have a leak. Most meters are located near the curb in front of your home under a concrete lid. Cal Water uses 100 cubic feet (Ccf) of water as a billing unit, so you should monitor your water usage using these units, as described below.

There are two basic types of meters: the straight-reading meter and the round-reading meter.

Straight-reading meter (reading: 123 Ccf) Round-reading meter(reading: 123 Ccf)

If you have a straight-reading meter, simply read and record the figures shown in white (123). Subtract your last reading from this reading to determine your usage in hundreds of cubic feet. To convert your usage to gallons, multiply by 748. To check for leaks, observe the large sweep or test hand for at least 15 minutes with all water turned off. If there is any movement, there is a leak.

To read the round-reading meter, begin with the dial labeled 100,000 and read clockwise to the dial labeled 1,000. If the hand on any dial is between two numbers, use the lower number. The hands on individual dials may rotate either clockwise or counter clockwise. Subtract your last reading from this reading to determine usage. The “one foot” dial may be used to detect leaks. If there is any movement while all water is turned off for at least 15 minutes, there may be water leaking.

To effectively monitor your usage, we suggest you read your meter daily or weekly.

Want more information? See the “How to read your meter” video on Cal Water’s YouTube channel.

How can I tell if I have a plumbing leak?

To check for household leaks, turn off the water inside and outside your home. Observe the test hand (depicted at right in blue); if it moves, there is water pushing through the meter, indicating a leak.

To locate a leak, try:

  • Looking for wet spots that could indicate a leak in the pipe between the meter and the home or the sprinkler system.
  • Dropping a dye tablet in the toilet tank. Don’t flush. If colored water appears in the bowl, the toilet leaks.
  • Listening for the sound of running water coming from your toilet. If you hear running water, your toilet has a leak.

Want more information? See the “How to check for household leaks” video on Cal Water’s YouTube channel.

If my toilet’s leaking, what can I do about it?

A leaking toilet can be annoying and wasteful. To check if your toilet has a leak, place a few drops of food coloring in the tank. If coloring is seen in the bowl without flushing, you have a leak. To pinpoint the leak, follow these simple steps:

  • If the tank is not filling with water, the float ball is not returning to the seat properly.
  • Check to see if the linkage that connects to the trip lever is hung up.
  • If that doesn’t work, then the ball needs to be replaced. A flapper ball can replace a worn flush valve ball.
  • If the tank is full of water, and water is flowing into the overflow tube, then the valve is not shutting off correctly.
  • Lift up on the float ball. If the water shuts off, then the ball is not sitting properly in the tank. This could be caused by two things:
  • The ball has a leak and is full of water. Replace with another ball or flapper.
  • The float ball needs adjusting. Use the screw at the base of the rod to lower the float ball so that the water level is 1/2 to 1 inch below the overflow tube.
  • If water does not shut off when you lift up on the float ball, then the valve itself needs to be repaired or replaced. Repair kits and new valves with easy to follow instructions are available at local hardware stores.
  • If water is not flowing into the overflow tube, but constantly runs or periodically turns on and off, the flush ball or flapper is not fitting snugly into the flush ball seat. When seats get old, they get pitted and allow water to leak past the seal and down the drain. Minerals and other deposits may also build up on the seat, making it rough.
  • If worn, replace the flush ball or flapper.
  • If the problem persists, the seat can be cleaned with steel wool, covered with a repair seal, or replaced.
How can I prepare for emergencies?

In an emergency, certain necessities of life may be hard to come by, and you may need special tools to deal with unusual situations. These are a few things you should consider putting in your home emergency kit:

  • Photocopies of important records (credit and ID cards, deeds, property records, insurance policies, home inventory)
  • A small amount of cash or traveler’s checks
  • Medical necessities (medication, wheelchair and hearing-aid batteries, contact lens solution, etc.)
  • Supplies for your pets (food, a leash or container, veterinary records)
  • Food and water for at least three days (including supplies for any pets). A good rule of thumb for water is one gallon per day per person.
  • Cooking necessities (a can opener, paper plates, and plastic utensils)
  • Portable, battery-powered or hand-cranked radio
  • Flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • First-aid kit and instruction book
  • Matches
  • Whistle
  • Extra clothing
  • Pliers or wrench to turn off utilities
  • Local maps
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items (moist towelettes, toilet paper, feminine supplies, garbage bags)
  • Blankets
  • Fire extinguisher

Keep your supplies (particularly food) in air-tight plastic bags, and keep your complete emergency kit in one or two closeable, easily portable containers (such as a camping backpack, duffel bag, ice chest, or unused trash can with a lid). The kit should be stored in a cool, dry place that will be easily accessible in  an emergency.

Review your emergency kit at least once per year. Make sure that everything is still fresh and in working order, and update it if your family needs have changed.

Emergency supplies are important, but sometimes a little knowledge is more valuable than anything you might have in your emergency kit. Here are a few tips for making sure your “knowledge kit” in order.

  • Find out what kinds of disasters can strike your home. Has there ever been a flood where you live? A mud slide? A major earthquake?
  • Learn the danger signs. Do you know how to tell when storm drains are overflowing? or how to find out if a fire is close enough to endanger your home?
  • Learn first aid, CPR, and how to operate a fire extinguisher.
  • Talk to the experts. Do you know how to shut off your gas and electricity? Because building standards vary, you should consult an expert to find out what action to take in your home.
  • Develop a plan of action. Together with your family, decide what you would do if disaster struck. Make sure your plan includes escape routes and a means of staying in contact, and that everyone has all the information they need (where supplies are stored, how to shut off the gas, etc.).
How much water should I keep on hand for emergencies?

After a disaster, it’s critical that you have water on hand in case the water normally provided by Cal Water is unavailable.

How much water should you set aside for use in an emergency? Use these guidelines to decide.
  • As a general rule, you need at least one gallon of water per person per day (half a gallon for drinking; half a gallon for cooking and cleaning).
  • This amount will vary depending on age, activity, physical condition,and diet.
  • If it Is hot, you will need more water ? Double the normal amount if it is very hot.
  • Children, nursing mothers, and sick people require more water.
  • Some additional water should be on hand for medical emergencies.

There are several ways you can make sure your emergency water supply stays fresh.

  • Purchase commercially bottled water, keep it sealed, and replace it after its “use by” date.
  • Purchase a food-grade water-storage container from a camping supply store, thoroughly clean and rinse it, and fill it with water in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Store your water in a cool, dry place. If you are not using commercially bottled water, replace it every six months.
  • Empty large plastic soft-drink bottles (not milk or juice containers, because they may promote bacterial growth), thoroughly clean and rinse them, sanitize them with household chlorine bleach (one teaspoon of non-scented bleach to a quart of water, swished in the bottle so it touches all surfaces), rinse thoroughly with warm water, and fill to the top with tap water. Add two drops of non-scented liquid household chlorine bleach. Seal tightly using the original cap, being careful not to touch the inside with your fingers. Write the date on the outside of the bottle and store out of direct sunlight.
What do I do in an emergency?

After a disaster, if you hear reports of broken water or sewage lines, or if officials advise you of a water problem, you may want to shut off your water to prevent tainted water from getting into your home. Turning off your house valve also prevents a broken water line from draining your toilet tanks and hot water heater.

Note that the house valve is not the valve in the cement box by the street ? that valve can only be turned off by the water company. The house valve is generally located outside your home near a hose bib.

Here are some tips for managing water in a disaster.

  • Never ration water unless authorities recommend doing so, and never drink less than a quart of water a day.
  • Don’t drink cloudy or otherwise contaminated water from a faucet, stream, or pond without treating it first, unless you are at risk of dehydration.
  • Don’t drink soda or alcohol instead of water.
  • To use the water in your pipes after your water is turned off, completely open the lowest faucet in your home and capture water as it trickles out.
  • To use the water in your hot-water tank, turn off the electricity and/or gas, open the drain at the bottom of the tank, turn off the water intake valve, and turn on the hot water faucet. Be sure to refill the tank before turning it back on.
  • You can also get drinkable water from melted ice, and liquids from canned goods.
  • Never drink water from radiators, hot water boilers, water beds, toilets, pools, or spas.
Should any special precautions be taken by kidney dialysis patients?

The water you receive from Cal Water is safe for drinking, bathing, and most other purposes. However, if your supply is disinfected with chlorine or chloramine, these substances must be removed from the water before use in dialysis.

What can you do to make sure your water is safe for use in dialysis treatment?

Follow these steps.

  • See if your water contains chlorine or chloramine. You can find this information in the water quality report for your water system, but you may want to have your water independently tested. You must take steps to remove the chlorine or chloramine from your water before using it in the dialysis process, because these substances are harmful if they enter directly into the bloodstream.
  • If your water contains chlorine: Chlorine may be eliminated from water by using a filtration system. To determine whether your system is already able to remove chlorine or to obtain assistance with upgrading your system, contact your physician, dialysis equipment service company, or the Department of Health Services Licensing & Certification Unit.
  • If your water contains chloramine: Your dialysis system needs to be able to handle up to 5 mg/liter of chloramine (higher than the maximum concentration allowed by law). Chloramine may be eliminated from water by using a granular-activated carbon-filtration system specifically designed to remove chloramine. To determine whether your system is already able to remove chloramine or to obtain assistance with upgrading your system, contact your physician, dialysis equipment service company, or the Department of Health Services Licensing & Certification Unit.

If you have questions or need additional information on how to prepare your water for use in dialysis treatment, contact your dialysis facility, physician, or one of these resources:

Should any special precautions be taken by pet owners?

The water you receive from Cal Water is safe for human consumption. However, your water may contain chlorine or chloramine, which can harm animals that live in water, such as fish, reptiles, amphibians, and shellfish. Unlike land-dwelling creatures, these animals don’t have a digestive process that neutralizes chloramine and chlorine before it reaches their bloodstream, so putting them in untreated tap water may be harmful ? even fatal.

What can you do to protect your pets? Follow these steps.
  • See if your water contains chlorine or chloramine. You can find this information in the water quality report for your water system.
  • If your water contains chlorine: Chlorine evaporates quickly, so the easiest method of removing it from water is to put it in an open container and let it sit still for a couple of days. Alternately, chlorine may be eliminated from water by boiling it or adding salts.
  • If your water contains chloramine: There are two methods for eliminating chloramine from water. You can either purchase a granular-activated carbon-filtration system specifically designed to remove chloramine, or you can use a conditioner or additive containing a dechloraminating chemical for both ammonia and chlorine.

Products for removing chloramine and chlorine, as well as kits to test your water for chloramine, are available at many pet and aquarium supply stores. These stores may also be a good resource for information on care for your pets.