It’s a homeowner’s wintertime nightmare: A broken water line while you’re away from the house.
One such homeowner was lucky Wednesday to have an observant neighbor.
The neighbor called 911 after seeing water run down the driveway of the home in the 173rd and Locust Streets area.
Authorities entered the house and shut off the water, said William Bernard, acting battalion chief for the Omaha Fire Department.
Bernard said a water line inside the master bedroom shower had broken. Water soaked through the floor into the garage and down the driveway. He did not have a damage estimate.
Ed Buglewicz, supervisor of field services for the Metropolitan Utilities District, said every winter the utility responds to one or two dozen reports of broken residential water lines. Early in the winter, the reports tend to be for sprinkler systems and later for interior pipes.
In the case of this house, the thermostat had been set too low for the current cold, Bernard said. Over the past week, temperatures have dropped below zero and wind chills have approached 20 degrees below zero.
Water pipes can be affected by "wind chill’’ when cold winds penetrate openings in a home.
"Wind plays a big part in pipes freezing," Buglewicz said.
A house can endure long periods of cold weather without problem, and suddenly experience a water line break if the wind blows in just the right direction during a bitter cold snap.
In the case of this house, a neighbor had a key and let authorities into the house. Had that not been the case, Buglewicz said, MUD could have shut off the water from outside the home. Each home in the Omaha area has a shutoff box between the house and the MUD water main.
Buglewicz recommends that a homeowner provide a reliable neighbor with a key to the house.
At some homes, the shutoff boxes have been covered by dirt or landscaping or have become inoperable. In those cases, time can be lost getting a locksmith to open the house.
The owner of this home was not available for an interview.
If you doubt your water pipes’ ability to withstand cold snaps, Buglewicz said, you can turn a faucet to trickle when the temperature drops.
Another suggestion: Open cabinet doors so that warm room air can more easily reach the area beneath a sink.
Both steps are especially important on the north side of homes.