"Hopefully," she said, "this is it."

Honest Abe's owner, Abe Lazar, said one exacerbating factor this winter has been the wind.

"The wind gets in the cracks of the house and freezes the pipes," said Lazar, who started his Northwest Baltimore company three years ago.

Lazar said he was actually busier earlier this month, when the first frigid spell swept through the area and his phone was ringing as often as 200 times a day.

"Maybe people have learned a lesson," he said. "We're not as inundated."

Ron Lopp, the dispatcher at Abbott's Plumbing in Elkridge, said he's been fielding 10 calls an hour at times.

"Everything is overbooked now," he said. "The first freeze started it, and it hasn't stopped since."

Brian Marvel, who owns Forster Plumbing in Lauraville, said many older homes weren't built for the kind of extreme cold that comes only sporadically to this area.

"They're drafty, they were built when energy costs were minimal and they're not very well insulated," said Marvel, whose family-owned company has been in business since 1888. "If you have a crack in the foundation, and the wind gets in there, or people make additions and run water piping in an exposed area — things happen."

Horror stories abound — everyone seems to know of someone who had cascades of water flooding into a house, even collapsing the floors.

Simon-Higgs, who lives in South Baltimore's Riverside neighborhood, hadn't noticed the problem initially because the water had gushed into a crawl space below the rear of the house and only later started seeping slowly into the basement.

"On Thursday, my husband had noticed the water pressure was low in the shower," said Simon-Higgs, a teacher who now stays home with her 1- and 4-year-old kids.

After hearing her water meter spinning wildly, she saw the leaking in the basement. Luckily, she said, a plumber came within an hour, found a couple of broken pipes and repaired them. The couple then had a heat lamp installed to keep the pipes warm.

Now they're awaiting their insurance company's estimate on the damage — something they've been warned may take a while with all the claims agents are juggling.

Doug Waire, a State Farm insurance agent in Dundalk, advises clients to prepare for cold weather by learning where their water main is located.

Water gushing in your home "can be really scary," he said. "It's coming out quickly, and if you don't know where those things are, it can really make you panic and cause a lot of damage."

Waire said he has seen many calls this winter from people whose pipes for outside faucets — those used for hoses — have frozen. He recommends turning those off for the winter.

People should take photos of the damage and then begin their cleanup, he said. And those going out of town should keep their heat on and ask a friend or relative to check on their home.

Many residents were caught off-guard by the cold, coming as it did after a couple of mostly mild winters.

David Wesolowski of Wes Plumbing, Heating and Cooling said this year's cold-related plumbing problems are the worst he's seen in about two decades.