Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

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How to Check a Water Meter to Find Plumbing Leaks

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Water meter

My water bill has been high lately. How can I tell whether I have a plumbing leak, or if there’s a problem with the water meter? -Nick

The average household in the U.S. uses a little over 10,000 gallons of water a month, but that number can vary widely depending on:

  • The number of family members living in the home.
  • Whether or not you irrigate your lawn or garden.
  • The amount of water used by your plumbing fixtures and faucets (toilets, faucets, dishwasher, and clothes washer).
  • Your water conservation practices.

It’s possible that the increase in your water usage could come from a faulty meter, but it’s much more likely that you have a leak in the buried water pipe between the meter and your house, in a pipe under your house, or in the lawn irrigation system.

How to Check a Water Meter for Leaks

The best way to find out if you have a plumbing leak is by monitoring the water meter. Here’s how to go about it:

  • Turn Off All Water: Start by making sure there isn’t any water being used inside or outside your home including lawn or garden irrigation, toilets, clothes washers, dishwashers, faucets, icemakers, and automatic backflow cleaning in whole house water filters.
  • Check Flow Indicator: open the cover on the water meter at the street to see if it has a flow indicator. This is a small rotating wheel on the meter that can detect even small amounts of water flow. If the flow indicator is moving, you have a leak somewhere in your house or yard.

How to Read a Water Meter

If your water meter doesn’t have a flow indicator, or you would like to determine the amount of water that’s leaking, write down the numbers that appear on the meter followed by the number on the hand of the large rotary dial. Check the meter again after an hour and write down any changes in the numbers or dials.

Some older water meters have small dials for each digit with numbers indicating the unit of measure. For example, a dial that reads 8 with the number 100 printed next to it would be read as 800 and recorded as an 8 in the hundred place of the meter reading.

Water meter readings may be in either gallons or cubic feet, with a cubic foot equal to 7.48 gallons. To convert cubic feet into gallons, multiply the number of cubic feet by 7.48 (example: 3 cubic feet would be 3 x 7.48 = 22.44 gallons).

If you have trouble determining how to read your water meter, measure out a gallon of water in a bucket or pitcher, and note the changes on the dial.

To find out how much water the leak is using in an average month, multiply the amount of water used in an hour by 730 hour (example: 3 gallon per hour leak will use 3 x 730 = 2,190 gallons per month.

If you do have a leak:

  • Yard Leak: Start by examining your yard between the meter and house during dry weather for signs of a soft or muddy spot or a patch of greener grass.
  • Crawlspace Leak: Check the crawlspace under your house. Pipes in crawlspaces may be buried and the ground covered by plastic sheeting, so the leak can be hard to find.
  • Slab Leak: If the leak is in or under a concrete slab, you will need to disconnect the leaking pipe, then run a new water line through the attic and down a wall.

If the meter does not indicate a leak, contact your water company and have them check the meter to be sure it is working properly.

It’s a good idea to check to flow indicator on your water meter for leaks every few months even if you don’t notice an increase in your water bill.

Good luck with your project,

Danny



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2 Comments on “How to Check a Water Meter to Find Plumbing Leaks”

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  1. Jenny Himebaugh Says:
    July 10th, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    If the meter doesn’t move at all for 7 hours without anyone using any water,doesn’t that prove there are no leaks? My bill has been 100 times higher than normal for 3 months straight. This started happening after a new used meter was put on. Also the leak indicator doesn’t move when no water is being used. Also a plumber didn’t find anything. I’m a single mother with two jobs so anyone with some feedback would surely help me with this fight with this 3rd party company I’ve been dealing with.

  2. Shanna Moore Says:
    September 8th, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    My meter is not spinning but I hear water in the house. The plumber said it’s the line from the house to the meter. But if the water meter is not spinning will my water bill be super high if we wait a little while. He turned the water off from under the house and you could still hear it but when he turned it off the street the sound went away. He said it could be a pin hole leak. Does that sound like it could be the water line?

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