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, and 10% of that is wasted due to plumbing leaks and running toilets. In total household water leaks waste over a trillion gallons of water a year in the United States!

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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16 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?

  3. RON COSTANZO Says:
    January 3rd, 2015 at 7:52 pm

    I HAVE A SIMILAR PROBLEM. I HAVE A SHUT OFF VALVE ON EACH SIDE OF MY WATER METER. WITH BOTH VALVES SHUT OFF WE PUT OUR EARS TO THE METER WE CAN HEAR WHAT SOUNDS LIKE WATER FLOWING. HOW DO I CHECK FURTHER TO FIND A LEAK? THERE ARE NO VISIBLE SIGNS OF WATER LEAKING IN THE HOUSE OR BASEMENT.

  4. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    January 4th, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    Ron,
    Start by checking to be sure the shut off valves are working properly by turning closing the valves and turning on the water in the house to make sure it isn’t flowing. If water does run from the faucet, your shut off valves are either not closed or not working right. If the shut off valves are closed and water isn’t flowing to your house, and you still hear water running, the leak must be between the valve and the street. The good news is that if it’s before the meter (i.e. the meter isn’t turning), you don’t owe the city for the wasted water, but you should call the city and have it fixed.

  5. pcrc_1009@yahoo.com Says:
    January 14th, 2015 at 11:08 am

    if meter box is full of water, but meter is not moving, and i get a high useage bill is it the meter or can there be a leak on the street side since meter not does not appear to move

  6. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    January 14th, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    If you have a high water bill and the flow indicator on your water meter doesn’t move when no water in the house is being used, the high bill must be from water you used. A leak on the upstream side of the meter won’t cause the water meter to turn, so you won’t be billed for the wasted water. You should still call the city, however, and have them fix the leak so the city won’t be wasting water.

  7. Meg Bourke Says:
    January 28th, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    Hi I have the exact problem as Jenny Himebaugh! It’s frustrating! Any insight?

  8. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    January 29th, 2015 at 9:12 am

    Meg (and Jenny),
    Assuming the water meter is working correctly, if the water meter gauge doesn’t move over a long period of time or the flow indicator doesn’t move over a short period of time, you don’t have a leak in your plumbing.

  9. lisa daniel Says:
    February 22nd, 2015 at 3:01 am

    My neighbor just informed me that water was coming from my house. When I looked out the window I observed water flowing from the faucet/hose on the side of my house. I immediately went to the basement and turned off the water valve and the water stopped flowing. It’s late, been snowing all day and now it’s raining. So I’m going to wait until the morning to check it out. Where could the water be coming from…the pipe from the side of the house?

  10. Bhavik Says:
    February 23rd, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    I was out for one whole month and before going out, I had shut off the main valve of the water line which flows the water in the house. (I did not shut off on the street where meter is.) After shutting off, I had opened all the faucets to make sure no water in the pipe and all water is out. I closed all the faucets after that. Now, after a month, I have received a bill and it shows 5000+ gallons of water usage. I did call them and they asked me to do the meter test. I did take reading and it was increased compared to reading in my last bill. But, after 1 hour, when I read the meter again, I saw the exact same numbers! It means, in that one hour, there was no leak noted. So, if there is no leak, why meter reading got changed without any visible usage?

  11. Gregory Harlyn Says:
    March 2nd, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    Jenny – My guess is that you are now being billed for all the water you use, and previously you weren’t. If they replaced your old meter, it’s probably because it was going bad, so your old, “normal” bill was actually low. Water meters normally work when the water going through it turns an impeller inside, which then turns the dials. When the meter goes bad, some of the water goes through without turning the impeller. But the impeller can’t turn any faster than the water goes through, so there’s really no way for them to read high – bad water meters are in the customer’s favor. You should probably just consider yourself lucky for the lower bills in the past.

  12. Gregory Harlyn Says:
    March 2nd, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    Jenny – One more thing: Do they read your meter manually or electronically? Is it possible that the scale on the new meter is different than the old one? For instance, did the old meter display a number representing 100 gallons (so they multiplied it by 100), and the new meter displays the actual number of gallons and they are still multiplying it (but shouldn’t be)? Just a thought…

  13. Raj Says:
    March 4th, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    if there is a leak before the meter ( coming from the street to meter), am I responsible for the repair of the leak or pipe replacement? I shut off the valve, water is not coming to any faucet or toilet. Meter stopped moving, that means water leak is on the pipe which is bringing the water to my meter? Please reply.

  14. Gregory Harlyn Says:
    March 5th, 2015 at 7:27 pm

    Raj – I live in a cold weather area (Minnesota) and my water meter is in my basement. But, I am responsible for everything on my side of the shut-off valve, which is near the curb of the street. That valve is approximately on the line between city’s right-of-way and my property line (approximately five feet from the curb in my lawn. Although different cities have different rules about who owns what, my guess is that everything on your side of the shut-off valve is your responsibility.

  15. Antonio Says:
    March 20th, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    I am getting high readings on the house water meter. When I shut off the main water valve, the valve counter doesn’t move. When I open it, it slowly counts and will not stop. It counts over a meter of usage a day. I have a reserve tank and use this every day and jot down the usage. I open the main water valve to refill and jot down the difference and close the main valve again. I’ve done this now for two weeks and have consumed less water averaging about 0.69m each day compared to 1.16 from the city. What can the problem be? If I had an internal leak, wouldn’t it exhaust it from the water tank reserve since it is pressurized by a water pump? I can’t explain the difference in readings. Any suggestions?

  16. Daureen savage Says:
    March 25th, 2015 at 9:51 am

    We have had the water mains off for two hours to test for leakage. Ee read the meter before and after and we come up with still a massive water bill but no difference in water usage, but we need to know how to gauge other water usage within the property as are water mains connected on the public highway….could there be any chance be someone else tapping in on my water supply?

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