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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25 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?

  17. Angie Says:
    April 8th, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    The other day my I was running a bath I herd a loud clanking noise and my water completely stopped. The water company came out and said we probably had a clog on out lines, the day before this all happened the water company was working on a fire hydrant across the street. They decdided to back fill my water lines to unclog my lines. For some reason I can’t get,water to flow into my house from the curb stop but it will flow out just fine. I do not see any leaks anywhere the water company took a guess and said that my meter valve could be broken. could that be cause my to have absolutely no water flow in my home.

  18. sonia Says:
    April 9th, 2015 at 7:36 am

    I live in Canada and during nov- dec when the temp on the house was close to 0 degrees and lower, the house was empty with no connection to furnace and heating . The water was shut sometime in between however the water was not drained. It been 3 months and yesterday I had a plumber check it and open the water flow. The indicator on the meter was not moving. He said there was no leak, but he only checked for 10 minutes and then closed the main valve again. Do you think if I open the value there can be leaks which I figure out in the future ? Please help I need to sell this house and need to have the valve open to have the water running. I am not in the same country so its hard so me to monitor this from far away. Thank you so much for whatever information can me provided.

  19. Eddie Santana Says:
    April 20th, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    My water meter is on my side of my house and it has two shutoff valves mine and my neighbors. The problem is there’s a water leak my neighbor says it’s not his cause he rerouted his line, he says it’s mine I shut off my water from the main water meter for 3 weeks and it’s still leaking. Is it possible that the leak is mine,even though the water is shut off? Please help.

  20. stephanie Says:
    June 3rd, 2015 at 6:29 am

    I have owned my house for 5 years and have always had a water bill between 15 and 25 dollers. (1 and 4 billed ussage) it jumped up to a 200 doller bill (43 ussage) and now this month I get a bill for over $1000. (147 usage) the water company says I have to have a leak but I did the tests. no water ussage for 24 hours and the meter did not move. it actuly has not moved sence they came out last week except for .2 witch would be a 1 ussage in two weeks. what else could be causing this kind of jump?

  21. smith Says:
    June 4th, 2015 at 9:59 am

    I hear water running in my house. I shut off the main shut off valve but the meter is still moving. The toilet flapper was just replaced and it check out fine. Two days later I’m showing sign of a leak.

  22. Karla Kaddas Says:
    July 11th, 2015 at 7:31 pm

    I have the same problem as Jenny. Single mom who paid twice to fix my side of the meter. DEHEC of Myrtle Beach S.C. had fined Town of Andrews SC with the clean water claim and put new meter at my address. This pushed back into my side and there is the bill at $90, so I stopped the excess flushing and more conservative, it increased to $93 this month. Of course they said u had a bargain all the other months, because they had it set at $55 and it could have been lower than that, no ur not lucky if u still had to drag plumber to ur house at $200 a pop! They of course say it’s on my side and the new meter knocked into my side. Sounds similar to the horror stories out of abandoned properties in Chicago and Detroit, people left are picking up the tab with the city. I have no pool , don’t use sprinkler, but there is a hotel up from my street and the owner is with Town Council at Town of Andrews. Looking for a meter I can catch leaks and amount used from my side, another cost to absorb with special needs kids here at my house.

  23. Juan Says:
    July 20th, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    My mother-in-law does not consume much water. In fact they charge her the min. of 1 thousand units per month. But the last two months her bill indicates that she used 11 thousand units and this month (July ) 13 thousand units. Her home is on piers, ALL plumbing is less than three years old ( installed by the city ) There are no wet areas under the house, no leaks at bathrooms, faucets outdoors are shut and no water present. I photographed the water meter with my wrist watch visible along side the meter. After eight minutes, the flow indicator NEVER moved. I slightly ran the faucet for three seconds and the flow indicator quickly spun as it is expected to do. I suspect the meter (which is the typed featured on this web site ) I think it is faulty or needs to be calibrated. Any thoughts?

  24. jack Says:
    August 4th, 2015 at 7:37 am

    I just got my water bill and it is way up. I went to the meter and saw the leak indicator spinning. I shut the main valve off to the houe and it continues to spin. Since my bill is higher does this mean the leak is going to be found on my side of the meter. Which means i pay $$$

  25. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    August 4th, 2015 at 7:58 am

    Jack,
    If you aren’t using any water in your house and the water meter dial is turning, you have a leak on your side of the water meter, which mean you will be charged for the water usage. The leak could be between the meter and the house, under the house, or in your irrigation system (if you have one).

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