How to Read Water Meters

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Written by Eric

Last Updated: 11/12/2020

How to Read Water Meters

A majority of metered clients has to deal with that one bill every year that has to do with reading their water meter. Many utility companies manage to read and distribute bills of reading water meters reading usually every six months.

However, many times this becomes an impossible task.Your meter may be set up inside your own property or behind closed gates. Some bills can either be lower or higher than what you’d expect if a reading was taken.If someone has had their meter fitted very recently, which causes the utility company to have no reading values to help them figure out your billing.

If you get a bill that’s only an estimate, but would rather have a bill based on the actual water meter reading, then it may be best for you to roll up those sleeves and learn to read a water meter yourself. That said it’s not surprising that many homeowners don’t know how to read water meters properly. Here’s our guide on how to read water meters.

What are Water Meters?

A water meter is a special device. It can accurately measure the water volume that is being delivered to your property. Certain water meters provide measurements in gallons while some others use measurements in cubic feet.

Where to Find Your Water Meter?

A water meter can usually be found in any one of these locations:

  • Along the outdoor path to your property
  • In a box on an outdoor wall
  • Within the house – under a sink, in the cellar, or even in a bathroom

If your meter is inside the house, it will generally be in the area where your pipes come inside the house.Normally it is close to your stop tap. You should ideally always take your time to figure out where your stop tap is in case of an emergency.

Amajority of residential meters is present close to a curb or side path right in front of your property. It is within some concrete box that generally has a plastic or metal lid with a “Water Meter” marking.

How to Uncover the Water Meter?

Using a screwdriver with adequate length, remove the lid. You should be careful since bugs, lizards or other insects and animals can sometimes be hiding in the boxes. Certain water meters can have a tiny hinged cover and can be unhinged.

Remove the cover and then with a damp cloth clean the meter face. Some utility companies lock these lids in the meter boxes for residences. In such a situation, you might have to get in touch with your water provider or perform some visual inspections that we’ll discuss later.

Understanding How to Read Water Meters

Observe your water meter to see if it is an analog/dial display or a digital one. Once you’ve determined the type, you can use the following guidelines:

Reading the Analog Display

The big sweeping hand in a dial helps measure volume use either by the gallon or cubic feet measurements. A cubic foot or gallon of water moves within the water meter while the dial hand swings from one number to another.

One full rotation equates to 10 cubic feet or gallons, whichever unit is used for measuring. Usually, analog dials use a low flow indicator which moves while water flows within the water meter. This normally can be seen as a tiny triangle, gear or star.

Reading a Digital or LCD Display

A digital meter requires light to start so you might have to shine some light on it. This display switches from the meter reading to the flow rating. The meter reading equates to the cubic feet or gallons of water utilized and the flow rate represents the total number of gallons/cubic feet of water that flows through each minute.

Certain digital meters let you review the history of water use. This allows you to keep track of water usage incidents like any leaks that have happened. Visit your utility provider’s webpage for more details. Note: 1 cubic foot = 7.48 gallons. Just multiply your cubic foot value by 7.48 to get the gallon value.

Leak Detection Test

Now that you know how to read water meters, you’ll be able to look out for any continuous leaks using our leak detection guideline. Make sure not to use water or work with any water-related devices within the house while carrying out this test:

With Analog Meters

Keep an eye on the sweep hand. A moving hand means you are suffering from a consistent leak. Check your low-flow indicator. The indicator moving also means that you’re dealing with a continuous leak. Certain leaks are too minute so the hand movement may not be noticeable.

To see if the leak is slow, get your water meter reading and note down the reading. The number being pointed at by your sweep arm is the last digit. Wait 20 minutes to read the water meter once more and note the numbers. Use your initial water meter reading to subtract it from the new one. If the value you get is larger than zero then your leak is continuous.

With Digital Meters

Check the flow rate display for about 10 flashes. Any number that is larger than zero with even one of the screens flashing indicates a continuous leak. Certain leaks will be slower and might not be noticed like a continuous flow. Check if your leak is slow by following the instructions we have provided above.

It will be good to confirm the no water usage during these leak detection tests with flushed toilets or open faucets. Some other causes of water usage that can go unnoticed are; pool refills with auto fill activation, refills for coolers, refills for ice machines, RO system regeneration, and water softener reactivation. Make sure to switch off these water supplies.

Leak Location Detection

Our guide gives you two ways of detecting leak locations.

Isolation Method

The reason for the isolation method is so you can isolate various areas of your plumbing within and surrounding the house. If a leak detection test shows a consistent leak, you can use this isolation method to find the leak source. This is usually the fastest way to find continuous obscure leaks. You can switch the water supply off to avoid water moving through your plumbing.

Visual Inspection Technique

Perform a visual inspection if you cannot find a consistent leak with a leak detection test or with the isolation method. Again, you should know that water valves can stop working and break if they’re aged or corroding. Make sure to turn the valves by hand.

Remember, any leak of 0.1 gallons of water per minute means 4,320 gallons of water wasted each month. That means you’re losing about 51,840 water gallons every year! If you care about water wastage, or you can’t figure out those expensive utility bills, it’s best to get the water meter reading to figure out whether you have a leak and where the source could be.

Check for Indoor Leaks

The first way to perform the visual inspection method is to look for any indoor leaks. Check inside your house to make sure that you do not have any pipes, plumbing or faucets with any leaks. One ideal way to check for any leaks in the toilet is by using a small amount of food coloring.

Add in the food coloring by dropping in some of the solutions into your toilet tank. Wait 20 minutes for any change to happen. Conclusively, if your bowl is now full of water that has a change of color because of the food coloring, then it is safe to say that you’re dealing with a toilet leak.

Check for Outdoor Leaks

If you’re searched throughout the house for leaks and drips, but all tests turn out to be negative, then that means that the water meter reading discrepancy is coming from an outdoor location. To rule out any outdoor leakage, make sure to check your yard to see if there are any wet spots.

Along with keeping an eye out for wet spots, also check the outdoor property faucets to see if there are any drips. If you come across any spot that is moist but there is no logical reason for the wet spot to be there, then you may be dealing with a leak. Get a professional plumbing expert to come and inspect check your home and the outdoor plumbing to make sure that the problem is fixed.

How to Read Water Meters Covered in Dirt?

Occasionally, you end up getting a notice for a water meter reading, only to find that the meter box is covered in dirt. Most people can manage to read the meter in situations where the dirt covering the box is dry. The dirt just simply has to be wiped off so you are able to read the meter.

That being said, in case the dirt is moist, compact or hardened and it is difficult for you to remove all of it, you may have to call a professional water meter reader from your water provider or utility company to get the reading done for you. As a rule of thumb, make sure to keep your box checked and well-maintained so that the dirt accumulation does not become an issue.

How to Read Water Meters with Bees in the Box?

During a certain time of year, you may be faced with bees making a home in your meter boxes. While they won’t really be a big safety risk for you on any normal day, they can make getting your reading a huge pain.

If your meter box is colonized by bees, make sure to contact the right authorities or the concerned companies so that you can get a bee removal specialist to move the bees, which allows you to save the bees while simultaneously clearing your meter box.

That being said, in case of a wasp nest in the box, you can either get rid of it by yourself or call some professionals to remove it if this is out of your comfort zone.

What Point to Switch to a Water Meter?

Switching your water utility supply to a water meter can help you in case your residential water usage isn’t very high. You might also want to consider changing to a water meter in case the property comes with a significant ratable value.

You should know that certain water bills are made according to the ratable value that your property has. The rule of thumb is that you will be able to spend less on water bills if you have fewer residentson your property in comparison to the total number of bedrooms.

In case you decide that you aren’t really benefiting from switching to a water meter, you should be able to switch back.You should go back to the way your bill was managed previously in a period of twelve months. This isn’t really a possibility if you have moved into a new house or property that comes with a meter pre-installed.It is also going to be very hard if your residential area is making use of a universal metering in every household.

As someone who is a tenant, you are still able to switch to a meter. If your agreement has a fixed term that is less than six months, you need to get your landlord’s permission. However, if it is longer than six months, the landlord’s permission is not usually necessary to switch to a meter. That being said, the tenant agreement might need you to get the permission for changes that involve the property.

You are going to be in charge of the fees for the water that leaks. Even so, most water providers won’t usually charge you for a first-time leak.The reason is if the leak is located in an underground supply line.

Utility Companies or Water Providers Reading Water Meters

You may require help if the landlord won’t let you have a water meter. These problems can result in issues with the tenant renewal. If you switch to using a water meter, your water provider company will usually provide someone to read your water meter. You may not be aware of exactly how much you will be charged with each bill.The reason is the rise in the degree of water usage if additional residents decide to live with you.The rise will also result if there are some new water-related devices that you’ve been using in your house.

Even if the company for some reason cannot provide water readers, these same companies usually provide water using calculators.These calculators are on their official web page for the customers. With these calculators,you can figure out what amount you are probably going to be paying for with your water meter.


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