A water meter is a device that calculates the volume of water used in a household. In some cases, a water meter may read inaccurately or signal that something is leaking inside the home. Before calling a city employee, certain tests are recommended to check if the fault lies with the meter or something beyond it in the home. Below you can find information about how to check a water meter for faults, how to test for leaks in the home, and the costs of water meter replacement.
What makes a water meter go bad?
The most common reason for a water meter to fail is old age. Water meters can rarely experience mechanical failure, so the faulty reading is likely caused by something like a leak or poor water flow. You can conduct a few tests at home to determine the cause of drastic changes in your water meter’s readings.
How to test a water meter
A fluctuation in the amount of water flow your meter registers can result from leaks, poor water flow, or a faulty meter. Conduct the following tests if your meter displays abnormal readings.
1. Test your meter for leaks.
To determine if a leak is increasing your water usage, ensure that no toilets, sinks, showers, or other fixtures are using any water. Once you confirm there is no water flow inside the home, check the flow rate on your water meter. Wait at least 15 minutes, then check the flow rate again. If the needle shows any changes over this 15-minute period, there is a leak present in your home.
If you believe a leak is present, you can check various fixtures in your home. To check for a toilet leak, add a few drops of food coloring to the toilet’s tank. Allow at least one hour to pass without flushing. If any coloring reaches the water in the bowl, there is a leak in the system. To detect slow leaks, allow the food coloring to sit in the tank overnight without flushing the toilet. Leaks from other sources can sometimes be discovered in the form of mildew and moldy spots or heard running in the walls or floor.
Learn more: How to read a water meter
2. Test your meter for inaccurate readings.
If the leak test was successful but you still suffer from fluctuations in your water consumption, you can use a bucket to test your meter’s accuracy. Like the leak check, ensure that all fixtures in the home are shut off before beginning this test. Check the reading on your water meter and document the total volume reading, not the flow rate. Next, fill a bucket or other container with a known volume. The larger the container, the more accurate the test will be. Now check the new reading on the meter. The difference from the old reading should be the volume of the water you filled the container with. If there is a discrepancy in the difference by more than 1.5 percent, your meter is reading inaccurately.
3. Get your water meter checked for damage.
In some municipalities, only the water company or an approved contractor can maintain a water meter connected to city lines. If you experienced inaccurate readings after confirming your home does not contain leaks, reach out to your water company to inspect or replace your meter. In some cases, the water company may charge you if the meter holds readings within an accuracy range, but they will not charge you if the meter is inaccurate.
Symptoms of a faulty water meter
If your water meter exhibits any of the following symptoms, it may need a replacement.
- Leaks in the meter itself
- Low water pressure in the home
- Meter not registering
- Readings are sporadic and unpredictable
- Noises emanating from the meter
- Water cannot be shut off
Some symptoms, such as low water pressure, can be caused by many factors not associated with the water meter. If the only symptom you notice is low water pressure, you should troubleshoot other causes first.
How often to test a water meter
You should test your water meter annually to check for leaks and to ensure you are being charged the correct price for your water bill. You may wish to test your meter during the summer, the time of year with the highest household water usage.
When should a water meter be replaced?
A water meter should be replaced when one of the following conditions are met: when the meter has served 15 to 20 years, or when it is inaccurately displaying the volume of water used in a home. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) allows water meters to have an error rate of 1.5 percent. This means that meters must read between 98.5 and 101.5 percent of the accurate water usage in a home. Before deciding on meter replacement, ensure no leaks are present anywhere from the meter to the home. A leak greatly alters the reading of the meter, and what seems like exaggerated volumes of water may be accurate if the leak persists.
Who is responsible for replacing a water meter?
Your local water company is responsible for replacing your water meter if it is broken. If any valves must be replaced, this will be charged to the homeowner. A water company will only replace a water meter if they deem it necessary and practical. If you believe your water meter is faulty, contact your water company for an inspection. Most water companies will only charge for meter inspections if the results show that the meter works properly. Otherwise, the company will absorb the cost. If the meter is faulty, the city is obligated to replace your water meter at no cost.
How much does water meter replacement cost?
Water meter replacement is free provided that no valves or other components beyond the meter need to be replaced. Water companies are responsible for water mains up until the point of the meter. Water lines between the meter and the home are the homeowner’s responsibility, so any modifications in this area are at the cost of the homeowner. A water meter replacement should take around one hour for a professional to complete.
Can replacing my water meter save me money?
As water meters age, their readings become less accurate. In most cases, older water meters underrepresent the amount of water used in a home. As a result, replacing the water meter may cause your water bill to rise. While old water meters will most often undercount the volume of water used, they may indicate that you are using more water than is true. In this case, a new water meter would more accurately reflect your water usage, and your bill would decrease. Cities often undergo mass water meter replacements when the meters have surpassed their lifespans. This allows for more accurate readings for all customers and ensures that each household pays a fair amount for their water bill.
Learn more: What is a water meter?
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