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,
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