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Plumbing: Monitoring Water Meters for Leaks in Water Lines

Almost every home has a water meter, and generally this is the location of the cut-off of last resort. In some homes the water meter and cut-off are located inside the home, but in most, it’s outside near the street. Most of the outside water meters are located in plastic or metal boxes with lids that frequently identify the contents. The meter box may look something like the one in the photo. Water meter box

Inside most of these boxes is also a water meter cut-off; but unfortunately, many of these cut-offs require a special “meter key.” Such keys are available for a few dollars at hardware stores and home centers, and it’s a good idea to own one. Other installations have a simple knob shut-off valve, while still others may have a lever. Locate your water meter and determine how to turn off the water; then try to turn it off. The valves have a tendency to become very difficult to operate with disuse, so make certain you can operate yours.

Typical municipal water meterIf you suspect a leak in the outside water line running to your home—have unusually high water bills or wet spots in the lawn—the water meter is the place to check. First turn off all the water in the home and instruct anyone inside not to use the sinks or toilets. Then, go to the water meter and look to see if the gauge on the meter is still turning. A slow leak may require a bit more investigation. Mark the reading on the meter and check back in 15 minutes to see if the reading has changed. If your meter has a circular dial and pointer, as the one in the photo, it’s usually easy to see if it’s turning. But, whichever type you have, it should be a simple matter to determine if a leak is present by observing the meter.


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