Possible stuck water meter

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Old 12-08-19, 05:06 PM
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Possible stuck water meter

I got a letter from the water department saying we used 28k gallons last month instead of the usual 3k around the same time last year. They came out and looked. I shut of the water in the basement, turned on the sink, no water. They said the meter was still running. So now I have to dig up the lawn and find the leak. I'm too busy to deal with it for the next few days so I filled up a cooler for washing hands and such and shut the water off at the meter. It was reading 0.4 GPM when I shut it off. A while later I turned it back on for a minute to use the bathroom. I went to turn it back off and when I did it was at 0 GPM, occasionally going to 0.1 GPM. I had my wife turn on the tub and it went to 4 GPM. She turned it off at it stayed at 0 GPM. Also, no evidence of leak in the lawn anywhere. No soggy ground or anything.

It's a digital meter. There is a tiny device and what looks to be an ethernet cable. It seems to me that instead of a leak, the meter might be faulty. I will call the water department Monday and see what they say and if they can replace the meter. I think that occasionally, after water is no longer flowing, the meter will get stuck in the open position, registering water is still flowing. Flowing water again might knock it back so that it closes again. That is my guess but I wanted to see what someone with more expertise might think. If so, it sure beats digging up my lawn.
 
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Old 12-08-19, 06:48 PM
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The water department should have a process to replace your meter and test the old one in the shop if there's a concern of it not reading correctly. But to be honest, it's rare for a meter to go bad - and most often, it just stops reading. So the scenario you describe is very rare.

They should come out again and run the same tests you did. If they see the same oddities, I'm sure they will replace the meter. But do make sure you get the serial number of the old one and confirm they will test it - so your bill is adjusted appropriately.
 
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Old 12-08-19, 07:05 PM
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I thought it would be rare as well. They even mentioned they suspect a leak as it is more likely than a faulty meter. I researched and read, as you mentioned, it is more likely that a meter read zero when faulty. However, I am certain the meter was displaying a flow rate with the water turned off to the house. This was checked by the water company, a plumber, and myself. I am also certain the meter went back to 0 flow after turning it off at the meter for an extended period and back on for short term use. Yet it shows flow when the bathtub is on and back to 0 when off. Perhaps it leaks only sometimes but I don't know of that is more likely than a meter broken in such a rare way. Is it unusual for a leak to come and go like that?

Either way, I think this new information merits a closer look. They didn't do any testing on the meter and I think they would agree it's worth looking now.
 
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Old 12-08-19, 08:18 PM
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Have you actually seen significant usages registered (reading the meter youself as if it were an odometer, not observiing gallons per minute, etc.) when the main water valve in the basement is turned off for several hours and a faucet upstairs turned on and with no water flowing?

They should change the meter first upon your request, before having you dig up the lawn.
 
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Old 12-08-19, 08:32 PM
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Well, two months ago they sent me a letter saying my usage was high, with no numbers given. I assumed my kid was taking too many long showers. Then last month they sent a letter saying it was 28k gallons compared to the usual 3k. Apart from that, we only observed it with the water shut off in the basement and the sink on for a few minutes at a time. This was done 3 times, a few minutes each time. The gallons used did go up slowly. When I checked it it was 0.4 GPM so it took a few minutes to see the gallons used increase. Apart from the monthly reading, it hasn't been observed for an extended period of time.
 
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Old 12-09-19, 05:40 AM
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My bet is you have a leak in the water line to your house. From what you've described I do not suspect a bad water meter. Old, mechanical meters had a little red triangle that would spin when water was flowing and being mechanical it displayed all the time. I believe digital meters display, after you've woken it up, refreshes at a very low rate to conserve power so they can display some numbers that might not be intuitive. On some models you can shine a flashlight on a photo cell on the meter to wake it up and force it to display.
 
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Old 12-09-19, 07:01 AM
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My bet is you have a leak in the water line to your house.
I'm confused.

If so then that would be before the water meter! How would that register or show up, or be seen by the water dept. unless there is a meter before the leak?
 
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Old 12-09-19, 07:13 AM
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Here in the southeast our meters are at the curb unlike up north where your meter needs more frost/freeze protection.
 
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Old 12-09-19, 10:11 AM
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Yes, water meters here are located underground near the curb. It's also the point where responsibility changes from the city to the homeowner. The meter and water line feeding it are the cities responsibility while everything after is the homeowners.
 
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Old 12-09-19, 04:17 PM
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I never knew that. I thought all meters were in the home. So where are they located and can they be seen or accessed by the home owner?
 
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Old 12-09-19, 05:05 PM
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meter Box in ground by curb. Has a cover you lift off to get to water meter. Changed our's to electronic a couple years ago. I know about water leaks after meter as I had to replace line this year.
 
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Old 12-09-19, 05:18 PM
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Electronic transmitters were install on the outside of our homes a few years back and the water utility no longer needs to come into the home to read the meter. The just drive by and it picks up the signal and records it on a mobile device. Once a year we get a card to fill out that we read the numbers off the meter and mail it in. It apparently is a check.
 
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Old 12-09-19, 06:50 PM
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Zero point four gallons per minute = 24 gallons per hour = 576 gallons per day = 17.3K gallons per month. If it was some time ago you made the measurement and you had a pipe leak under the lawn or elsewhere that got worse then it is easy to see you could run 28K gallons in a monthly billing period.
 
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Old 12-10-19, 04:15 AM
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They also changed our water meters to digital a yr or two ago so they'd have less labor to read the meter [1 man in truck without stopping versus 2 men stopping at every meter] but they still raised the rate. So far we haven't been asked to double check the reading. Further south the meter box is about 8" deep but where I live they are 18" deep. The shallow boxes are square/rectangle, ours are round and have a manhole like cover. They are all fairly easy to spot.
 
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Old 12-11-19, 12:19 AM
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New digital water meters are fraught with peril. Take a look at this youtube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16gI4pCeQxw

When all the errors favor the vendor, you have to ask questions.
 
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Old 12-11-19, 07:07 AM
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When you turned the main water off for the whole day, how many more gallons of water showed up on the meter readout when you came home from work?

Or was the meter pit locked so you could not read the meter?
 
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Old 12-11-19, 05:24 PM
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Zero point four gallons per minute = 24 gallons per hour = 576 gallons per day = 17.3K gallons per month. If it was some time ago you made the measurement and you had a pipe leak under the lawn or elsewhere that got worse then it is easy to see you could run 28K gallons in a monthly billing period.
It's the other way around though, which is the weird thing. The leak slowed down. It was 28k last month. I normally use 3k they said, so I did 25k extra. Minus what I actually used and assuming a 0.4 rate for that, that means the leak last month was just shy of 0.6 GPM. When I checked it it was 0.4 GPM. I thought maybe water was freezing and blocking the leak but it's too warm for that.

When you turned the main water off for the whole day, how many more gallons of water showed up on the meter readout when you came home from work?
I work from home so I just checked it every so often and it hadn't changed.

Update: The water department came and looked at it. They took the meter off and tested it. They ran 1000 GPM through it with the machine on their truck. It read 1001. They tried some other rates and it checked out. They asked what was happening and I gave them the story. They were puzzled as well. I don't think the tech thinks I have a leak, especially since there is no indication anyway on my lawn that would account for that amount of water. It's been fine ever since. They explained how the meter works. It has a rotating disc and a magnet. The water spins the disc and as the magnet passes by the meter it registers a flow. My guess is a small piece of debris somehow got in the line and wedged against the disc, preventing it from fully returning to the correct position after using water in the house. I think once I shut off the main, the pipe emptied of water. Once I turned it back on, the rush of water knocked the debris loose. That's the only explanation I can think of for why is mysteriously quit leaking after that.
 
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Old 12-11-19, 07:21 PM
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Thanks for the update. As mentioned, water meters are pretty reliable... but like any mechanical device, they have their moments.

Glad to hear you got it sorted out!
 
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Old 12-12-19, 03:23 AM
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Did they offer you any compensation for the extra 25k gallons you paid for?
 
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Old 12-12-19, 07:33 PM
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There are some pretty sophisticated metering systems out there any more. I have a house where the water meter communicates to the electric meter and the electric meter then reports both electric and water usage daily. I recently had a bill with an estimated water reading so I called and asked about it. I think they thought there was a problem because the water meter wasn't reporting a large usage since my renters (family of 5) moved out. When on the phone with their customer service, the girl in the office could view the daily usage and questioned why there were so many days with 0 gallons used. I explained it was because I turn the water off inside the house when I leave. They changed the meter anyway. That is a Johnson Controls system.
 
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Old 12-14-19, 02:52 PM
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Did they offer you any compensation for the extra 25k gallons you paid for?
I haven't spoken to them yet. My wife says the bill hasn't been different so maybe they waited until we get it sorted out.


In my town nothing happens unless you take a letter from the landlord or contractor stating that there was a leak. They look at the previous months and adjust the bill accordingly. You're screwed though if you let the leak go on for months so that high usage appears normal.
 

Last edited by Pilot Dane; 12-14-19 at 05:55 PM.
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Old 12-23-19, 11:44 AM
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UPDATE:

Another update and it's not good. I checked on the meter again the other day and it's "leaking" again. I did some thinking and came up with a test. I shut the water off at the meter and them immediately turned on the kitchen faucet. The remaining water came out full force and then eventually drained completely, as expected. I then turned the water back on at the meter, turned the faucet on to ensure water was flowing then turn the faucet back off. I then turned off the water at the meter and waited for a few hours. My theory was that if there was a leak, once I turned on the faucet there should be little or no water coming out as it would have all drained out the leak. While waiting, my wife also happened to notice a gurgling sound coming from the bathroom every so often. Anyway, after a few hours I turn on the faucet and no water. So it seems like there is a leak after all and for whatever reason it quit leaking that one time. Maybe without water in the pipes constantly leaking, the ground had a chance to freeze and block the leak but I tested that theory overnight and it was still leaking in the morning. Whatever the reason, it definitely seems like a leak now.
 
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Old 12-23-19, 08:17 PM
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Ick. Have you determined if the leak is in the main underground? Or could it be in the house? Underground leaks that aren't bubbling up anywhere are sometimes hard to find. Good luck!
 
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Old 12-24-19, 03:07 AM
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How far is it from the meter to the house? You're probably going to need to dig until you find the leak PVC pipes come in 10' and 20' sections so that might allow you to do less digging. Do you know how deep the pipe is?
 
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