Water Meter: A Guide to Reading It Efficiently

Written By Rachel Cherem

Published 07/04/24
Water Meter: A Guide to Reading It Efficiently

Modern homes have mechanisms to gauge the extent to which resources delivered by utility companies are consumed. Your home might have an electricity meter, gas meter, and residential water meter.

Some homeowners may think nothing of the meters that register their resource usage, but these tools are worth keeping an eye on. For one thing, your home water meter can help you keep tabs on your water usage, so you can curtail how much water you use or determine if you might have a hidden leak somewhere. Regular monitoring can also help you check your meter's accuracy, so you can notify your utility company in case you're paying for more water than you're actually using.

In the sections below, we've outlined some information to help you understand where to find and how to read the water meter for your home.

What is a Water Meter?

A water meter is a mechanism that tracks the volume of water consumed over time in a house, apartment, or other building. In the United States, this volume is measured in gallons or cubic feet.

The water measurement reflected in the meter is cumulative, much like a car's odometer. In other words, the meter does not reset to zero after each reading or at predetermined intervals. The figure continues to increase as water is consumed, so two readings are required to determine how much water is used in a particular time frame. A first reading functions as a baseline, and you can then subtract that from a subsequent reading later on.

There are different kinds of water meters, and some may provide additional data. Some water meters, for example, can also help you determine the flow rate of water coming into your home. Others can even measure the water's pH or inform on the water quality.

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Types of Water Meters

Engineers have devised several ways to measure the volume of residential water consumption. The most common water meters feature mechanical designs, but modern water meters may employ electromagnetic or ultrasound technologies. Here are the types of water meters you might expect to find in your home.

1. Velocity Water Meters

A velocity water meter, as the name suggests, captures the velocity of water passing through the device and translates this to a volumetric figure.

There are subcategories of velocity flow water meters, but most operate by directing the flow of water into a turbine or impeller, creating directional rotation. This rotation is calibrated to volume, so each turn registers a discrete amount of water consumption. Tallying the number of rotations can tell you how much water you have used, much like how an odometer can translate wheel rotations into miles traveled.

2. Positive Displacement Water Meters

Positive displacement water meters are among the most common in American homes, largely because they are quite accurate in measuring lower flow rates. Displacement meters allow for water to repeatedly fill a small chamber, which causes the mechanical displacement of an internal component to register the volume of water flow.

Displacement and velocity water meters have moving parts, so they typically require maintenance to keep from failing unexpectedly.

3. Ultrasonic Water Meters

More modern water meters may use ultrasonic waves to measure the velocity of the water entering a building's plumbing system. They operate according to a similar principle as velocity water meters, but there are no moving parts. This can extend the lifespan of an ultrasonic water meter, but these devices tend to be more expensive up front.

4. Electromagnetic Water Meters

An electromagnetic meter uses electricity to generate a magnetic field for water to pass through. Internal sensors read the voltage that is created as a result, and this voltage is proportional to the water's rate of flow. 

Electromagnetic water meters, or mag meters, are highly accurate and require minimal upkeep. They can be on the pricier side as well, though.

5. Smart Water Meters

More recently, smart water meters have grown in popularity. Different models may have different mechanisms to track water consumption, but they generally use Wi-Fi, radio, or cellular technologies to enable real-time and remote meter readings. Some homeowners see these features as convenient; others get nervous about the idea of utility companies having such data so easily available.

Where to Find a Residential Water Meter

Don't know how to find the water meter for your home? It could be inside or outside.

Internal water meters are usually installed where the main water line enters the home. This is probably somewhere in the basement, utility room, crawlspace, or even in an attached garage. Your home might be more likely to have an internal water meter if you live in a climate with particularly cold winters, which could risk freezing or damaging meters that are placed outside.

External water meters are usually set somewhere near the property boundary, often where the main water line is. They are rarely exposed to the elements, so look for a plastic covering or box set into the ground. 

Importance of Efficient Water Meter Reading

Utility companies monitor your residential water usage to determine how much to bill you, but it's worth reading water meter data yourself for a few reasons.

Confirm that your billing statement is accurate.

If you know how to check the water meter in your home, you can confirm that your town, city, or utility company is billing you accurately. Check your water bill or speak with your provider to determine when to read your meter, then independently verify the readings to make sure your water provider is not making a mistake.

More efficiently decrease your water consumption.

It's easy to misjudge how much water our households actually use. The long showers, extra laundry machine and dishwasher cycles, running the tap while doing dishes or brushing our teeth it all adds up.

If you want to conserve more water a good idea for your wallet and the environment alike you'll have an easier time doing so by quantifying the volume of water you consume. With regular meter readings, you can determine how many gallons, on average, you're saving by switching up your water usage habits.

Determine if you have a hidden problem with your plumbing.

A leak in your home's plumbing system isn't always obvious. If in-wall pipes are corroding, you might not notice until water damage afflicts your drywall. If there's a malfunction somewhere in the periphery of your plumbing system, such as a damaged water main valve, you might not discover it unless you make a point to check.

Reading your water meter can be a great way to check for hidden plumbing issues. Take a baseline reading at the meter and wait for an hour or two or longer if you can. It is key to not use any water during this time, so no taking showers, flushing toilets, doing dishes, washing hands, watering the garden, and so on. Later, take another reading. If your water usage has unexplainably increased, you should have a plumber investigate.

Techniques for Efficient Water Meter Reading

If you've never tried to read your water meter before, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Take consistent readings from month to month or even week to week. If possible, take each reading at the same time of day.
  2. Keep a detailed log of your meter readings. Note the display data, date, time of day, and any notable usage details since your last reading (for example, maybe you turned on your irrigation system for the season). Ideally, include photos of your meter to confirm any transcribed readings.
  3. If your meter has analog dials, read from left to right. Refer to the lower number if the dial is suspended between two numbers. Note that you may need to multiply the reading by 10 or 100 to get the real figure. If your meter has a digital display, bear in mind that the display may switch between measurements to provide additional information. Record all the information your meter provides.

Ideally, regular meter readings will be part of your general plumbing maintenance routine. Identifying leaks early will help you get ahead of corroding valves and pipes, which fosters water damage, promotes mold, disrupts water pressure, and allows for the introduction of air in your water lines

But if and when a plumbing issue does arise, be sure to call on your home warranty provider to get it sorted quickly, before the damage compounds. Learn more about Liberty Home Guard's expansive plumbing coverage by calling (833) 566-9564.

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There's a reason Liberty Home Guard was rated the #1 Home Warranty Service by U.S. News and World Report for 2021, 2022, and 2023. Check out our services.

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