How to Read a Water Meter

Reading a water meter properly can help you catch leaks in your plumbing and save water. Water meters are devices installed to measure the volume of water usage. They usually display usage in either US gallons, cubic feet, or cubic meters on a mechanical register.

Round Reading Water MeterThe register can be in the form of a dial, like a clock, in numbers, like an odometer, both combined, or a digital electronic display.

A water meter is usually owned and maintained by the public water utility providing service, such as a municipal utility, rural association or private water company, who also use it to read the water usage.

The most common type of water meter used in residential applications is the displacement meter. This type of meter relies on the movement of water to physically displace a rotating disk, which moves a magnet, in turn driving the register. A typical register will have a clock-like dial, with gradations around the perimeter indicating water usage measured by the meter or gallon, in addition to a set of odometer wheels similar to that in a car.

Gears in the register convert the motion of the measuring disk element to the proper usage increment for display on the sweep hand and the odometer. Many registers also have a leak detector, a small visible disk or hand that is geared closer to the rotation speed of the drive magnet, so that very small flows that would be visually undetectable on the regular sweep hand can be seen.

To read the meter, you simply look at the odometer numbers, first you must know which type meter you have. U.S. homes typically have water meters which measure volume in gallons or cubic feet. (1 cubic foot = 7.48 gallons, 100 cubic feet = 748 gallons). Other country’s water meters measure in cubic meters. In either case, the measurement units should be designated on the face of the register.

Two basic types of registers are used, the straight-reading odometer style register, and the round-reading meter with multiple separate dials. The straight-reading register is easy to read; just read the numbers. For example, if the register reads 15810, it would mean 15,810 gallons or cubic feet. The older style round reading meter is a little more confusing to read, but still easy.

Multiple Dial Water Meter RegisterThe dials are marked off in divisions of 10, and are read much like a clock, except that the hand on every other dial turns counter-clockwise.

Above each dial is written the designation of what each sweep of the dial indicates, for example 10, 100, 10,000 gallons, etc. To read the meter, start with the 100,000 dial and read each dial around the meter to the one foot dial. When a hand is between numbers, round down to use the lower number. In the picture here, the reading would be 56300 cubic meters.

For registers that have both a dial hand and an odometer, sometimes the last number of the odometer is non-rotating or printed on the dial face. The fixed zero number are represented by the position of the rotating sweep hand. So, if one rotation of the hand is 10 gallons, the sweep hand is on 7, and the odometer shows 123455 plus a fixed zero, the actual total usage would be 1,234,557 gallons.

Meter Reading to Monitor for Leaks

Find the meter; it is usually in the basement, close to the floor at the house’s front, but on some homes may be outside along an exterior wall. Make a reading at night after everyone in the household has no need to use any more water, and write down the figure.

Early the next morning, before anyone has used any water- flushed toilets, taken showers, etc, take another meter reading and write the figure down. The two numbers should be the same (unless some flushed a toilet in the night).

If the figure from the morning is more than the previous night’s measurement, and your meter has a low-flow leak detector dial, then shut off all the things in your home that use water. Go back to the meter and see if the leak detector is indicator is moving. If it is, there is probably a leak in your plumbing system somewhere, and you should think about getting a plumber to come have a look.

Another use of your water meter is to find out the amount of water you use in one day. You could keep this figure handy and use it as a baseline for reference when making water conservation efforts. Just make one reading in the morning before any water is used, and another the same day after all water using activities are over.