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Locating increased water usage
Old 02-07-2014, 09:19 PM   #1
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Locating increased water usage

Just trying to get any thoughts on how to check something out.

When we got our water bill last month it was for about 3 times the usage of the prior month. That it is, the bill for November was for 3770 gallons, but for December was for 10460 gallons. There was no obvious reason for the increase.

DH walked around the yard to see if he saw any extra water where there might be a leak but didn't see anything. We have not seen any sign of a leak in the house, no constantly running toilet, or anything. He called the water company and they came out and re-read the meter and said it was fine and that the "new" reading in early January was low.

So I just got the bill for January and it is for 14750 gallons (for the same period of time last year the usage was 4160 gallons).

So, it seems like there has to be a leak somewhere, but I'm not really sure where to look. We are going to call a plumber out, but I'm not sure what to ask them to do. We are also going to call the water company again and ask them to check the accuracy of the meter itself.

A couple of things that may not matter, but I'll mention:

About 5 months ago we had a major leak near the water meter (45660 gallons released in about a day). That was repaired, though, and we've seen no signs of anything else. That was immediately visible as the ground was wet.

Also, we are on an aerobic septic system (with quarterly inspections). Also, our house is on a slab.

We have a sprinkler system but don't run it during this part of the year.
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Old 02-07-2014, 09:35 PM   #2
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No great insights, but some ideas:
-- Your readings are about 3 times your historic monthly use, which also happens to equate to approx an extra 10,000 gallons/mo. Maybe the meter's 10,000 "counter" is somehow incrementing an extra "clicK" as the drum beside it is turning? I have absolutely no idea how these particular mechanisms operate, so this is entirely a wild guess. You could monitor this yourself--see if the usage over the month is "smooth" or if the meter suddenly shows 10K gallons of use within 3 days.
-- You say you have sprinklers--can you turn off the valve to that branch? Likewise with any other sub-branches on your side of the meter (to a guest house, outbuilding, detached garage, lawn hydrant way out back, etc). This might help isolate where the leak (if any) is located.
-- I'm sure there must be some sophisticated way to find a leak. I would call a few plumbers and get an idea (over the phone) how they would approach the problem and what it would cost. Do they guarantee to locate the leak?

When you have >all< the water turned off everywhwere in your house, is the water meter still turning? The meters usually have a very small red triangular indicator on the face that spins around when even a small amount of water is being used. If you've got >every< valve and other legitimate use of water turned off and that little triangle is still turning, then you've almost certainly got a leak somewhere (not a problem with the water company meter, etc).

Pray your pipes aren't broken within the slab. Got any obvious settling/shifting/cracks?

Good luck. And if it turns out to be a problem with the meter (we hope!), be sure to re-engage with the water company about that large earlier bill.
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Old 02-07-2014, 09:49 PM   #3
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First thing is a "Registration check" most meters have a small triangle thing on the face that rotates with any flow. it should not move at all with everything shut off , next read the meter numbers and go to costco, etc , for an hour or so, re read , should be exactly the same. if this doesnt show anything , if you complain enough , most water co's will change out the meter , with one that is new or rebuilt, and flow tested.

Some leaks will only show up with temp. changes, those are hard to find.
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Old 02-07-2014, 10:25 PM   #4
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I agree with checking the meter first. With everything on your side of the meter turned off you should have no flow.

A water heater relief valve stuck open might be a place to start.
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Old 02-07-2014, 10:39 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Katsmeow View Post
About 5 months ago we had a major leak near the water meter (45660 gallons released in about a day). That was repaired, though, and we've seen no signs of anything else. That was immediately visible as the ground was wet.
What side of the meter was this leak on?
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Old 02-08-2014, 01:08 AM   #6
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I suggest that you do a chart of the monthly usage for the last two or three years. It sounds like the meter is screwed up (or you have a leak somewhere). +1 on the idea of turning everything in the house off and checking the meter each hour.
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Old 02-08-2014, 01:21 AM   #7
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Having moaned about meter screw ups and remarkable water bills in the past I'll say that the common failure mode for a meter is to under register usage. As others said, check the little triangle on the meter with everything off.

As a data point, we had a new line bored in from a meter at the street to under a little rental house in December. Plumbers also replaced a shower valve and installed and insulated an unknown amount of new Pex line to replace old rotten galvanized line. $4200. I felt like I got a real good deal given the time of year and speed of service.
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Old 02-08-2014, 07:23 AM   #8
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My son had the same problem. big jump in his water bill. we played with it for a while checking the meter and such. when we finally figured it out. He turned the main water valve off at bedtime checked the reading on the meter and went to bed. got up the next morning and looked at the readings no change. one of the toilets was bone dry, tank and bowl. replaced that and it took care of the problem. could not hear it running nor see any leaks, but that did it. the thing was if he shut his water meter off at night and used nothing on the meter, then turned the water on in the morning and there was a big rush of water to fill up where the leak was you knew the water was going down the drain.
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Old 02-08-2014, 07:25 AM   #9
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My son had the same problem. big jump in his water bill. we played with it for a while checking the meter and such. when we finally figured it out. He turned the main water valve off at bedtime checked the reading on the meter and went to bed. got up the next morning and looked at the readings no change. one of the toilets was bone dry, tank and bowl. replaced that and it took care of the problem. could not hear it running nor see any leaks, but that did it. the thing was if he shut his water meter off at night and used nothing on the meter, then turned the water on in the morning and there was a big rush of water to fill up where the leak was you knew the water was going down the drain.
One simple test is to flush the toilet, and put a few drops of food coloring into the tank. Then see if it shows up in the bowl.
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Old 02-08-2014, 07:49 AM   #10
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Is the meter reading actual usage each month or are some months estimates? The latter is common across many municipalities, if the last actual reading was a low use month it could lead to a bad estimate and much higher current reading.
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Old 02-08-2014, 08:08 AM   #11
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in 35 years in the water and sewer business we never saw a water meter "speed up." They're a mechanical device and can only slow down with time. So it's generally a bad idea to ask for a test or replacement; you're likely to see higher bills! There are occasions where the wrong register can get installed (as in a gallon vs cubic ft) but that's pretty unusual. Read errors are not uncommon but will usually be resolved by the next reading; there have been some systems that have switched to automated with certain devices that register when the meter moves; problem is that sometimes a meter can "move" backwards when there is a gas bubble in the water heater or elsewhere. So if the meter stops at night in just the right spot the movement back and forth from pressure change can cause repeat clicks into the register. Most utilities avoid this type of system now.

Good advice on the little triangle and reading register after a period of known non usage. Most likely culprit is toilets (use the food coloring) or subterranean leak in service line. If you had one leak on your side (had to be your side if it registered usage) the service line may be at end of life. If it's galvanized, replace it. Also are some plastics used in past with bad history. Best is copper but it's expensive, and many swear by the newer plastics. Good luck!
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Old 02-08-2014, 08:32 AM   #12
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As others have mentioned, shut off the main water valve in your house where the water comes into the building at.

NOTE: If you have a very old house, and/or the valve looks to be very old (i.e. lots of gunk around where the valve handle meets the valve body), there is a small chance the valve will either not shut off all the way, or shut and not open again. Not trying to scare you - it will probably operate fine, but if it's an old valve, there is a small chance that it can close but not open again, or the valve handle could break partially closed. It can happen. Just wanted to let you know all the ins and outs ahead of time. If a plumber came out to replace your shut-off valve, you'll have a little water to drain out of the line, and it might cost you $200-$250 to replace it, including the service fee (unless you are handy around the house, or know someone who could replace it).

To verify the main valve is shut off all the way, go to a plumbing fixture on the floor ABOVE where the main shut off valve is, and open the cold water faucet. It may run water for a few seconds if the piping drops down to the fixture, but wait for it to stop running, and verify that it does eventually stop. it might dribble and drip for a while, but after an hour or so it should stop dripping. After you have verified that it's stopped, then go out and read the water meter.

The longer you can go without using water, the better, so perhaps do this in the evening so it can sit all night (you can still flush a toilet once with the water left in the tank with the water turned off, so you won't be completely out of commission).

There has been another thread or two with water usage/water leaks on the forum. I believe one poster in Texas discovered it was their irrigation system. Do you have any irrigation systems? If so, do you have a backflow preventer and/or main shut off valve at the irrigation system? Make sure you also close that completely and leave it off all the way.
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Old 02-08-2014, 09:20 AM   #13
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Check the water heater, if the outlet from the pressure/temp valve runs into a drain, through the floor, outside, etc it may be leaking and you wouldn't notice. One of mine ran in the crawl space and I did not notice for about a week, a week of hot steaming water ended up buckling some of the underlayment before I noticed.
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Old 02-08-2014, 09:36 AM   #14
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Is the meter reading actual usage each month or are some months estimates? The latter is common across many municipalities, if the last actual reading was a low use month it could lead to a bad estimate and much higher current reading.
I can't prove it because I am not going to watch my water meter 24/7, but I darn well know that is why mine jumps all over the place. The lazy water meter guy only comes every 3 or 4 months and just approximates to save himself work. I left my water hose on for about a day forgetting about it and fate would have it, he evidently read that month as the bill deservedly jumped. But it also continued high for the next several months too, only to have several extremely low months after to "make up".
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Old 02-08-2014, 11:43 AM   #15
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Responding to several:

The meter is actually read. It is in the front near the street. We had them come out and do an additional reading last month when the bill was high.

I do have a monthly chart of water usage since we moved in 22 months ago so the jump in usage is obvious.

House is a newer house (about 6 years old). It is 1 story. The water lines don't go under the house.

I tend to think the most likely culprit is toilets. We've not been happy with the toilets functioning since we got here (we've bought the house almost 2 years ago) and have been considering replacing them. We may just start there.

Hot water heater is tankless - don't know if that makes a difference.

Another possibility might be a shower. We don't know of anything specific but we have 3 showers so could be a possibility.

We do have an in ground sprinkler system but I don't think it is that as it has been turned off for months since we don't run it from about October on.
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Old 02-08-2014, 11:55 AM   #16
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I tend to think the most likely culprit is toilets. We've not been happy with the toilets functioning since we got here (we've bought the house almost 2 years ago) and have been considering replacing them. We may just start there.
10,000 gallons per month is a lot of water. It would seem unlikely to be just the toilets, but it is worth checking. The drops of dye in the tank (if the color leaks into the toilet bowl) will tell you right away if there's a leak of your valves in the toilets.

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Another possibility might be a shower. We don't know of anything specific but we have 3 showers so could be a possibility.
Seems unlikely. The floors would be wet or the walls would be sopped through by now.

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We do have an in ground sprinkler system but I don't think it is that as it has been turned off for months since we don't run it from about October on.
It all depends on how it was "turned off." If the electronic controls were jsut turned to "off" then it's quite possible that there's still leakage somewhere (a solenoid not entirely closing the valve, a leaky valve diaphragm, etc).

Turning off all your taps (incl toilets at the valves, any humidifiers, etc) and seeing if the red triangle is turning is a good first step.
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Old 02-08-2014, 11:59 AM   #17
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Turning off all your taps (incl toilets at the valves, any humidifiers, etc) and seeing if the red triangle is turning is a good first step.
Yes, we are definitely going to do that tomorrow and see what turns up.
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Old 02-08-2014, 01:09 PM   #18
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Hot water heater is tankless - don't know if that makes a difference. Tankless systems still do have a pressure relief valve and is worth checking, however 10,000 gallons per month/~330 gallons per day is a large amount and a systematic approach should isolate the leak. As others said check the meter for movement of the red triangle or electronic leak detector with all valves closed. If there is a single valve where the main enters the house turn off the water there to isolate house from the lines outside. If that stops the meter then move inside checking each appliance, etc. If the meter still shows movement then move the search outside.
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Old 02-08-2014, 03:35 PM   #19
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some plastics used in past with bad history.
Ouch! Bad memory.

In our last house, I went out to get the paper one morning and saw a small geyser in the front of the house, shooting water up about a foot in the air.

It turned out to be the infamous "Blue Max" plastic pipe between the meter and the house. The pipe had split open right at the point where it entered the basement, about four feet below grade.

I replaced the entire run with copper, which cost me thousands of dollars.

Fortunately, there had already been a class action lawsuit that set up a fund for this, and I was able to file a claim and recover nearly all of what I spent to fix it.

When the plumber replaced my line, he commented that I was just the first one; the rest of my neighbors were likely to experience the same thing before long.

We moved from that house a couple of years later, so I don't know if that really happened, but Blue Max plastic supply lines are truly infamous here in the midwest.
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Old 02-08-2014, 05:29 PM   #20
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We had many leaks in copper pipe under the slab in our prior house. There never was any water showing up where it shouldn't. It must have drained away underground. I could hear it though. I would put my ear near a faucet and hear the hiss of water flowing.

We fixed maybe a half dozen leaks under the slab before we gave up and had the house re-plumbed with CPVC through the attic. Standard in our area now is to plumb with CPVC. Something in the water attacks copper. All of those old leaks were right next to a soldered joint. When a new leak turned up, I would listen with ear pressed to an overturned water glass 20' from where the last one was, where there was likely the next soldered joint.

The guy who re-plumbed our house was a college graduate. He had given up on I forget what career and took up plumbing. I think he specialized in doing the CPVC when homeowners had had enough of the copper problems.
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