Water Meter and Leak Detection

dabrettyMay 20, 2013

Hello all -

I am pulling my hair out on this one, and can't seem to get a good answer from anyone (plumber, city water, etc) on where and how to progress.

Basically, in the house we recently purchased I've got a ton of ground water around and (presumably) underneath the house. It's best seen in the sprinkler valve boxes (valves are ~ 2ft down), where water fills up the boxes. Considering this is Albuquerque (very dry), this is extremely odd as the soil is normally very, very dry.

So I started watching/educating myself on drains and water leak issues. I had a guy video scope the drains, and there were no (obvious) issues ... plus, the volume of water that we're seeing (8-10 gallons pumping out a day in a 3' deep hole I dug) is clearly not coming from a drain leak. It seems to be everywhere around the house, including in non-irrigated areas (dig down an inch and you can see that soil is at least damp). Naturally, I'm convinced there's a leak coming from somewhere.

In comes the water meter, where I am clearly a newbie. Basically, the "big hand" doesn't seem to budge at all, and our water bill is nothing noticeably big. BUT the little "low flow indicator" is moving ... back and forth, not super fast but quite noticeably. It's too hard to tell if it's "on average" turning clockwise (which I read somewhere is indicative of water flowing into the house from the meter), or the opposite (I'm giving water back?!). My gut instinct is that it's not "on average" turning clockwise, because the "big hand" measuring usage did not increment at all during a 3 hour observation window. Unless the big hand (and therefore my bill) only moves on appreciable flow??

Has anyone seen this behavior (low flow indicator moving back and forth) before? I did have a "water expansion tank" added to the input on my hot water heater when it was installed, as I was told that the city water pressure in this neighborhood is very high. Naturally I wonder if this expansion tank, combined with variable pressure from the city (I'm very near a golf course) could account for this "low flow" movement.

In the end, there's obviously a leak somewhere. None of my neighbors has a high water bill, while one of them also observes ground water in his irrigation box ... and I'm starting to think that the city may be leaking underneath the street. But of course the city won't even consider there to be a problem until there's a major leak (and the street is flooded).

Any suggestions? Time to call in a leak detection crew??

Thanks for any help. Sorry for the super long post, just throwing out all of the evidence I've gathered thus far.


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Leak locator companies can be iffy. There are companies that are competent and professional and there are companies that are not. Best that you do all you can to diagnose the problem.

There is a check valve in the water meter so you can't "give water back". With that check valve you have a closed plumbing system and a thermal expansion tank is required.

You may be experiencing two problems at the same time... a water leak on the city side and something using water in your house.

Is your neighbor's (with the water filled box) meter showing the low flow indicator moving also?

Since the low flow indicator is moving we'll assume that either water is being used in the house or there is a leak. Shut off the water at the meter and see if the indicator stops. If it does then you have a leak or something in the house is using water.

The #1 culprit in the house is a leaky toilet. Put some food coloring in the toilet tank and see if the color of the water in the bowl changes.

#2 culprit is an RO unit running to drain constantly.

#3 culprit is a water softener running to drain constantly.

Since you AND a neighbor are experiencing the SAME water in the box symptoms the odds are that the problem is a leak on the city side of the meters.

If that is what is happening then the small leak will continue to erode the soil until the problem is unavoidably obvious.

This post was edited by justalurker on Wed, May 22, 13 at 1:45

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 9:03AM
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