Almost every house has a water meter. The job of the water meter is to measure how much water your household is using, which determines the amount you will be billed for water usage. Most water bills are sent quarterly rather than every month. Many municipalities also bill for wastewater disposal based on how much water is coming into the home.
The city assumes that’s about the amount of water that’s going into the waste disposal system. Most municipalities around the St. Paul and Minneapolis metro area will show how much is charged for water and how much is charged for sewage. The amount of water used is measured in cubic feet, not in gallons as you might assume. Your water meter might have “CUFT” labeled on it to note that it is measuring in cubic feet.
The water meter is typically located in your basement near the wall that is closest to the street at the front of your home because that is where the water pipe comes in underground. In Minnesota, the Code is to bring the water in at 7’ deep so that it is well below the frost line and then run it up into a valve in your basement. That valve is called the street-side valve.
The water meter is installed after that valve. After the meter, another valve, called the house-side valve, is installed. The two valves are there to make it easier for the water department to change out the meter if needed. If they have to change the meter, both valves are turned off to make it easier for the setup to be taken apart and a new meter to be installed.
When homeowners want to turn the water off to the house, they can use either of those valves. In an emergency situation, if you try one and it doesn’t work, try the other one. When both valves don’t hold the water properly and there is a trickle, St Paul Pipeworks plumbers are able to replace those valves for our customers.
Gate valves were installed as part of the water meter setup in the past. They have a little gate that rides up and down over the opening to either open or close off the water flow. Typically, gate valves have a round wheel-shaped handle and the mechanism below that handle sometimes wears out. The gate valve is a full-flow valve. When it is opened up, you can see right through the waterway that is the same opening size as the incoming water pipe.
About 25 years ago, gate valves were replaced with the more modern ball valve. It is called a ball valve because it has a stainless-steel ball inside that has a hole drilled through it the same size as the incoming water pipe. When the orientation of the ball is parallel to the pipe, it is fully open. When you spin the ball a ¼ of a turn, there is no place for the water to flow, and it is stopped. Usually, the stainless-steel ball rides on a Teflon housing, and typically these valves last much longer than the older gate valves. The ball valve has a lever handle making it easier to turn on and off. When the lever handle is parallel to the pipe, it is open. When it is perpendicular to the pipe, it is closed.
When St Paul Pipeworks plumbers need to replace a streetside valve, there is a unique system that allows the plumber to temporarily freeze the water in the pipe that is coming into your home. This allows the plumber to work on the system without having to wait for a city worker to come out to the property to turn the water off at the curb-stop.
It can be a long wait sometimes if the city has to come to your house to turn off the water at the curb and you also may have to wait again for the city to return after the plumber has finished the job. The city charges you a fee when they have to come out to turn off the water. The curb-stop is located very close to the property line, often in the boulevard or in the grass at the front of your home. It has a cover and a casing that goes all the way down to the pipe 7’ deep into the ground.
The cover is opened and a long wrench is inserted down the pipe to find the ears on the valve and turn it off. Unfortunately, sometimes that long casing gets clogged with yard debris so when the city workers come to turn it off, they cannot get the wrench down into the casing. Sometimes they use a big compressor to blow the debris out or they may have to replace it. Hiring a plumber to freeze the water before working on the setup tends to be the easiest and best choice.
Some newer water meters have a device in them that alerts you when there is a leak. The city also monitors your water usage and will sometimes notify you if an excessive amount of water is being used. Some municipalities will send a letter if they notice an abnormal amount of water usage. In the past, a water meter reader from the city had to come into your house and down into the basement to read the meter.
The first step in making that process remote was to put a wire from the meter to the outside of your house to a phone-like jack and plug a reader into that phone jack to read the meter remotely from outside. The newest technology allows the city meter reader to drive by your house in a car that has an RFID radio frequency receiver installed in it and read your water meter from the car.
If you suspect that something is leaking in your home, turn off all water and go down and see if the meter is running (the dial or the digits are moving) and if they are moving it means that water is running though you think everything is turned off. If you have questions about your water meter, are experiencing a leak, or are just looking for a quality plumber in the St. Paul and Minneapolis metro area, give St Paul Pipeworks a call today.
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