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.

Your Water Bill Includes Waste Water

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.

Where Is My Water Meter Located In My Home?

Water Meter located in unfinished basementThe 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 for 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 and Streetside Valves

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, which 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.

When You Can’t Wait For The City

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.

water meter with electronic readoutSome 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.

What To Do If You Suspect A Water Meter Malfunction

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). If they are moving, it means that water is running though 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.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q: What is a residential water meter, and why is it important?

A: A residential water meter is a device that measures the amount of water that enters a household. It is important because it helps to accurately measure and bill water usage, as well as to identify any potential leaks or issues with the water supply.

Q: How do I know if I have a water meter installed in my home?

A: If you are unsure whether your home has a water meter, you can check your water bill to see if it lists your usage in gallons or cubic feet. If it does, you likely have a water meter installed.

Q: Where do I find information on water meters and water billing in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul?

A: In Minneapolis, visit In St. Paul, visit If you live in another city or suburb, visit the community website for the city you live in.

Q: Can a residential water meter help me save money on my water bills?

A: Yes, a water meter can help you save money on your water bills by providing an accurate measurement of your water usage, allowing you to identify and address any leaks or wasteful habits.

Q: How can I read my residential water meter to monitor my water usage?

A: To read your residential water meter, locate the meter and check the reading, typically in gallons or cubic feet. You can then compare the current reading to previous readings to track your water usage.

Q: How can I troubleshoot common problems with my residential water meter?

A: Common problems with residential water meters include leaks, damaged or worn parts, and inaccurate readings. If you suspect a problem with your water meter, it is best to contact a professional plumber to diagnose and repair the issue. In many cases, repairs involving water meters are the responsibility of your water utility.

Q: Who do I contact if I suspect there is a problem with my residential water meter or if I need a new installation?

A: If you suspect a problem with your residential water meter or need a new installation, it is best to contact a licensed and experienced plumber who can diagnose and address the issue. They will be able to help you determine if you are responsible for the repairs or of it is the responsibility of your local water utility.

Q: Do I own my water meter, or does the city own it?

A: Generally, the city or local water utility will own and maintain the water meter. However, it is best to check with your local water utility to confirm who is responsible for ownership and maintenance.

Q: What is a Smart Water Meter? Are they used by water utilities in residential settings?

A: A Smart Water Meter is an advanced water meter that utilizes sensors and data collection technologies to measure, monitor, and manage water usage. Some local water utilities may offer Smart Water Meters for residential settings in order to help customers conserve resources. Check with your local water utility for more information on their services.

Q: How does the city know how much water to bill me for if my water meter is inside my house?

A: Many municipalities use remote meter reading technology to obtain usage readings from residential water meters. In some cases, your water meter will send water usage data electronically to the city or water utility, which will then use the data to bill you for your water usage. In other cases, remote transmitters are installed on the outside of the house and are connected to the water meter inside. These sensors then relay usage readings wirelessly to electronic readers that are typically carried from house to house or even captured by drive-by vehicles by city utility workers. Some municipalities estimate monthly water use and then adjust your bill by conducting an annual or semi-annual physical reading.

Q: What should I do if my water bill suddenly increases?

A: If your water bill suddenly increases, it is best to contact your local water utility for an explanation of the increase. It may be due to a meter malfunction or a faulty installation. You may have to have a professional plumber come in and inspect the meter and repair or replace it if necessary. Additionally, you can also check for possible leaks around your house or from any appliances that use water. Fixing a leak can help reduce your water bill significantly.

Q: What type of accuracy should I expect from my residential water meter?

A: Residential water meters typically offer readings with an accuracy of up to ±2%. This means that the reading you get from your meter may be off by up to two percent of the actual water usage. However, some meters may provide readings that are even more accurate. It is best to check with your local water utility for more information on accuracy requirements.

Q: Do I have to let the city meter reader into my home to read my water meter if my home is not equipped with an external meter or transmitter device?

A: Yes, in most cases, you will have to allow the city meter reader access to your home in order to read your water meter. If you do not allow them access, then the city or utility may estimate your monthly usage and bill you accordingly. Therefore, it is best to check with your local water utility for more information on their procedures and policies.

Q: Is it illegal to make adjustments to my city-owned water meter?

A: Yes, it is illegal to make any adjustments or modifications to a city-owned water meter. Not only can this be dangerous, but it can also result in inaccurate readings and higher bills due to over-usage.

Q: What should I do if I think my residential water meter is not functioning correctly?

A: If you think your residential water meter is not functioning correctly, then it is best to contact your local water utility for assistance. They may have a technician come out to inspect the meter and determine if repairs or replacements are needed. Additionally, they can also advise you on proper maintenance and usage practices to ensure that your meter is providing accurate readings.

Q: Are there any safety or health concerns associated with installing a residential water meter?

A: Generally, not – installing a residential water meter is considered safe and poses no risks to your health or safety.

Q: Am I responsible for the maintenance of the plumbing leading into the city’s water meter or just the plumbing on the output side of the meter?

A: Generally, you are only responsible for the maintenance of the plumbing on the output side of the meter. The city or water utility is usually responsible for any maintenance that needs to be conducted on their side of the meter. However, it is best to check with your local water utility for more information and specific requirements.

Q: Should I document my water meter reading before I buy or sell a house?

A: Yes, it is advisable to document your water meter reading before you buy or sell a house. This will help ensure that you are not billed for any usage prior to the sale of the home and can provide documentation if there is any discrepancy between the reading on the closing date versus when you moved in. Additionally, having accurate readings from both the start and end of the billing period can help verify your monthly usage and ensure that you are not overcharged.

Q: Should you document your water meter reading before renting or vacating a rental property?

A: Yes, it is advisable to document your water meter reading before renting or vacating a rental property. Documentation of water meter readings is also important in the event that there is a dispute between you and the landlord or property owner. Many landlords do not charge for water and sewer utilities. In that case, there is no need to document meter readings. However, if you are responsible for the water and sewer utilities, then it is important to keep track of your usage and have documentation to prove it in case there is any discrepancy. This information can help protect both tenants and landlords from any misunderstandings or disputes regarding utility bills.

Q: How often should I check my residential water meter reading?

A: It’s recommended that you check your residential water meter reading at least once per month in order to ensure accuracy and to verify that your water utility is not overcharging you. If you know the day your meter is read, check and document it that day. The meter reading will appear on your next water bill, and your reading should be close to the city’s.

Q: Does water used to water my lawn show up on my water meter?

A: Yes, water used to water your lawn will show up on your water meter. This is because the water from the main line of the city’s system passes through your meter before it enters your home or property. Thus, any use of the water within your home or property, including watering a lawn or washing a car, will be recorded and billed accordingly. Be sure to turn your outside water faucet turned off when not in use. Exterior faucets, hoses, and spray nozzles are often the source of slow leaks that can lead to serious increases in water usage.

Have a question about your water meter? Contact St Paul Pipeworks. We’ll help you determine if your plumbing issue is your responsibility or the city’s.


Yours Truly,

Matthew Dettwiler

Social Media Manager

Water Meters: Everything You Need To Know