Water leaking at and in the water meter box at the street

Discussion in 'Plumbing Forum, Professional & DIY Advice' started by carlegeo, Feb 19, 2012.

  1. carlegeo

    carlegeo New Member

    Oct 2, 2011
    I have a traditional, older kind of water meter, at the street, in the concrete box; I don't think there is any
    electrical or computer connection on it for communication with the water company.

    I noticed a wet, soggy area near/at the meter, and took off the cover and much water is in the box, and seems to keep
    flowing into it, and the area near it is soggy also.

    I don't want to try to shut off the valve at the street since I don't know how to do it; that it might not be legal;
    and don't want to make anything worse in case problem is in the valve itself.

    I will be analyzing from meter reading the usage and past bills, but wanted to ask some questions about the situation
    in general, since am a bit confused on all of this.

    1. The water pressure and flow in the house seems to be the same and ok as it has been (I don't know how long this
    leak at the meter has been going on).

    Can that indicate the leak is not so much or not leaking from my side ? Or could the pressure/flow be ok even if
    leak is from my side ?

    2. I had heard/read somewhere a long time ago, that if the water company comes out and sees the leak is on
    your side, they might turn the water off (in such a way that you could not just turn it back on at the valve).

    This is scary as it means I'd be without water while trying to research it and find out depth of problem, etc --

    is there any accuracy to this - that they could turn the water off if they saw leak on my side ?

    3. I realize I need to find out if the water company is responsible if leak is in/at the meter itself or the
    shutoff valve, or not -- or if it is responsible for just their connection to the meter but not the meter
    or the part on my side -- I've read that this varies by area/city/county.

    Any thoughts on this ?

    4. If it was a leak on the water company side, would they know about it due to their own equipment and monitoring,
    or would it need to be a leak of a big enough size to register on their equipment, and maybe this one might not be ?

    5. If the leak was from their side, would it still register as usage at my meter, or would the amount that registers
    just be what gets thru the meter in spite of the leak ?

    6. I realize I need to also turn off the water supply to the house as well, to see if the meter still registers,
    which could help confirm if its a leak between meter and the house

    but would there be any value in having the valve at the meter off and the valve at the house off, to see
    if anything registers in that case ? Would any flow seen then just mean it could mean the meter shutoff valve
    or related parts were broken ? Or could it mean something else ?

    Thanks for your suggestions and comments.

  2. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Sep 2, 2004
    Retired Systems engineer for defense industry.
    New England
    Not sure about your local situation, but generally, if the leak is on their side, they fix it. If it's on your side, you do. If its on your side, but it's not being metered, they may shut things off since they'd be losing money. But, if it's on your side, they don't care as long as you pay your bills!
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  4. liquidplumber

    liquidplumber In the Trades

    Feb 15, 2012
    Plumbing Contractor
    Gastonia NC
    Call the water company. they will come out, sometimes day or night, and check to see what the situation is. As previously said, if its on the city side, they will fix it and its no cost to you. If its on your side, its your problem.
    In many jurisdictions if you have one high bill due to a leak on your side AND SHOW THEM A PLUMBERS BILL FOR THE REPAIR, they will excuse the overage and bill you based on your average use. Thats totally up to them, and usually they only will do it once.

    editing to answer some of your questions.
    if its on their side they wont know unless you call them or some city worker sees it and reports it. could be trashmen, firemen, police officer..etc etc
    Yes they can shut your meter off if they want to. they can lock it out. dont cut the lock off if they do, its a big fine!
    Leak on thier side would not add usage to your meter. your meter measures only what went thru it, and once the water has gone thru it, its yours.
    Yes you can shut your house off and then see if the meter is still turning. Most meters have a leak detector on the dial face (sometimes a little triangle or gear looking wheel) If its turning, then water is moving thru the meter, which means the leak is on your side.
    There are always exceptions to the their side your side rules. for example, if the meter is set in a cradle and the cradle is leaking even on your side, its their problem. generally speaking, at the point the meter and its associated assembly attaches to your water line, its your problem.
    Hope this helps
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2012
  5. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Aug 31, 2004
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    Call the city/water company. If you call a plumber and it is on the city side, he will have to charge you a "service call" and then call the city. If it is there problem, they may, or may not, reimburse you for the plumber's cost. If you call the city, they will either fix it or tell you to call a plumber, but you have not wasted any money that way. A short concise description of the problem is preferable to a lengthy treatise.
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2012
  6. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Sep 1, 2004
    Yakima WA
    Follow HJ's advice. In answer to question #1, a leak such as you describe would not affect either the pressure or flow in your house.
    Question #2, the actual amount of water leaking would be next to impossible to detect on the meter readings. Again, you're not losing so much water that a significant difference in monthly usage would be detectable.

    One thing you might want to do that hasn't been mentioned is to inspect the line for the meter to the house. It might be an old galvanized pipe that is rusting out and needs replacing. If so, this would be the time to do it.
  7. Hackney plumbing

    Hackney plumbing Homeowner

    Jan 6, 2010
    Some water meters,all in my area have minute(very small) water flow indicators on the meter face.
  8. carlegeo

    carlegeo New Member

    Oct 2, 2011
    Hello, I'm the original poster of this thread.

    Thanks for all your comments; they helped me today in analyzing the situation
    to see if it was on the city side or my side.

    Here's a report and some new questions based on what was discovered:
    (the advice and suggestions on this forum really are and have been important)

    1. Alas, the leak is on my side, and after observation and
    having a friend who knows some things about water lines and piping,
    but is not a plumber, point out to me the part of the pipe that is leaking.

    2. The leak is near the water meter, on my side. The water meter is attached to a
    pipe that goes a few inches and then
    a compression fitting or connection is there and the next pipe
    continues from there , and eventually that pipe or series of
    pipes goes to the shutoff at the house.

    We can see the water coming into the water meter box from this part,
    and he gently felt under it and felt the leak.
    (I think he said it was at the compression fitting or connection, can't
    remember which , if I'm using the correct term)

    Basically the leak is right where the pipe leaves the water meter
    concrete box enclosure, right under where the concrete wall is, going to the

    3. Maybe a car or truck going over cover might have borne down into
    it and pushed the concrete against the pipe, since its right where the edge of
    the concrete box is and perhaps that edge was pushed against the pipe, or
    perhaps its just corroded there.

    4. In any case, he said not even to touch it as if it breaks more, means total
    leak and no water to house

    5. For now water the pressure and flow in house is ok;
    of course the leak itself is getting expensive but am trying to learn
    as much as I can quickly about the next steps and its stressful to say the least.

    We are older and my wife has medical problems, and have been laid off for
    quite a while and very low savings.

    6. ===> I'd like to learn and get your thoughts on what my next steps might be:

    a. can something like this be repaired/replaced just at the place
    where the pipe is leaking (assuming its at that location my friend pointed


    b. does an entire repipe really need to be done ?

    That is, I know from a textbook view, that probably many would say it
    "should be repiped" and I've read a number of good reasons for it on the web
    at repiping company sites, but as a low income, older person,
    laid off, little savings - just can't afford it.

    Also, the house will not be bought again, it will be torn down and new one
    built once we are not there, so there is no advantage to repiping for adding to its value that way.

    7. If it can be repaired, will there be a problem in them getting under the
    water meter box to do the repair or replacing of that section of pipe ?

    (I do realize that other parts of the pipe run to the house could fail
    also, but for now just can't afford other things.)

    8. If repiping from water meter to house is really needed, some questions:

    - any least cost method, ie trenchless vs digging up ground and large section
    of driveway ?

    - can pvc be used vs copper ?

    - would rerouting it be better than digging up old pipe and replacing in that
    line ? (I guess this does not apply to trenchless where they go thru the
    existing pipe ?)

    - is the kind where they use epoxy or other sprays on existing pipe any good ?
    (I don't know if this is considered repiping or not)

    - do they route some temporary piping from water main to house shutoff valve
    so one can use water at times during the repiping job, or do people usually
    need to move out of their homes for those days or bring in lots of water and
    portable toilets ?

    9. What other things should I be considering about getting at least this
    specific leak fixed ?

    I'm going a bit crazy with all these new words and vocabulary and the stress
    is taking a toll on our health now, due mostly of course to financial
    situation and fear of not having water and needing to quickly decide on what
    to do for what to us is a lot of money, even for a repair.

    10. Any ideas on how to talk with the plumbers or repipers and ask the correct questions
    and use the correct terms when I'm calling to get estimates or when they come
    out ?

    Apologies for a long post and probably using not completely accurate terms and
    assumptions, am just too stressed after a long day with this and tomorrow will
    be a challenge for sure.

    Thanks again for your suggestions and comments.

    Thanks - carlgeo
  9. jastori

    jastori Member

    May 2, 2008
    Most likely, it is possible to repair the leak without a repipe. Do you know how old the water line is and what material it is made out of? (plastic, copper, galvanized steel pipe)

    The easiest thing to do would be to have a few plumbers come out and provide an estimate. Explain the problem / situation on the phone when you call. You can make it clear that you have limited funds, and likely cannot afford a repipe at this time. Let them tell you would they would do, and what the cost would be. If you have a few options and are struggling to decide, you could post here with some details of what you were told, and hopefully get some opinions / feedback.
  10. carlegeo

    carlegeo New Member

    Oct 2, 2011

    I want to reply to your questions and also give feedback on my experience in talking with some
    plumbing and repiping companies, in context of your suggestion of asking for
    feedback on what I was told (and what I was not told partially because this is
    all so new to me and don't understand even the basics of it yet and realize
    its hard for someone to learn much about these complex things while under the
    pressure of needing to choose one in a short amount of time.)

    1. The pipe is galvanized, and am guessing its old, though still don't know if
    the leak is from just the age of it or being so close to water meter
    connection or if when some big trucks have gone over it as they turned around
    in my narrow driveway with the meter right next to the driveway edge, if they pressed down on the
    meter and the box moved onto the pipe.

    2. I asked both repiping places and plumbing companies if they were able to
    fix at the leak location, the galvanized pipe.

    Many said they might; they said it depended on the pipe condition.

    Or perhaps they meant on the condition of the pipes near it, since I assumed
    that they would cut out some length of pipe and put another one in and somehow
    connect it to the 2 ends of existing pipe.

    They also said its a more complex repair than if it were other kind of pipe
    that might be fixed without needing to cut out a section of pipe and replace,
    if I heard them correctly.

    They said it could be difficult to know until it was dug up to see,
    which does not give me any comfort, but realize its probably true.

    I did continue to clarify with them that due to finances, repiping would not
    be possible, but they did point out that if repair could not be done,
    or if other parts of the pipe being repaired got damaged during the repair,
    that the repiping (from meter to house), might be needed in any case.

    ===> Question - can someone clarify or explain a bit about the process and
    challenges of fixing a leak in the galvanized pipe, about removing it and replacing other pipe, etc, etc,
    and why it might not be doable or be more complex and expensive than repair
    of copper or pvc ?

    And is it accurate what they said that one just does not know until see the
    pipe to see if it can be fixed ?

    3. I asked the repiping folks a bit about the process but they were all busy
    and just mentioned that there can be trenchless approach or approach by
    digging up the concrete and lawn. I have tried to read about it on the web
    but have not found anything that explained too much more than on company web

    a. As I mentioned in earlier post, the house will most probably be torn down by
    whoever has it next and new one built, so really no value add to repiping
    from main to house in itself, not to mention that can't afford it.

    I did not get specific estimates of it yet but have read various places
    could be $2000 or more; length from street to house is about 60 feet.

    b. I am concerned also about, with repiping or even perhaps with a fix
    to where the leak is, that the resulting water pressure into the house
    is not any stronger than it is, for fear of breaking pipe or things
    in the house; the pressure and flow in the house is fine now.

    Question - is this a valid concern, and if so, how would I communicate
    about it to them ?

    4. I again asked the water department that, if they came out, that would they
    cut off the water if they saw a leak on my side, since I'd read or heard that they could
    and often would cut water off if they saw a leak on my side.

    They replied that if I was home, and asked them not to, they would not,
    but if not home, they might, but would turn it back on on request.

    However, in asking the same question when talking to some plumbing companies,
    some said they thought the water company might turn it off, which brought back
    the concerns and hesitation to call the water department to just take a look.

    Question - since it seems the leak is on my side, but very close to and
    visible in the water meter box, might I get some helpful feedback
    from who would come out ? That is, might they know about if it looked
    fixable to them vs needing a repipe ? (even though of course its not on their

    Thanks again for suggestions and feedback - carlgeo
  11. Gary Swart

    Gary Swart In the Trades

    Sep 1, 2004
    Yakima WA
    You're making this too complicated. The leak can be fixed, but since you have galvanized pipe, it is very difficult to predict how long it will be before more leaks develop which will force installing a new supply line. I realize you are in a difficult financial position, but I see no way you can avoid some expense. If you can buy some time with just repairing the leak, then dig the line out yourself, you could save a lot of money over having a plumber dig the trench. Even if you had to hire a couple of high school kids, that would be much less than paying plumber wages. Then hire a plumber to install a new copper line.
  12. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Sep 2, 2004
    Retired Systems engineer for defense industry.
    New England
    Galvanized pipe is a time bomb. Any imperfection or damage done to the surface can mar the coating and allow it to rust. It can rust from both inside and outside. WHen it rusts inside, as the iron converts to iron oxide (rust), it gets bigger, exposing more metalic material and then that can and will rust as well. Eventually, you'll either end up with holes all the way through the pipe, or severely diminished flow because the inside is all clogged with rust.

    When you try to touch galvanized piping, the act of disturbing it can create more holes or break it off because what's left could be quite thin and weak. Galvanized is generally connected by threaded fittings. So, to fix this, they'd have to cut it somewhere, unscrew it from a fitting, and then use a special fitting to join the two cut ends after threading it into the fitting. Now, if the fitting is all rusted as well, you have to go back further and further until you find something solid enough to make a connection to. This also applies to the pipe where they cut it...if it is all corroded, it won't be strong enough to take a fitting without leaking. You may find that they have to go all the way back into the house to find a solid piece of pipe. Now, depending on where you live, you could replace this line with plastic or copper - you wouldn't want to use galvanized again.

    A lot of the expense is digging up the existing line, or it could be abandoned, and a new trench/line installed. The line must be burried deep enough so it is below the frost line. Not sure where that is where you live, but even in non-freezing areas, it is generally at least 18" so you aren't likely to mess with it in casual gardening, and it has some protection from someone driving over it. If plastic supply line is allowed, the material for 60' would likely be no more than a couple of $ per foot (I haven't priced this stuff in awhile, but the pipe and fittings at each end shouldn't be too dear). Copper would likely be more money, I think, but you could just price things yourself to get an idea. Again, depending on where you live, they may not allow plastic, or they've found that copper doesn't last, so they always use plastic.

    As mentioned more than once, you don't really want to pay a plumber to dig the trench...if you can do it, or have it done, you'd likely save a fair amount. Then, the plumber would supply materials, and make the connections - labor for him would be minimal. You'd have to add in the price of the permit and inspection, and depending on where you live, that could be cheap or expensive.

    It starts to get quite expensive if the frost line is say 4-5' - then, because of OSHA, digging a trench that deep requires special care so it doesn't collapse and bury someone working in the trench. There are boring machines that can place a pipe without trenches, but their use and costs depend on the conditions. A place with lots of rock or boulders verses say sand or normal soil may make it easy or impossible.
  13. carlegeo

    carlegeo New Member

    Oct 2, 2011
    Jim (jadnashua),

    Thanks for the info on the galvanized pipe; this really helps me understand what the folks at the companies I spoke with meant when they said "it depends" when I asked about the fixing of the pipe leak itself vs doing a repiping. I wish they had given more details like you have here, and thus at the time I felt they were just trying to convince me to get a repiping instead.

    And thus I realize that perhaps the cost of doing the fix might spiral out of hand, and then perhaps still not be good, and might require the repiping anyway from street to house.
    (or thus spending more money, and that the cost of the fix itself might be high due to the things you mentioned like needing to find pipe that is not unstable, if at all) Wow !

    Here's some followup questions or comments to your comments:

    1. As to the digging of the line myself or with some other help, assuming the new line would not go exactly where the old one was, the problem in any case is the driveway. Its one of those driveways that enter from the street but then curve around 90 degrees to the garage -- and thus the water line would need to go under the driveway for about 30 feet, which I guess means needing to break it up and that would involve different kind of labor and folks who knew more about what they were doing, and add to the expense. That is, there does not seem to be a way around the driveway since the water meter is on the house side, and not the side yard side.

    2. Thus, in this context, or in general, might the trenchless kind of repiping be better, even though am assuming it would cost more than the digging up/replacing the pipe with copper or pvc ?

    I've read that one type of the repiping approaches burrows under the driveway using some machine.
    (and maybe under the yard part or maybe that is dug up)

    And have read that another approach uses the same path as the exisiting pipe - they go thru it with their own pipe and then burst the old pipe when thats done - not really clear on this yet.

    And read that another approach dura flow or some other kind of names, coats the existing pipe that cleans it and seals it up - again, this is not clear to me yet.

    ---> Do you have any thoughts on which of these approaches might be the best and also the lowest cost ?
    (I don't live in a climate where frost line is a problem)

    3. As to the choice of copper or plastic - in all the ads of the local companies I've seen they always mention copper since say it lasts longer and more efficient, but in my case the lasting longer part is not important, so will ask them if they do the plastic and what the cost difference is.
    (assuming plastic is allowed by the city)

    4. Finally, I realize in any case I need to contact the city to ask if permits or inspections or needed for this kind of work, whether its a repair or the repiping, and if plastic is allowed.

    Thanks once more for your very helpful explanations and suggestions.

  14. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

    Aug 31, 2004
    San Diego, CA
    Yes, a permit is required. You can find out if the leak is "yours" by turning off house main valve and see if meter needle is turning,l

    PVC, PEX, or polyethylene are all acceptable pipes.

    Are you seeing unusually high water bills,??? If NOT, then the leak is not on your side, or it is not very big. If it is a big leak, you do not have much choice,, but you can save a lot of money if you are willing to dig. Where in CA are you? If in a non-freeze area, they may only require a depth of 12".

    MASTERPLUMB777 Member

    Aug 6, 2007
    Retired Master Plumber
    As far as the driveway goes most plumbers have special tools for boring new
    pipes under the driveway without breaking it up !

    Check your pm box at the top right of the home page and give me a call i have the time to explain and answer your questions
  16. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Sep 2, 2004
    Retired Systems engineer for defense industry.
    New England
    Another thought, if you have access in the basement (if you have a basement!), you might find a longer run that goes into a different part of the basement, then run through it to reconnect, might be easier. If you're lucky, a shallow trench is all you need, and with plastic pipe, it doesn't even need to be all that straight. once inside the house, they require the pipe be converted to one approved for internal use, but something like pex would make it easy to thread it where needed since it is flexible and you only need fittings at the beginning and end.
  17. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Aug 31, 2004
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    A permit would only be required if the line had to be replaced, but repairing it could be a one hour job or several hours because you have not given us enough information about WHAT is leaking to make an evaluation. If we were there we could determine what has to be done in a matter of minutes. SO far, it appears the only ones who have looked at it are people who do NOT know much about plumbing so they cannot tell you exactly what is wrong.
  18. carlegeo

    carlegeo New Member

    Oct 2, 2011
    I'm the original poster; sorry for the delay in sending pictures and video; I had to get a camera.

    Rather than try to attach large photos and the very large videos I took, which would not be possible to attach, I posted them at a picture sharing site, and here is the specific url where they are at:


    At the site, you can do the following:

    a. click on name of this album "water meter leak" and are taken to that page.

    b. click on each photo to view or you can do a slideshow and within it, can set
    delay time or stop/start as needed.

    c. The last 2 thumbnails on that page of pictures, the ones with black borders, are videos.
    Click on each one and a video viewer comes up - you can change speed and do full
    screen viewing as needed.

    d. In the 2 videos, about halfway thru, it starts to look blurred; this is just me
    turning around and taking the box from the opposite side, in a few seconds the video will show
    this view also.

    Details of the images and other information on the area; this is probably too long but wanted to provide
    as much information as I could; previous reply made sense about needing to provide more info and hope this and the pictures/videos help:

    0. I took from several views and zooms, also took videos to show I hope the flow of
    the leaking water.

    The parts that show the water meter street side are just for your reference in context
    of the entire meter box.

    1. The place where the water is coming into the box seems to be right under
    where the pipe goes under the box edge and disappears from view.

    a. My acquaintance, who has experience in installing and servicing
    commercial water systems, said that is where he
    felt the leak to be, though he did not know how far up that piece of
    pipe or fitting it might extend. He was firm in saying I should not touch there.
    He did suggest I contact the experts out there who know more about this specific area.

    b. I realize the leak might be perhaps also further up towards the house, since
    there is a slight slope from the house down the driveway to the meter box.

    But am wondering, if this was the case, wouldn't there also be some soggy areas
    there too ?

    The only soggy area I see is one about in a 2 foot square at and near the meter
    box, which makes sense since the water is filling up the meter box as well ?

    2. As to the what caused the problem, and if its the long pipe itself or some shorter
    fitting or connection, I don't know if some truck running over the meter
    box might have caused the edge of the meter box to press down on that part of
    the pipe enough to create a leak or if its just that the pipe or part is corroded at that point
    or has somehow come unscrewed a bit ?

    (the sidewalk is a curved sidewalk, and meter right next to driveway, and often trucks come
    into driveway or back up into driveway as part of turning around, and due to narrow driveway
    and their large wheel base, have seen them go over the meter box.

    3. In the pictures, its that part right under the edge of the meter box, where
    the pipe disappears from view, that seems to be where the leak is coming from, but I don't
    know if that part or piece is the problem or how far up that piece the problem extends.

    4. As to what the part is that goes under the water meter box wall, is it part of a
    piece that connects to meter box, or some coupling or piece that connects to piece that goes
    into meter box, or is it just the beginning of some long run of pipe towards the house ?

    That is, in the pictures, I see the meter on my side is connected to a piece, and then after an inch or two, it seems like there is a raised area, that has brown rust on it, and it seems
    this part goes further to, right under the meter box edge where it disappears,
    and connects to/with some other piece of pipe ?

    Or perhaps its all one piece from where it connects to meter and onward under
    the meter box towards the house ?

    5. Videos show more of the flow of the leak into the box from the hole where pipe goes under
    edge of meter box.

    ===> I realize the pictures might not be enough information to know if a fix can be
    done right there, if indeed its really leaking from there, or if further digging would be
    needed to see, which might mean showing further worn out pipe or causing other pipe to be
    damaged to the point of leaking just by digging it up.
    (vs needing to do a complete repiping from the street to the house and under the driveway which
    can't afford)

    ===> Please let me know if you need more information; I tried to take a variety
    of angles of both my side and the other side of the meter, plus the videos.

    Thanks again.
  19. Hackney plumbing

    Hackney plumbing Homeowner

    Jan 6, 2010
    Welp get your shovel out. Its done with. If the run is all galavanized I would replace it all. Hopefully it changes to a different type of pipe just outside the meter box.
  20. carlegeo

    carlegeo New Member

    Oct 2, 2011
    Hackney plumbing - thanks for the info.

    Was there something in the pictures or videos I posted that gave a clue about this ? (when you mentioned "its done with")

    That is, are you talking about the connections from meter box towards the house that are visible in the pictures ?

    Sorry for what might appear to be dumb questions here and above, but this whole topic and situation is new to me.
    And I do realize that as you mention digging is needed to see more of whats going on, but desperately looking for clues
    before having the work started.

    Thanks again.

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