How to Check for a Leak

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Leak Detection Using Your Water Meter
Using the meter as a leak detector
For leak detection, turn all water-using appliances off so that no water is being used anywhere in the house. Then check the position of the meter dial and wait. If after 30 minutes the dials haven’t moved—congratulations! You have a relatively watertight home. But if the dials have moved, start checking your connections, faucets, and especially toilets for water leaks. If you have everything turned off and are sure the toilets and connections aren’t leaking and yet the dials are still turning, you may have a hidden leak in an underground pipe. If you believe this is the case, you may need to call a plumber for assistance.

Understanding Your Water Meter and How It Can Help You Detect Leaks
The dial on your water meter resembles the odometer in a car. Some meters may look slightly different, depending on the manufacturer, but they all work on the same principles.

Labeled MeterStraight Reading Meters: The flow indicator is usually a small wheel or triangle that rotates whenever water flows through the meter. Normal fluctuations in main line pressure can cause the flow meter to rock very slightly back and forth. But if the flow meter is turning in one direction when you know that all the water is off on your property, you may have a leak.

For most residential water customers (meters less than one inch in size), each full revolution of the register sweep hand indicates that one cubic foot of water—about 7.5 gallons—has passed though the meter. The markings around the edge of the dial indicate tenths and hundredths of one cubic foot. Charges for the amount of water consumed are based on 100 cubic feet of water used. The numbers shown on the register keep a running total of all the water that has passed through the meter since the meter was installed.


Sensus digital meterSensus register displayDigital Read Meters: To activate the register display, open the lid. There are 8 digits/bars on the meter at the top of the digital display (Figure 1). You can monitor the 8th number on the far right to check for leaks (Figure 2). For example, if the number rotates from 0 to 1 when you are not using water, this is an indication of a possible leak. You can also look at the Flow Indicator (Figure 4). If there is a plus sign in the middle of this circle, water is passing through the meter. To view the rate of flow mode, close and open the lid a second time within 30 seconds after initially opening the lid. Rate of flow is measured in gallons per minute. The meter is read in cubic feet (figure 3) and also has a battery life indicator (Figure 5).

Toilet Leaks

The toilet is one of the most common culprits for water leaks but its leaks tend to be less noticeable than others. Although water may not be seen or heard running, your toilet may have a silent leak. To determine if your toilet is leaking, follow the steps below:

  1. Without flushing, look at the water in the bowl.
  2. Still without flushing, remove the lid and look straight down to the bottom of the overflow pipe, a flashlight may help, to make sure there is no water moving. If water is seen moving in step (1) or (2) above, your toilet is likely leaking.
  3. Mark the water level in the tank then flush. The water level should come back to the same spot as it was prior to flushing. If the water level does not come back to the same level, your toilet is likely leaking. If everything looks good to this point you can skip to step (4) below.
  4. To test for a silent leak, drop a little food coloring into the tank. DO NOT FLUSH! Wait for about 15 to 20 minutes. If the food coloring appears in the toilet bowl, your toilet has a silent leak. It is probably located in or around the flapper valve at the bottom of the tank.

Most toilet leaks occur at the overflow pipe, flapper or tank valve inside the tank. If you saw water moving in step (1), simply replacing the flapper will likely solve the problem. If water could be seen moving at the bottom of the overflow tube in step (2) there may be water siphoning from the fill tube if it is sitting down in the overflow tube. This can be resolved by lifting the fill tube above the water level. OR – it could be that the tank valve is malfunctioning and needs to be replaced. If the water level in step (3) comes back HIGHER than pre-flush, or the food coloring appears in the toilet bowl in step (4), it may indicate the flapper needs to be replaced. If the level comes back LOWER than pre-flush, the tank valve probably needs to be replaced. Once you confirm everything is working properly, make sure the water level in the tank is properly set. The water level should come up to about a half inch or so below the overflow pipe. Adjust the float level control screw, if necessary, so the valve shuts off the water at the lever.

Irrigation Leaks

Did you know?
You can use your water meter to help determine how much water your sprinklers use? Follow the steps below to learn how much water it takes to irrigate your property!

  1. Turn on your sprinkler system and watch the meter dial move for exactly one minute (for information on how to read your meter, see below). One complete revolution of the sweep hand represents 7.48 gallons.
  2. Count the number of revolutions and multiply it by 7.48 to get the amount of gallons used per minute.
  3. Now estimate how long you usually leave the sprinkler running.
  4. The hundreds of gallons of water going into your lawn and garden each week may come as a surprise to you. Want to find out how much water your lawn and garden really need? Contact our Water Use Efficiency Program at (530)642-4126

No matter what type of irrigation equipment you have—manual sprinklers or a drip system—irrigation leaks are not always visible. If you notice overly green or soggy spots, this may indicate a leak where broken spray heads or underground pipe leaks will be most obvious. Leaks from buried pipes, hoses, or drip lines leaking into sandy or porous soil may not show up right away. Automatic sprinkler and drip systems that generate a hissing sound are likely leaking somewhere. Also, be sure to inspect your sprinkler system regularly for damage from foot traffic or animals.


 Power Outage? Don’t Forget Your Irrigation Timer!
Have you recently experienced power outages at your home? If you have, it could mean your irrigation timer is reset to its default factory settings, which may cause your timers to go off on non-watering days or times. In addition to resetting your clocks and other electronic appliances after a power interruption, don’t forget to check your irrigation timer as well.


Pool Leaks

A pool or spa leak or a malfunctioning auto-fill device can account for significant water losses. If the water level is too high (hitting the overflow cut out) your auto-fill device may be constantly adding water to the pool, leading to excessive water use. If you suspect your auto-fill device is malfunctioning, contact your local pool specialist right away to avoid unnecessary loss of water. Follow the steps below to check for a leak in your pool:

  1. Turn off the automatic fill valve, if applicable.    
  2. Place a bucket on a step, weight it down with a brick or rock, and fill with pool water To match the water level in the bucket with the level of the pool.
  3. Leave the bucket and pool undisturbed for at least 24 hours. The longer, the better.
  4. Compare the water level in the bucket with the water level of the pool. If the water level in the bucket is noticeably higher than the water level in the pool, you may be losing water to a leak. Contact a pool leak detection specialist.