Read Your Meter!
Did you know you had a not-so-secret double agent spy just outside your house? It lurks in the ground just outside your house and it is keeping tabs on how much water you use -- the water meter. But it doesn't take much to turn this device into your own spy. By just reading your water meter periodically, you can know whether the City of San Diego is reading your meter accurately or is estimating your water bill. Moreover, it can tell you whether you have a concealed leak that the City is charging to your account. Based upon some complaints we've received, these estimated bills or concealed leaks cost consumers hundreds and, sometimes, thousands of dollars.
Don’t know how to read your meter? No problem. It’s as easy as following four simple steps. Just remember, all you need is L-O-V-E:
L – Locate your meter. Generally, water meters are located in or near the sidewalk or street bordering one side of your house. They should have a concrete, plastic, or (occasionally) metal cover. Sometimes meter boxes are buried under dirt and debris or are obscured by vegetation. This flier by the City may be helpful in locating your meter.
O – Open your meter. Meter box covers have a hole in the middle that allows the covers to be lifted using a tool. The City’s meter readers use a special tool, but I’ve found that a screwdriver does the trick. Be sure to wear gloves when opening a meter box, as nasty critters like black widow spiders, pillbugs, and alligators love to make your meter their home.
V – View your meter. There are three things to look for when viewing your meter:
First, make sure the meter is readable and the meter box is clear of debris. If the meter is buried or is so dirty that it obviously hasn’t been read for quite some time, do not clean the meter or meter box yourself. Instead, take a picture and fill out this online complaint form and someone from the UCAN Water Project will contact you.
Second, inspect the meter itself. It should have a large face with a number on it. That number is your current read in HCF (Hundred Cubic Feet, the unit of water that the City bills for). To determine your water use, the City subtracts your current read from your previous read. An inaccurate read by the City can lead to a bill that’s much higher than what you should be paying.
Third, look for the test hand. Your meter should have a small hand or dial that spins whenever water is being used. To check for concealed leaks that may be costing you big money, turn off all water using appliances in your house (sinks, washing machine, dishwasher, ice maker in your refrigerator, water heater, sprinklers, drip irrigation, etc.) and check to see if the test hand is still spinning. If it is, it may be time to call a plumber to check your property for costly leaks.
E – Ensure the accuracy of your water bill. This step is key. Reading your meter is all well and good, but to keep the water department from drying out your wallet, you need hard evidence. Record your meter reading in a logbook or spreadsheet. The city’s meter readers almost always do their reads 57 to 63 days from the last day of your previous billing period. UCAN recommends that you check your most recent water bill, find the last day of the service period that you were billed for, and then read your meter twice, once 57 days later and once 63 days later. Again, if your meter is dirty, obscured, or otherwise unreadable, do not clean it yourself. Instead, take a picture and contact UCAN’s Water Project immediately. When you get your next bill, compare the number under the “current meter reading” heading with your two reads. An accurate meter read should be somewhere between the number you jotted down at 57 days and the number you recorded at 63 days. If it isn’t, there’s a problem. And UCAN is here to help.