water meter question
September 9, 2011 6:36 PM   Subscribe

Who should I call, if at all, to get a water meter installed? Our new condo didn't come with one, I have heard it normally sits on top of the hot water heater, and there is nothing there. I got a letter from the water company to the effect that since we don't have one we are being charged a 'high' flat rate in lieu of it.

I wonder if I could do it myself, but I have little home fixing experience. I will probably only live here a couple more years so I'm not sure its worth it, if its very expensive! 2 people live at home.
posted by uni verse to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would think that the water company would provide and install the meter. In 30+ years of living on my own, all across the US, I've never heard of anyone having to provide their own water meter.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:39 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've never had this come up, but I believe the water company should do it. They should provide and install it at no cost, and I would ask them to do so.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:48 PM on September 9, 2011

Definitely call the water company. They'll tell you the details and help you set up an installation, if possible.
posted by samthemander at 6:49 PM on September 9, 2011

Is it a new condo, as in brand new? I'd check with the condo Homeowners Association or the property manager if there is one. I'm in an older condo building that was converted from apartments. At various times over the years the HOA has considered switching to individually metered units, but the cost has always been prohibitive as it would be the HOA's responsibility (or perhaps the individual unit owners' depending on how the HOA decided to handle it), not the water company's. I'd at least find out what the history is, if you haven't done that. It's possible that the HOA will be responsible for installing the meter. But yeah, the water company can definitely do the job or tell you if it's something you can do yourself.
posted by Balonious Assault at 7:08 PM on September 9, 2011

"... Our new condo didn't come with one, I have heard it normally sits on top of the hot water heater, and there is nothing there. ..."

Water meters need to be plumbed into the main cold water feed from the street to your unit, or building, in order to measure total water use accurately. There is no reason they should ever be installed atop a water heater, and indeed, since a water heater is normally in a private space, being installed there would greatly impair water company service, disconnection, and reading activities.

Also, usually, directly "behind" the water meter, plumbing wise, which could be physically out on the street in many buried utility service neighborhood designs, there should be a "main water valve" for your unit/building. You need to know where this is, and how to operate it, in case there is a water leak in your unit; shutting off this one valve stops all water leaks in your unit/building. Most recently built apartment buildings/condos will meter and provide individual main water valves, but older communities may simply meter and valve the entire building, splitting up individual bills by average use per unit. It's fine for you as a water company customer, and probably a good first step, to contact the water company by phone, to see how they are metering your building; you may even be able to make an appointment with the meter reader or a water company customer service representative, to verify your situation on site, and instruct you where you individual meter and shutoff valve is, if you have one.

If not, it's worth paying for an hour of a basic plumber's time to come out and show you how your plumbing works, and what, if anything, may go wrong in the foreseeable future. Knowing where the shutoff valve is, and how to operate it could save you hundreds of dollars in water damage that your renter's insurance might not cover, if you do have a bad leak in your condo. Some plumbing shops will even do this at a discount, or for free, much like HVAC shops will come out and inspect your heating/air conditioning system.
posted by paulsc at 7:32 PM on September 9, 2011

Balonious Assault: its actually a refurbished apt. which was converted to a condo a couple years ago. Our HOA has not responded at all - totally jaded with their 'management'. I also tried the water co, nothing yet, but we'll see.
posted by uni verse at 8:19 PM on September 9, 2011

Installing a water meter is small, relatively easy thing to do - but you should still get a plumber to do it. It would only take a skilled plumber an or so, maybe less.

But, even if you do install a meter, will the power company trust your reading. Utility companies tend to only read and bill off their own meters - not privately owned meters.
posted by Flood at 8:54 PM on September 9, 2011

You might want to do your homework regarding just how high that flat rate really looks... Municipal water districts tend to have some pretty fantastic ideas of how much water people "should" use, and you may actually pay less unmetered than metered.

Water districts also have a bad habit of billing the customers for leaks, including post-disaster breaks. An organization I belong to found itself the unhappy recipient of a $20k bill because the city didn't bother to send a crew out to cap the feed for a few weeks after the building burned down.
posted by pla at 8:56 PM on September 9, 2011

Presuming you own the condo and aren't renting, have you looked through the big packet you got with the Declaration of Condominium, Articles of Incorporation, CC&R's, annual budget, meeting minutes, etc. in it? There should be something about utility responsibilities it in there. If you're lucky you'll find something about the water conversion, if there was one.

It does sound strange that the meters would be inside the individual units. Our conversion to individual metering would have involved re-plumbing the entire building so the meters would be in a common area. I suppose it's possible that when the building was converted to condos they made the water bill the responsibility of the unit owners but never installed meters at all, so everybody pays the flat rate. Or maybe the meters actually are in the individual units. It sounds strange to me, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. If it's not a typical apartment building and is more like townhomes, then I suppose it wouldn't be unusual at all to have individual meters outside the individual units.

If the HOA isn't responsive and there isn't a separate property manager you can go to, that sounds like a really bad sign. It could be that nobody is answering you because nobody has any idea what to tell you. There might not even be an active board of directors at all. (Of course you did all that research before you bought the condo, right? Just like I did didn't, and it was one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made.) If you pay your HOA dues to a management company, check with them. Check out the common areas to see if you can find any water meters. Ground floor, laundry room or storage area would be the first place I'd check. Talk to your neighbors. Heck, you could even volunteer to join the board if you want to make sure things get done and have the worst experience of your entire life and dread coming home every single day. It would probably be a good idea to at least find out if/when the board meetings are held, and go to the next one.

If you're renting the condo, you'll probably have to get the answers from your landlord. The HOA may not feel that it has any direct responsibilities to a renter, since the owners are association members, not the renters. If nothing else works, call the water company back. They sent you the letter about it, and they will be the ones who can give you a definitive answer about what your options are. Best of luck.
posted by Balonious Assault at 9:43 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

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