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125 posts

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# 142819 25-Mar-2014 17:09
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Afternoon!

We've been having ongoing problems with bills for absurdly high water usage for a while now, from Watercare (Auckland). I've checked and there's no leak, so I'm suspicious that the meter itself isn't accurately measuring how much water we're using.

I've asked Watercare for the meter to be tested, but they appear to be really determined to prevent customers from actually getting it done. After speaking to two people at their call centre to make the request, I had to post them a form with a copy of my ID, and now I've had a further email asking if I really, really want the test to be done. If they don't find a discrepancy of over 3% there's a charge too; and every time I have contact with them it slides up - originally there was no charge, then it became $75, and now it's potentially $300. Furthermore I've 'heard' that whoever they get to perform the test could be incompetent, and that they've been known to turn up unannounced and then if nobody's around say they've done work when in fact they haven't. Marvellous.

So: Does anyone know how I can cheaply and accurately test the meter myself? If I can satisfy myself that the meter is definitely inaccurate I'll be happier to force the test through with Watercare.

By my reckoning I'd need to use at least 100 litres for any inaccuracy to be clearly visible on the meter readout. I can't exactly grab a 10 litre bucket and fill it up ten times, because the bucket itself isn't likely to be accurate - I need a way of accurately measuring a quantity of water. It seems like it should be a relatively simple task, but I can't think of how to do it. Any ideas, anyone?

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1716 posts

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  # 1012593 25-Mar-2014 17:16
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Go and buy another meter and hook it in, compare the results

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Ultimate Geek

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  # 1012595 25-Mar-2014 17:22
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Hi, how far out do you estimate the meter is?
Have you checked you don't have a toilet or something running?
Sometimes they'll run with an almost invisible sheen of water down the back.
Shake a bit of baby powder around the inside of the bowl and see if it washes down as a simple test.

If you have a 500ml or 1 litre measuring cup in your kitchen, get that bucket and carefully measure 10 litres into it.
Make a mark on the water line, now you have a fairly accurate 10 litre bucket.



 
 
 
 


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  # 1012597 25-Mar-2014 17:25
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Do it by weight? 1L of water = 1kg.

If you have a set of accurate bathroom scales they should be able to measure the weight (volume) you need, as long as you can find a suitable container to balance on top of them.

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  # 1012598 25-Mar-2014 17:29
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Buying a flow meter something like the below and hooking it up to your hose?

http://www.trademe.co.nz/motors/boats-marine/parts-accessories/radio-electronics/auction-710132748.htm

Or buying a modest tank like this one below and doing a manual check?

http://www.trademe.co.nz/home-living/outdoor-garden-conservatory/watering-spraying/auction-708178815.htm





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  # 1012599 25-Mar-2014 17:30
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We assume you have done the leak test - turning all taps off for 12 hours, checking the water meter before and after to see if any water has been consumed?




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  # 1012614 25-Mar-2014 18:17
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Wow - a deluge of quick responses! Thanks all!

I've done a leak test - it was about ten hours and the meter didn't move at all in that time. The test of putting baby powder around the inside of the toilet bowl is a great idea that I hadn't thought of before - I'll do that later this evening. We don't have any leaking taps or whatever.

Our average usage over the last year is 1000 litres per day, which according to Watercare puts us at the high end of an average house that has six adult occupants. Our household is two adults and a toddler! We have water-efficient showers and all that sort of thing, don't have a swimming pool, and I don't regularly water the garden or wash the cars at home.

I think my next step will be to take Sidestep's advice. We have a few measuring jugs, so if I find they agree on 1 litre I should be able to work out relatively accurately the level of ten litres in a bucket.

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  # 1012688 25-Mar-2014 19:52
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We use to have massive water bills and the minute we bought a front loader (old one was a top loader), the bills went down dramatically.  We also had a young family so washing machine was forever going.

 
 
 
 


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  # 1012704 25-Mar-2014 20:23
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Family of 4, with 2 (barely) teenagers and a to loading washing machine which is used lots and a dishwasher used daily.  Teenagers are trained to shower not too long (for power usage, not water usage).  All except me to Taekwondo 3x a week which results in extra showers.  Daily usage is around 800-850L.  I'm surprised you can use 1000L.  If you want to get it done right then you probably have to pay a registered plumber to do the test for you, and then try to claim back from Watercare.  I would not trust them to do it right.  It might be worth finding out a plumber charge to test the meter for you, if cheap then worth doing.




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  # 1012783 25-Mar-2014 22:08
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bucket test is a good way to test.  I thought my meter was crook, but all the tests I did with buckets proved it was accurate...  we were just high users!  I sometimes wonder if the watercare usage averages are the problem...

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  # 1012854 26-Mar-2014 07:36
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I've done a leak test - it was about ten hours and the meter didn't move at all in that time. The test of putting baby powder around the inside of the toilet bowl is a great idea that I hadn't thought of before - I'll do that later this evening. .

 So you have already proved there is no leak.


Your water use probably is high...take into account things like how long each person showers for - and is it mains pressure? If so, is the shower on full, it will go through heaps if it is.

Do you let the tap run when brushing your teeth? That uses heaps.

How much water does the washing machine use?

 

Dishwasher? They don't use as much as washing machines, but how often do you run it?

 

Toilet gets flushed how many times a day? Half flush or full?

You watering gardens? Washing cars?

People always under estimate....


xpd

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  # 1012872 26-Mar-2014 08:19
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Are the readers actually even reading the meter ? We lived on a sub divided property, guy next door came and asked what our usage was like (2 adults, 1 toddler at the time), told him - he had himself and a flatmate, and their bill was 3x ours. We found that his meter was next to ours, but 20cm underground (fully covered in dirt - had to get a small garden fork to dig it out) and it wasnt working anyway (actual reading was 1000's of L off what his bill showed).

So how the readers were getting his readings were a mystery.... but funnily enough, his bills came down once the meter was replaced.





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  # 1012887 26-Mar-2014 08:47
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This reminds me of a case recently on something like fair go. Neighbours were getting bills for each others usage because watercare had serial numbers mixed up or something. Nobody found out till someone went away for an extended period and came back to a bill for ridiculous usage.

Start checking serial numbers, and comparing bills with neighbors, you might be living next to a family of 6 with a bill for 200l/day.




Location: Dunedin

 


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Ultimate Geek

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  # 1012910 26-Mar-2014 09:22
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Our average usage over the last year is 1000 litres per day, which according to Watercare puts us at the high end of an average house that has six adult occupants. Our household is two adults and a toddler! We have water-efficient showers and all that sort of thing, don't have a swimming pool, and I don't regularly water the garden or wash the cars at home. 


That IS high for two adults & a toddler.

It'll be interesting to see what you find out.

It's not unknown for meters to be innacurate - just rare.



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  # 1012976 26-Mar-2014 10:07
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Thanks again for all the responses.

I think the first thing to do is to check that I'm definitely being billed for the right meter! Then I'll do a test at some point over the next few days and update the thread in case anyone's interested.

I went through our old bills last night and discovered that at our previous house our average usage was 530 litres per day. At our current house our usage immediately started at 700 litres (with the same appliances other than showers) and then steadily climbed until it reached our current 1000 litres a day. When the baby was born our usage went up, but only by about 10%, and now he's older and toilet trained, etc, we're only using the washing machine once a week more than we did before he was born. We do tend to have relatively long showers, but the length of them hasn't really changed over the years and our showers are flow-limited to 9 litres / minute. Even if the shower was going for 30 minutes a day in total - which it isn't - that would probably be our biggest use of water and it should amount to 270 litres.

One way or another I'll get to the bottom of this!

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# 1012978 26-Mar-2014 10:09
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MrTomato,

If you've done an overnight leak test (http://www.watercare.co.nz/SiteCollectionDocuments/AllPDFs/Have_you_got_a_water_leak.pdf), and the meter has not moved, then obviously you have no leak and we can rule that out. However, apart from leaks, there are multiple reasons for high bills.

I list them all below for everyone to read, even if it might not apply to you.

1. MISREAD: the meter reader has read the wrong meter, or inverted digits ('124356' instead of '123456' kL) --> look for your meter number and meter reading on the back of your invoice and compare with the meter number and reading on the actual meter. However, keep in mind the 'switched meter' and 'estimated bills' possibilities below.

2. UNUSUAL CONSUMPTION: new flatmates, overseas visitors, new appliances, watering garden, washing cars, filling up swimming pool, washing the house, change from low pressure to high water pressure?

3. ESTIMATED BILLS: Watercare reads meters every two months. In between, you receive an estimated bill based on the previous two actual reads. When you go on holidays, and you water consumption drops down to almost nothing, the next estimated bills will be quite low because Watercare uses the low readings taken when you were away to calculate your estimated consumption. But that estimated bill was maybe covering the period when you were already back in Auckland, using lots of water again. When you meter is read next, you get a high bill because the previous one was under-estimated (It's called a 'catch-up' bill.)

4. SWITCHED METERS (particularly in new developments and apartment blocks): if the plumber connected your main pipe to the wrong meter when your house was built, you might be paying your neighbour's bill without knowing it! This can go undetected for years if both households are about the same size. It is only when a family of six, for example, moves in next door that it becomes obvious. Doing a test leak overnight might not reveal it either, if both households are asleep and no water is used. You have to do a 'reverse leak test': wait for the middle of the night hoping that all your neighbours are in bed and not using water, check that ‘your’ meter dial is not spinning, then turn the shower and a few taps full on, run outside and check that 'your' meter is spinning.

5. STOLEN WATER: it does happen! A Watercare customer woke up in the middle of the night and found out that his neighbour was connecting a pipe to the garden tap, washing taxis in the middle of the night for $10 (true story)

6. METER REMOVED OR DISCONNECTED BUT ACCOUNT NOT UPDATED: a requested water meter removal might not have been notified to the Billing Team, resulting in bills that keep coming (the meter reader would report 'meter not found' and estimated bills would still be produced for a while)

7. FAULTY METER: [I list this one last, as you mentioned it in your original post and want to give you detailed info]. Water meters are very accurate and have a life-span of at least 10 years. There is no electronic parts in them so they don't easily break down. The process for testing the accuracy of a water meter goes like this:

 

   A- overnight leak test (done by customer, just to confirm that it is not the main issue here)

 

   B – switched meters test (done by customer, see above)

 

   C – on-site test: as requested by customer, done by a Watercare technician. A temporary meter is attached to your garden tap, the technician makes sure that no water is being used in the house, then the garden tap only is turned on for a few minutes, and both meter readings are checked to see if your meter is accurate. Cost: $150. If the test cannot be performed (e.g. no garden tap, meter spinning continuously indicating a leak in or under the house), the call-out fee is $75. If the meter is found to be inaccurate (i.e. deviation of more than 3% when compared with the test meter), the on-site test fee is waived.

 

   D – lab test: as requested by customer, done by a Watercare technician. Your meter is removed from the ground, taken to a lab, and checked against a standard meter. Cost: $300.

 

All costs listed above are available in the ‘Meter Test’ section of http://www.watercare.co.nz/SiteCollectionDocuments/AllPDFs/DomWater_WW%20Charges_2013_2014.pdf

 


If only because of the costs involved, you really don’t want to request a meter test from Watercare unless you have ruled out all of the other possibilities listed above. The idea of testing the accuracy of your meter using a water bucket is a good one actually.

 

Hope that the above will help. Please let us know how you are doing.

 

P.S.: yes, you are right when guessing where I work :-)

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