Thursday, April 23, 2015

What is going on with my meter reads?

By April Collett

Conservice has several methods for billing utilities to residents as fairly as possible. Consider any apartment building. When it was built, for one reason or another, meters could have been installed for each apartment, or as is common, a single meter per building, or even one meter for the whole community. Each community is different depending on the time it was built, feasibility of the utility provider to place more than one meter on the property, the regulations that affect the utility in the local area, etc. So at the end of the month, when the property management receives the utility bill from the provider, how do they know how much each resident should pay?

We have many methods to fairly bill utilities by a common ratio to all residents ranging from simple division to complicated functions. Of course, having direct sub-metered reads of the utilities you use in your apartment home is the best way to know you’re paying the correct portion of the water, gas or electric amounts used by everyone in your community.

So what happens when one of these meters fail? How do you know if your utilities are reflecting your actual usage correctly?

On rare occasion, meters can malfunction. Most water sub-meters installed in the United States are velocity water meters. They measure the amount of water passing into a home through a metering chamber with a known internal capacity. The meter then can convert the amount of water passing into a volumetric amount. To measure the passing amount, the meter may use systems of jets or a turbine.

From the inside of the meter, not much can happen to cause the read to be off. Water meters do wear with time, the indication of this happening is usually low reads as the meter accuracy deteriorates with wear on meter measurement components. For most types of velocity meters, filtering screens are installed before the water passes the jets or turbine to keep debris from possibly flowing into the mechanism and causing blockage or malfunction. If you happen to notice any sort of dirt or grit coming into your home through a water tap, that’s a good indication to have a maintenance check and to review your meter readings when they are billed for that period and see that the water consumption reflects what you expect.

We receive most of our meter reads by digital transmission from the actual meter, to a main converter on the property, then to us at Conservice. This gives us a high amount of accuracy by directly receiving the meter reads digitally. Many of the properties that we bill are set up to have the meter reads sent to us daily for each resident. By seeing an apartment’s daily meter reads and usage, we can pinpoint exactly when a malfunction occurred, or most commonly, when a correct (however abnormal) consumption was measured that caused the bill to fluctuate. The most common cause for an increase in consumption is a running toilet which can consume about 230 gallons per day – most apartment homes use 50 to 150 gallons per day, so ignoring a running toilet is a sure way to double your water and sewer bill. Similarly, a dripping faucet will consume about 10 gallons per day – not as dramatic, but that will still add possibly an extra 300 gal to your billing for that month.

If you suspect your water meter is malfunctioning, the tried and true test takes a bucket, a pencil and a little time. You’ll simply want to locate your water meter, jot down the reading, then fill your bucket until you've expended about 10 gallons of water. Then, you’ll go check the meter again and see if it changed. The important part here is to know at what rate the water volume is being measured. Most velocity water meters will send a pulse (the number on the register will change) for every 5 or 10 gallons that pass, depending on the type of meter.

If you suspect your toilet is leaking but don’t hear an audible running sound near the toilet, it may be a slow leak from the tank, running into the bowl. You can simply drip some food coloring into the reservoir tank, wait a little while, and see if that coloring has leaked into the bowl.

If either of these methods don’t satisfy your concerns about water consumption, the next step is a maintenance check – a leak could be happening in someplace that isn't visible which should be investigated further. Most of the time, if your bill is unexpectedly high, it is a leak or a particular event.
To further our ability to watch your consumption and make sure you are consuming what we’d expect, please make sure your occupancy is reported correctly with your leasing office.

Sometimes you receive a water bill and think “golly, I couldn't have used 6,000 gallons last month!” Check the billing dates first. Did you have guests over during that period? Did you do ALL the laundry one day? Hold a dog washing event? Shampoo the carpets? Most likely, it is an accurate read and our dedicated customer service team is happy to help answer any questions. If we find further investigation is needed with your meter reads, we will contact your property manager and work to fix the problem as quickly as possible.