How to check for leaks

Suspect you might have a leak? Did you know you can use your water meter to investigate? Here are some tips to help you figure out if there is a leak in your home.
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Reading your meter

Every home and building with water has a water meter. Meter readings determine the water and sewer charges on your sewer, stormwater, water utility bill. Reading your meter yourself is a great way to detect a leak if you have one.

Step 1. Locate your meter

At residential properties, the water meter is generally located in the ground near the curb in front of the house. The meter box will often have a metal or plastic lid with “Water Meter” marked on top.

Step 2. Open the meter

To read the meter, remove the lid of your water meter box. Be careful! Lids can be heavy. And sometimes, bugs and small animals hide inside the meter boxes. Replace the lid each time you finish looking at the meter to avoid a safety hazard.

Step 3. Understand the dial

Water in Portland is measured in CCFs, which are units of 100 cubic feet, or 748 gallons.

Step 4. Find the leak detection dial

Illustration of a water meter face showing the sweep hand, which rotates on the meter face like a watch hand to measure water usage, and a leak detection dial, which is a small shape that rotates when there is a water leak.

Most residential meters have a leak detection dial. The leak detection dial may be a red or blue triangular-shaped dial or a blue snowflake-shaped dial. It may spin rapidly when water is running. If water is dripping, the leak detection dial may move slowly.

Checking for leaks

The meter is a great tool for checking your home for leaks. Now that you are familiar with where your meter is located and how it works, follow these steps to see whether you have a leak.

Step 1. Stop using water

Turn off all water inside and outside the house, including showers, sinks, the washing machine, and any other appliance that uses water.

Step 2. Carefully take the lid off the water meter box

Step 3. Watch the meter

  • If your meter has a triangular blue or red “leak indicator” dial and it is spinning, you may have a leak.
  • If there is no leak indicator and the actual meter sweep hand is moving, water is running somewhere in your system and you may have a leak.
  • If the hand is not moving, note the position of the hand and wait several hours, making sure not to use any water in the house or yard. Check the meter again. If it has moved, you may have a slow leak.

Step 4. Shut off your house’s main water valve

If you do have a leak, you will need to determine whether it’s an indoor leak or an outdoor leak.

  • Locate the main water shut-off valve in your house. It is usually located near the hot water heater, which may be in your basement or garage.
  • Turn off the valve.

Step 5. Test the valve

Turn on a faucet inside the house to test your shut-off valve.

  • If water still flows from the faucet after several seconds, the shut-off valve is not working. There is no way to tell whether the leak is indoors or outdoors.
  • If no water flows from the faucet, the shut-off valve is working. Return to the meter.

Step 6. Check whether the meter’s leak indicator or dial hand is moving

  • If the leak indicator or dial hand is still moving, water is flowing between the meter and the shut-off valve in the house. That means you may have a leak between the shut-off valve and your meter, possibly an underground leak.
  • If the hand is not moving, you may have a leak somewhere within your home’s plumbing system. Possible sources are leaking toilets, faucets, appliances or even garden hoses.

Learn how to find and fix a leaking toilet

Learn how to fix a leaking faucet

Underground leaks

Leaks in underground pipes can be caused by many different factors, including corrosion, root intrusion, loss of glue adhesion, or structural collapse. Freezing, shifting soil and even rodents can also cause underground piping leaks. All piping materials, including copper, steel, iron, PVC, and CPVC have a finite lifespan and will eventually leak.

Signs you might have an underground leak include:

  • Unexplained increase in water use
  • A notable drop in water pressure or flow volume
  • A sudden problem with rust, dirt, or air in the water supply
  • Unusually wet spots in landscaped areas or water pooling on the ground surface
  • An area that is green, moldy, soft, or mossy surrounded by drier conditions
  • An irrigation system that is failing to keep areas green
  • Cracked/lifted concrete or paved areas or the appearance of sinkholes
  • Uneven floor grade or leaning structure

If any of these conditions exist at your facility or home, you may have a leak.

If you suspect you have a leak, you may want to hire a professional leak detection company to pinpoint its exact location and a contractor to perform the repairs. Leaks that are repaired in a timely manner make you eligible for an adjustment to your water and sewer bill.

Making repairs

The property owner is responsible for water pipes from the meter to the house. A permit from the Bureau of Development Services Plumbing Division may be required for repairs. Call 503-823-7363 for information.

Water leak repair assistance: Leak repair assistance is available to income-qualified homeowners.

Request a bill adjustment: Fix a leak? Let us know. You may be able to have your water bill lowered.