How water supply plumbing works, with a diagram of a home water meter and shutoff valve, and tips for how to read a water meter

Water travels under pressure through a system of pipes to your home. The water company uses a water meter to measure how much water you use (unless your water use isn’t tracked). This meter is often buried in a housing with a removable lid, located in front of the house, near the street.

A shutoff valve is located on each side of the water meter; the one closest to your house will shut off all the water to your home and property.  ©HomeTips ©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

In cold winter areas, it may be inside the basement or crawlspace; it’s often placed where the meter reader can check it monthly without disturbing you.

The water company delivers water to the meter through a large pipe called a main, which often parallels the street. The water meter measures the amount of water that flows to your house. Dials or a digital readout on the meter record how many cubic feet of water travel through the meter.

The company meter reader records the numbers each month, and the company computes the difference between last month’s and this month’s readings to calculate your bill. Reading a digital meter is easy, just like reading a car’s odometer. To read a dial-type meter, record the smallest of the two numbers near the tip of each needle.

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Gate valve controls the water supply to the entire house. Photo: Homewerks
Gate valve controls the water supply to the entire house. Photo: Homewerks Homewerks

A main shutoff valve is often located on each side of the water meter. The one on the street side is the water company’s valve, the one used to shut off the system when the company wants to work on or change your meter. The other one controls water that flows to your house. This is your main shutoff; turning it completely clockwise will stop all water flowing through your water supply system, both indoors and outdoors.

A gate valve, used as the main shutoff valve, is designed to be used either completely open or closed. As you open the valve, a tapered wedge retracts from the water channel into the valve’s body, allowing water to flow. When closed, the wedge creates a seal. Other valves control the flow of water through parts of your supply system. A valve near the house may shut off all water indoors; another may control all garden water.

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About Don Vandervort
An avid builder and remodeler, Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years, as Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996. Read more about Don Vandervort