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Will a Water Meter save you money?

Fiona Leake
Fiona Leake
  | Edited by Fiona Leake
Updated 16th December 2020

What is a water meter and how does it work? Does it cost money or will a water meter save your family money? This guide goes in-depth about water meters and whether they are worth it.

What is a water meter?

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Water meters measure how much water you use in cubic meters, similar to gas and electricity meters. Your supplier will then charge you water bills based on the readings from your water meter. This means that you only ever pay for the water you use. 

If you don’t have a water meter installed, you will be charged a set amount each year, no matter how much or little water you use. This fixed amount is based on the Rateable Value (RV) of your home. The RV is how much your property can be let out for based on size, type, location etc. RVs were determined in 1990 and cannot be reassessed. If you live in a large home, your fixed annual bills could be higher than your actual water usage. 

Currently, around 40% of households in England and Wales have water meters installed but this number is increasing. 

What does a water meter look like?

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Water meters are round and around the size of a small tin can. They have a row of black and red numbers that turn as you use water. They look similar to gas and electricity meters and work in the same way.

Where is my water meter?

Water meters are usually installed in one of three places:

  • Outside your property - look for a plastic or metal box in your driveway, garden or footpath.
  • Outside wall - Look for a box on the side of your property.
  • Inside your property - under the kitchen sink where the water pipe enters your home.

If you cannot find your water meter in any of these places, contact your water supplier and ask.

How does a water meter work?

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Water meters measure the flow of water entering your home, recording your total usage in cubic meters. Water flows through a chamber linked to the meter which causes the numbers on the dial to turn. New water meters are 99-100% accurate and tested to a factory standard.

Your water meter will only measure water used, not how it’s used. So, if you have a leak that uses a lot of water, you will still be charged as if you used that water in your home. 

How to read a water meter

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Your water meter will have a serial number printed on it. Make sure this matches the number that’s on your water bill. If the numbers don’t match, you might be paying someone else’s bill!

To provide meter readings to your water supplier, you’ll need to know how to read it. The black and white or digital numbers on your water meter tell you how much what you’ve used in cubic meters. This is what you’ll need to tell your water supplier when you give a reading. 

How is my water bill calculated if I have a meter?

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Your water supplier will usually read your water meter twice a year. If meter readings aren’t taken, the supplier will estimate your usage and send a bill. To prevent this from happening, send your own meter readings every few months.

If your bill is estimated and you disagree with the amount, send your meter readings and your water company will send a revised bill.

If you don’t have a water meter installed, your water bills are based on the Rateable Value (RV) of your home. RVs were decided in 1990 and so are now very outdated. Often, people are paying more than the water they are using. This is why water meters can be a fairer option.

Will a water meter save me money?

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If you have more bedrooms in your property than you do occupants, then water meters can save you money. This is because the RV of your home will have been based on the property size and number of bedrooms. This means that you could have a five-bedroom house with only two people living there and your water bill will be based on a full house. 

If you have a water meter installed, you’ll only pay for the water you use, which will be a lot less than the fixed bill if you have fewer occupants. 

Having a water meter installed also gives you the freedom to lower your water bill by using less water. Unmetered properties can use as much or as little water as they like - they will still pay the same. However, metered properties  can pay less if they use less.

The same principles will then apply as if you are reducing your energy usage.

So, if you change your habits and shower instead of bathe, fix dripping taps or only use the washing machine when full, it will be reflected in a cheaper water bill.

However, water meters aren’t right for everyone. If you are a large family you probably use a lot of water. Therefore, your fixed-rate unmetered bill might be cheaper than a water meter. This is because you can use as much water as you like but still pay the same amount. 

How much can you save with a water meter?

Use the water meter calculator on the Consumer Council for Water website. This tool estimates how much money you could save on your water bill with a meter based on your usage, occupants etc.

How much you can save with a water meter depends on your usage but the average household can save around £50-100 a year - sometimes more!

If you install a water meter and cut down your usage, you could benefit from hundreds of pounds in savings.

Should I get a water meter?

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So, is a water meter worth it? Only if it can save you money.

There is one main reason you should consider a water meter: if you have more bedrooms than you have occupants.

It’s very likely a water meter will save you money if that’s the case. 

To help with your decision, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of water meters:

Pros of water meters

  • Save money - the main benefit of water meters is saving money. If you have more bedrooms than people, it’s likely a water meter could cut down your water bills. Fixed-rate water bills are based on property size, so you might be using much less water than you are paying for.
  • Use less water - people who install a water meter are more aware of their usage and so tend to use less. Thames Water found that people use an average of 12% less water when they have a meter. This will save you money but it’s also better for the environment. 
  • Better service - having a water meter allows companies to better monitor their customer’s water usage. Any unusual spikes in usage could alert suppliers to a potential leak and fix problems quicker.

Cons of water meters

  • Large families might pay more - if you have a large family, you might find that your bills increase once your water usage is being monitored. Households with many people living there will have lots of showers and run appliances more. 
  • Might not suit all lifestyles - if you have hot tubs, garden features or garden regularly, a water meter might be more expensive. If your lifestyle uses a lot of water, you might want to avoid monitoring your usage. 

If you are ever unsure about getting a water meter, check out a water meter calculator first.

How to get a water meter - Can anyone get a water meter?

Everyone has the right to request a water meter installation at their property. The installation should be free of charge unless plumbing changes are required. 

The process of getting a water meter is simple:

Step 1: Contact your water supplier

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If you are considering switching to a water meter, get in touch with your supplier and ask them what kind of savings you can expect to make. You can let them know how many people are living in your property and what your current water habits are. 

If you can make savings, ask for a water meter application form.

Step 2: Fill in your application

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You can fill in your water meter application form over the phone, post or online. 

To fill in the application, you will need:

  • Your name and address
  • Your payment reference number
  • Contact details
  • Property details
  • Location of stop taps

Step 3: Installation

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Your water supplier will conduct a survey to see if your property is suitable for a water meter. If it is, they will install a meter within three months of your application. 

Step 4: Your first metered water bill

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You should receive a water bill within six months of your meter being installed. You can provide readings to your water supplier every three months to ensure accurate billings.

Can I get a water meter as a tenant?

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You have the right to apply for a water meter if you are renting. It’s best practice to ask your landlord’s permission before deciding to install a water meter. You must ask permission if you have a fixed-term tenancy agreement of fewer than six months.

If you have a tenancy agreement that lasts longer than six months, you don’t need to ask permission but you should. If you are altering or improving the property in any way, you should ask for your landlord’s consent.

However, if bills are included in the rent and you don't directly pay for the water, you might not be able to have a meter installed.

Can I get a water meter if I live in a flat?

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If you live in a flat, it’s likely to have a shared water supply which means that you cannot have individual water meters installed. 

However, if everyone that lives in your block of flats agrees that they want a water meter, the water company will be able to install a single meter. This meter will measure the water that’s supplied to the block. 

The landlord and all of the tenants will have to agree that a single water bill will be raised for the block of flats. The landlord or management company would have to take responsibility for recovering the money from the tenants.

What if I’m refused a water meter?

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In some cases, your water company might be unable to install a water meter in your home. This could be because of some of the following reasons:

  • You have a shared water supply.
  • You have multiple water supplies.
  • Your property pipework is inaccessible, in bad condition or obstructed.
  • The company cannot find a suitable place for the water meter both internally and externally. 
  • You live in a flat with shared water supplies.

If your water company tells you that they are unable to install a meter, they have to give a reason why. If you disagree with the reason, you can get in touch with water regulator Ofwat to investigate further for you. 

As an alternative to a water meter, your water supplier should offer an ‘assessed charge’ bill. Assessed charges are often based on:

  • Number of bedrooms.
  • Property type.
  • Number of occupants.
  • A fixed charge based on the average metered bill in your area.

Sometimes, your assessed charge might end up higher than what you are currently paying. So, always ask your water company what your assessed charge will be before agreeing to switch to it. If the assessed charge is higher, you can simply stick to your current unmetered charge.

Are water meters compulsory?

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Water companies are free to install water meters on properties. However, they can only make charges based on the meter in the following situations:

  • You use automatic watering devices.
  • Fill a swimming pool.
  • Have a power shower.
  • Use a reverse osmosis water softening unit.
  • Live in a water-stressed area. In some areas the government has allowed compulsory metering of properties due to the lack of water.

Why are companies installing water meters?

Water companies are installing meters because they provide valuable information to suppliers such as when water is in-demand and how to spot leaks. This allows for better water service. 

Customers with water meters installed use around 12% less water. This is great for the environment and will lower water bills.

Water meter tips

If you are thinking about installing a water meter or already have one, here are some tips you should keep in mind...

Tip #1 - Minimal savings aren’t worth it

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If you use a water calculator or ask your supplier and find that a water meter will only save you a few pounds, it might not be worth it. Sometimes it’s better to stick to unmetered water bills as you can be certain of exactly how much you’ll be paying each year, regardless of usage. 

If a water meter won’t save you a significant amount of money, it can be risky as if your usage were ever to go up, you will be paying more. 

Tip #2 - Trial a water meter

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If you can make big savings with a water meter, there’s no harm in trying it out! Most water companies allow you to switch your tariff back within 12-24 months after having your water meter installed. However, they will not remove the meter. 

So, if your bills are higher or you don’t want it anymore, you can switch back to unmetered billing. 

If you move into a home that already has a water meter, you won’t be able to switch.

Tip #3 - Water meters shouldn’t affect your house price

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Some people claim that water meters lower house prices but this isn’t very likely. It might put buyers off that have a very high water usage but this is rare. Don’t let this put you off bagging savings with a water meter as it shouldn’t affect your house price.

Tip #4 - You might be forced onto a water meter - be careful!

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If your household uses large volumes of water for non-essential luxuries such as swimming pools, sprinklers or hot tubs, a water meter might be fitted automatically.

This is because some water companies are rolling out metering programmes which means some households will have to have a meter fitted. 

Tip #5 - Reduce your water usage and cut down your bill

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One of the best things about a water meter is the control you have over your water bill. If you reduce your water usage, you’ll pay less. Whereas, if you are unmetered, you will pay the same amount even if you drastically reduce your water usage. 

Here are some easy ways to save water:

  • Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth - a running tap wastes up to six litres of water a minute. 
  • Only use washing machines and dishwashers when full - constantly running a dishwasher with small loads will waste water.
  • Fix dripping taps - one dripping tap can use up to 75 litres of water a day.
  • Use a washing up bowl - leaving the hot tap running wastes both water and energy. 

For more ways to save on your water bill, check out our guide.

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