Metering in NYC: Learn About Modern Water Meters vs. Old Mechanical Meters

Opinion & Expertise
January 10, 2020

by David Balkan


Up until the relative recent past, water meters were not even required by code in NYC. Truth be told, the vast majority of residential buildings had no water meters at all. Not so long ago fresh potable water was considered in endless supply, and not a valuable commodity. This past mindset, combined with little or no metering of water, resulted in careless waste. Un-metered properties in NYC were billed on a formula based upon frontage, not on actual usage of water. Therefore there was no financial penalty for excessive use. Nor was there a penalty for outright waste such, as unattended leaks. Well times sure have changed, haven’t they?

Mechanical Water Meters of the recent past

Old mechanical meters had multiple metering dials

In the very recent past water meters were always mechanical devices. Much like an old mechanical watch, they worked by using a set of gears enclosed inside the body of the meter. In addition, devices to prevent backflow during a drop in water pressure were not required either. Needless to say, this presented a health risk, in addition to the wasting of fresh potable water. Thankfully things have come a long way in NYC from the practices and requirements of the 1990’s. Current requirements allow for close monitoring of actual water usage via water meters. Likewise, backflow prevention via sophisticated backflow prevention devices is also frequently required.

Just as the devices themselves have become more sophisticated, so has the price for them increased accordingly. Smaller mechanical meters can still be supplied and installed around $1,000.00 or less. However, larger and more devices can cost thousands of dollars.

NYC approved Meters and Backflow Prevention Devices

Currently the requirement of a water meter is solidly in place in NYC. In addition backflow preventer devices are required by code when appropriate. The the variety of approved devices, and limitations on where each can be used has also been updated. The current level of knowledge and expertise needed to install the correct device is quite high. Frequently approved meter diagrams are required, which are prepared by licensed architects or engineers.

modern water meters
An electromagnetic (EVO) meter

The actual number of approved metering and backflow devices number around 100. In many cases one device may be substituted for another, or may be preferred. For instance, there are now electromagnetic meters (EVO meters) which take up much less room than a mechanical meter. So once again, note that only NYC Licensed Master Plumbers knowledgeable about metering requirements should be hired to perform this type of work.

An EVO water meter is a battery powered magnetic water meter. An EVO meter operates no use of any gears, or mechanical measuring components. Magnetic components inside the body of the meter produce the means to to measure the flow of water. This is accomplished by using very little electricity. Thus, the batteries in these meters can last 10 years of more. Electrodes inside an EVO meter precisely calculate the flow and usage of water. The results are displayed on an easy to read LCD screen. Like many meters, specific EVO meters are designed for different types of water lines. There are specific EVO meters for fire mains, and domestic water main lines.

Modern Water Meters

Like the EVO Meter, other meters are very interesting devices as well. Most meters in NYC are currently read remotely. Meaning the day of the meter reader having to enter your home, or read a meter reader attached to the outside of your building, are coming to an end. You can also check your usage of water online, a distinct advantage to getting an unexpectedly high water bill. Checking your usage online prevents unknown leaks from existing inside of your house for extended periods of time.

Shining a light on the solar panel activates and lights up the meter reading

There are even other types of meters that have solar panels, as pictured above. These meters have their reading light up and activate when you shine a light on their solar panel. This is a far cry from having to add up numerous dials on a mechanical meter to figure out your water usage. If you’re interested in learning more about water metering, read this fantastic Wikipedia article about water meters.

What is a Backflow Prevention Device?

In simple terms, a backflow preventer on a water service line prevents contamination from backflow. It does not serve the same function as water meters do. It does not read the flow of water. A backflow preventer acts to prevent the flow of water inside a building from flowing out to the public water supply. This prevents contamination.

You may ask, how can contaminated water ever enter into a main water supply pipe? In the case of a sudden drop in water pressure on the public main, such as a break, back pressure can seek to suck water from inside your building out to the public main. Now imagine, for instance, a hose is connected to a kitchen faucet. Now imagine that hose is submerged in dirty water, inside a sink full of food debris. That is the perfect scenarios for cross contamination if a backflow preventer is not present.

Plans for Meters and Backflow Devices are carefully designed to meet Plumbing Code

What is an RPZ?

A typical backflow preventer is comprised of two separate check valves. A backflow preventer is tested at set intervals determined by code. An RPZ (reduced pressure zone) valve is different in that is has a relief valve that opens to the atmosphere in the case of backflow. Both of these types of devices are connected to the house side of water meters.

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David Balkan

David Balkan is the CEO of Balkan Sewer And Water Main, the largest and most trusted service in New York City. David is extremely active in various NYC plumber organizations being the Chairman of the Subsurface Committee in the Master Plumbers Council, and Vice President of the Subsurface Plumbers Association. In addition David’s expertise is respected by officials of New York City agencies such as the NYC DEP, NYC DOB, and the NYC DOT. He frequently provides valuable input on a variety of industry related matters.

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