Water Meter Changeout Guide

Posted on January 30, 2018

Things to consider when a municipality is getting ready to make a switch.

For communities that are looking to change out their water meters, this can be an overwhelming process. Metering systems are only changed out every 15-20 years, so the endeavor is often unchartered territory for the person spearheading the project. For municipalities and rural water utilities that are thinking about an upcoming water meter changeout in the next five years, here are some things to consider.

Meter Type
The two most popular types of water meters are mechanical meters and solid-state meters. Traditional mechanical meters have been used throughout the United States for more than 100 years. They are manually read by either using a walk-by or drive-by meter reading system.

Sensus iPERL watermeter

Solid-state meters (sometimes referred to as “smart” meters) are a more modern metering option. These meters don’t contain moving parts so they provide highly accurate readings with less wear and tear. Solid-state meters do tend to cost more up front, but their advanced alarms and remote reading capabilities can mean big savings in the long run.

Kamstrup ultrasonic watermeterFor example, smart meters are highly effective at reducing nonrevenue water, an objective that DSG Territory Manager and metering specialist Brad Simms says should be a major focus of all modern water utilities. “Upgrading a meter system used to be about saving manpower,” he says. “Now the attention really needs to be on capturing non-revenue water by using precise reading methods, identifying leaks and preventing tampering.”

If you think that a solid-state meter is the best fit for your operation, you’ll need to decide between an ultrasonic solid-state meter and an electromagnetic solid-state meter. The main difference is how the meters measure water flow. Ultrasonic meters use sound waves to communicate usage, while electromagnetic meters use a magnetic field to measure water flow. DSG metering specialists can help you determine which is best.

Meter Material
When choosing a meter, water utilities will want to consider what the meter is made out of. The Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act mandates that all wetted surfaces must be lead-free, and that includes water meters. Lead-free, according to this mandate, doesn’t mean completely free of lead but instead that the material does not contain “more than a weighted average of 0.25 percent lead.”

While mechanical meters are primarily made out of bronze, they do comply with the Act. However, solid-state meters are typically made of either reinforced fiberglass composite or stainless steel, making these types of meters a relatively safe choice over the long haul.

AMR Versus AMI
AMR stands for Automated Meter Reading, while AMI means Advanced Metering Infrastructure. Both have been instrumental in allowing water utilities to move away from manual reading (where a meter reader is required to approach a residence), significantly reducing time and labor costs while improving safety.

For the most part, the difference between AMR and AMI comes down to whether the utility needs to go and get data or whether the data comes to them. Most of the time, AMR systems will require meter readers to stop at each residence while the meter is being read by either using a handheld or a mobile device. Some systems, however, let you read meters hands-free while driving at posted speeds. AMI systems, on the other hand, give you real-time data, meaning that you can get information on water meter usage on a daily or even hourly basis without visiting the premises. Utilities’ needs vary, but typically AMR is a better fit for smaller utilities, while AMI is usually suited for the needs of larger utilities.

“If you think AMR is the right system for your utility, you may want to select one that can be easily migrated to an AMI system in the future,” says Simms. “Our metering specialists at DSG can help utilities determine what system is the best method.”

When it comes to cost, it’s important to look at the total cost of ownership, not just the initial purchase price. Some systems may require replacing hardware or upgrading software on a regular basis, or they may require an annual hosting and support agreement. “Sometimes the initial cost may be cheaper,” says Simms, “but over the life of the system, utilities may end up paying more on maintenance. It’s important to take a long-term, big-picture look at a system before buying.”

As a water utility looks to get started on the meter changeout process, DSG metering experts can offer guidance, helping to design a system that fits their community. For more information, contact your local DSG waterworks representative.