Introduction: "Ghetto" Water Meter Key

Picture of "Ghetto" Water Meter Key

This is a common water meter as found in the USA. Notice the white arrow. Just above it is the shut off valve. The photo is from Google Images. My meter is in a much deeper hole and the valve is much more difficult to reach for those times when I need to do a plumbing repair in the house and need the water to be "off." This Instructable will describe the water meter key I made from scraps welded together.

Step 1: What You Can Buy

Picture of What You Can Buy

This is a commercially available water meter key. They are not very expensive, but I have a welder and had some suitable scraps materials on hand.

Step 2: The Working End of the Key

Picture of The Working End of the Key

The end of a commercial meter key is a "U" shaped piece welded onto a long rod. This photo from Google Images shows a commercially produced key on the shut off valve. Most commercial keys are painted black.

Step 3: My Finished Meter Key From Scraps

Picture of My Finished Meter Key From Scraps

This is my finished key that I made from six short sections of various kinds of tubing plus the piece for the handle. The door knob gives you and idea of its length. Because our meter is deeper than usual, I needed a longer key than is usually found in the local hardware store.

A note on use of the water meter key: In our part of Idaho we have little rainfall. Our water for irrigating our lawns comes through a system of underground piping about 10 inches in diameter. It is fed by water in reservoirs from spring snow melt in the mountains. Once a week we open the valves in the backyard and flood the entire lawn with about 3 inches of water. The meter box fills with irrigation water and the shut off valve silts over so that it is not visible. My longer meter key is handy for poking around to find the shut off valve in the muddy silt.

Step 4: Making a Straight Shank

Picture of Making a Straight Shank

The shank or shaft of my key is made of some square tubing and some round pipe. My favorite method for welding such pieces so the end product is straight involves a piece of aluminum angle someone gave me. Its valley holds pieces in alignment until I can tack weld them in place. Also, if I accidentally touch the aluminum with the electrode, nothing sticks to it.

Step 5: The Handle

Picture of The Handle

It would have been good to have the handle just a little longer, but this is the piece of scrap I had available, and it works well enough. Some of the scrap pipe sections had been used to practice welding beads.

Step 6: The Working End of the Key

Picture of The Working End of the Key

To make the key end I attached a 10 inch abrasive cutting wheel to an arbor and manually worked the end of a 1 inch piece of pipe against the edge of the wheel until I had a slot that would fit over the shut off valve in our water box. That would have been sufficient, but I wanted to add a little leverage and make the key easier to align on the shut off valve. So, I welded two small pieces of strap iron onto the end of the pipe.

I have not needed this water meter key often, but it works very well. And, I used up some scraps I had without a penny out of my pocket (other than for welding electrodes).


sullengirlsam (author)2016-03-02

I am going to shut off the meter in the ground, but the wire on the meter inside has been cut so it would not be able to be read, it's been like this for at least 3 years without detection, now they want to read it. I want to repair the cut wire can it be done?

sullengirlsam (author)2016-03-02

I need to repair the wire on the water meter used to read the amount of water usage it was tampered with after the water was turned off and they placed gravel in the outside ground meter because of tampering

gumby_kevbo (author)2015-10-16

If the "water company" is a city or other government department, then don't fool around with them, they can make your life miserable...up to and including condemning your home and literally forcing you to move out. This might happen even if the water is supplied by a private company. Basically a building with no water service is considered unfit for habitation because you can't flush the toilets, wash, cook, etc. and may also run afoul of fire codes.

If you need financial assistance to pay your bill, it may be available, depending on where you live.

Plouffes62 (author)2015-09-01

Hi I need help I have been back and forth with the water company they turned off my water 4mths ago. Im on disability and have children just had surgery and they won't turn it on what can I do

Phil B (author)Plouffes62 2015-09-01

First, I would post your request for information in the Community section here at Instructables. Chances are more people will see it. Perhaps some will have some knowledge of how to proceed.
Second, the water utility where I live has an appeal process for those who are unable to pay their water bill.
Third, I would do some phoning to see what social service agencies are available in my area to help in any way. In some US cities there is an organization called Love, INC (In the Name of Christ) which helps people get on their feet. There are likely other similar organizations in other cities. Even if one organization cannot help, that one may know of another local organization that can.
Fourth, if you are involved with a local church, it may be able to help. Many churches have some funds set aside for needs such as yours. But, churches also get many, many requests for assistance and their budgets are often very, very tight to the extent that they have difficulty paying their own bills. Even if you are not involved with a local church, there may be a local church that can and will help you.
I hope this helps.

ccromie1 (author)2014-11-16

damn, I was looking for the pentacle key, 5/8"....going to make my own from the Orbit curb key 60", and weld to the clay mold of the male I found on a sewer manhole cover. With the big freeze going on, I am pulling out all stops to dig down 6 ft while the ground is not frozen, but waiting on the city utilities is no longer an option. At least the water leaking is not recorded by the city's meter...

nancy.morris.5688 (author)2014-10-28

What if the city turned off my water and yet the meter is still running. If there is no water coming into my house how could the meter still be running?

Phil B (author)nancy.morris.56882014-10-28

I do not know. I think I would be asking the city water department.

jbeil (author)2011-08-14

I cut a slot in a pipe cap to make mine.

Phil B (author)jbeil2011-08-14

Excellent idea!

Shiftlock (author)2010-04-09

Are you saying that you have a separate pipe which delivers water for the specific purpose of lawn irrigation, and a separate pipe for your household water supply?  That's incredible.  How are you billed for irrigation water?  Do you know where I can read more about this irrigation water delivery system?

harris126 (author)Shiftlock2011-08-14

My municipality allows for separate home and irrigation water lines. Both lines have meters that are read separately. The irrigation line is less expensive (once you have paid the one-time installation fee). If i remember correctly, the irrigation line is cheaper because there is no sewer fee for the water used on that line.

Phil B (author)Shiftlock2010-04-10

Yes, our household tap water is delivered by a pipe at the street.  Our irrigation water for the lawn is delivered by means of a pipe that runs between the backyards.  Here is the web page for the offices of our irrigation district. I hope this helps.  At minimum, you can contact the irrigation district by e-mail and ask further questions.  I might add the majority of water usage for irrigation is for farm fields.  We pay an annual fee for the lawn irrigation.  This fee is required of anyone on the system, whether they use it or not.  Many are moving to a lawn sprinkler system fed by the city water system normally used inside the house.  The irrigation water is river water and is not safe to drink as is.

Cooldeal (author)2011-07-06

Great and useful project. I needed one but I just cut a slot in 1/4" thick metal bar I had that was an inch wide. Fit perfectly. Nice when you can make a needed tool out of whatever you have on hand and it works well. Thanks for the lesson.

beatnik (author)2010-01-30

This is nice and easy but for me what I did was i turned off my water with a pair of locking pliers and then installed my own shutoff valve with an easy handle, Although my house is OLD and has crappy plumbing so i do a lot of work so most people probably wouldn't need a shut off valve other than the main.

Phil B (author)beatnik2010-02-02

I mentioned in step 3 that our irrigation system causes the water box's valve to silt over.  It is also more than an arm's length below the ground surface.  A locking pliers would not work here.  There is a shut off valve in a crawl space, but I have to crawl a fairly long distance filled with spiders and cob webs.  Thanks for looking.  

beatnik (author)Phil B2010-02-03

I am sorry I did not read the part about your valve, I actually looked at the pictures mostly (i swear i read the articles in playboy though) LOL. But my main reason to post was to say about how I installed my own. I would suggest you do so as it is MUCH easier to turn a lever than go to the street pry up the plate (unless your in some new area and its plastic not my case my house is older than I am)  and its faster for emergencys like the frezer move below (although most freezers that use a water line are for ice makers and the line is only 3/4 in or so so IDK the situation) as i bet some water leaked and if it was a larger line say for a washing machine gallons per min you could flood the room before you get to the valve and got forbid you get cause while doing it. (in all i believe its about the city worrying about non trained workers breaking their equipment or turning on your water when you didn't pay the bill)

In all it seams its no problem for you but I live in the south west so we have strict water restrictions, I can only water plants or my car on certain days of the week i can get a ticket otherwise and worse they jack up my bill for extra use on the non allotted days its nuts but Farmers need their water and when the Colorado river gets my way we get the last trickles left before it dumps into Mexico.

Anyway sorry for the long reply I just didn't want to come off as a pompous jerk saying your idea was overkill as in your situation its not at all. Keep on Keepin' on Brotha! (I just think that's a really cool but cheesy way to say bye LOL)

Phil B (author)beatnik2010-02-03

I enjoyed your response.  I confess I often run through the photos to get an overview of the main idea in an Instructable and then go back for details later.  It makes me wish I had used more pictures in some of my earlier Instructables. 

An extra "personal" shut off is a good idea.  I am not sure where I would put it.  When we lived in Chattanooga I had to replace a rusting water line.  The system used a pressure reducer just inside the house.  The pressure at the street was about 175 lbs/square inch.  I had a terrible time getting the connection between my line and the city's shut off (and meter) to stop seeping.  The teflon tape did not do it, but some epoxy resin glue did.  Anyway, the systems seem to vary some. 

tocsik (author)2009-03-13

In most cites it is illegal to do anything inside the meter pit. you should check local regulations. in most cases if you need your water shut off at the meter someone from public works will come do it for you. The point is be careful.

Phil B (author)tocsik2009-03-13

I did not know that. It is curious that local hardware stores and building supply stores, like Home Depot, sell the water meter keys to anyone. That is been the situation in every place we have lived.

NachoMahma (author)Phil B2009-03-15

. Around here, you are allowed to turn the water on and off. For many houses, the only shutoff valve is at the meter. . But I wouldn't be surprised if it's illegal in some places.

static (author)NachoMahma2009-11-22

 I'm not so sure it's illegal in town, but I know it's highly discouraged. Unless it's really an emergency I would touch the water meter shut offs on town. they are old and decrepit, let the utility break something and fix it. if it's ready to break.

LinuxH4x0r (author)Phil B2009-03-14

It might be that they sell it for gas shut off. Both have a similar t-key

Phil B (author)LinuxH4x0r2009-03-14

I believe the signage near the store displays have always said they were for water meters. It is strange that you could turn off natural gas mains, but are not allowed to touch water shut offs.

NachoMahma (author)Phil B2009-03-15

. Just the opposite around here - water OK; NGas a no-no. My gas has a seal on the valve that I have to break to turn off the gas when working on my water heater or HVAC (yes, there are shutoff valves at the units, but I don't trust them). When I'm finished I just call the gas company and tell them they need to install a new seal. They will tell me I'm not supposed to do that, but I've never been arrested. Within a few days, they will send someone out to make a cursory check and install a new seal. . Same for the electric meter. If I need to break the seal to work on the power, I just call the electric company when I'm done. . But I live in a small town in the rural South. YMMV - a lot.

Phil B (author)NachoMahma2009-03-15

I was not going to mention it, but when we were in our first house the main electrical panel went out. There had been arcing between a circuit breaker and one of the bus bars due to old equipment and a loose fit, and the bus bar was eaten away. My father did quality electrical work in rural Iowa, and I often worked with him. A few times we had to work with electrically hot terminals. With that background experience I changed our main panel without interrupting the power. Electrical utilities I have known are very difficult with you if you break the meter seal. I would not recommend it to anyone unless he knows exactly what he is doing.

NachoMahma (author)Phil B2009-03-15

. The electric company does seem to gripe about it more. And did threaten to take their meter back to the shop one time. But they've never really done anything other than carp and put the seal back on. As I said, it may not be advisable in all areas.
. Most definitely not something for just anybody to do. Among other things, removing the meter can cause dangerous arcing if under a load.
. Built my first Heathkit at about 8 year old. 15+ years experience as an industrial electrician. I won't claim to know exactly what I'm doing but I know enough to be very uncomfortable when working on an "infinite bus." I'd rather face the wrath of the power company than that of my Maker. :)

Phil B (author)NachoMahma2009-03-16

When I replaced the main panel in our house, I shut off all loads. I put carpet and wood over the concrete floor where I would be standing. I wore rubber gloves. I left the ground wire connected until the last so if anything to away from me it rather than I would be the best path to ground. I also connected the ground wire on the new panel before I began to install the hot mains for the same reason. I pulled one hot main out of its terminal at a time. As I pulled each out I slipped a piece of rubber hose over the bare end and taped it up liberally. Then I did the same to the other hot main. Likewise, I removed the tape and rubber hose one at a time and installed installed each in its terminal one at a time. It all went very smoothly with no incidents.

LinuxH4x0r (author)Phil B2009-03-14

Yeah, turning on an unlit pilot could be very risky. But if you need to in an emergency its good to have

Phil B (author)LinuxH4x0r2009-03-14

The natural gas pilots I have seen have safety features to block any gas flow unless everything is in order. At the risk of sounding like a wiseacre, imagine that ordinary folk are not allowed to handle a water shut off because water contains the highly explosive element hydrogen. Why, just imagine if it came into contact with a combustible, like oxygen. Why, we could suddenly have....uh....water. (It is a joke.)

tocsik (author)Phil B2009-03-14

Lol. I didn't mean you couldn't use the meter pit to shut off your water ( That's how i shut of the water to my house too.) I just meant that if you see a cop turn down the street be prepared with an excuse. I also use the same key to turn off the stop and waste valve on my sprinkling system.

LinuxH4x0r (author)Phil B2009-03-14

Thats good! OMG! That stuff is dangerous! Good thing the government to bans it on airplanes :P

R4Man18 (author)tocsik2009-03-16

Anything after the meter is okay to turn on and off because it is the water to your house (what you are paying for) anything from the meter back is illegal to tamper with.

walkthewalk (author)tocsik2009-03-14

Forget silly regulations. Once my dad was moving a freezer in the basement and busted the water input to the house. We pried up that manhole cover and flipped that switch as fast as we could.

unintention (author)2009-07-28

I think I'm going to have to fabricate my own meter key too. I have never yet found one that fits the shut off in my water meter box.

Fruitpound (author)2009-03-12

I always used an adjustable wrench, no fabrication required.

Phil B (author)Fruitpound2009-03-12

I would use an adjustable wrench, too. But, if you noticed, my meter and valve are below the surface a distance greater than the length of my arm. A water meter key is necessary.

Fruitpound (author)Phil B2009-03-16

I did notice that, all I was saying was what I use in my circumstance. English isn't my first language so sorry if it came across wrong.

NachoMahma (author)2009-03-12

. Now that's the spirit of DIY! Another great iBle from Phil B.

Phil B (author)NachoMahma2009-03-12

Thanks. You are making me blush.

NachoMahma (author)Phil B2009-03-12

. Bah! Modesty (usually false, anyway) doesn't play well with me. Nothing wrong with being proud of a job well done. Nothing wrong at all. You did a great job(s), stand up and crow! . Wow! I just noticed that you're older than even Goodhart. LOL

Phil B (author)NachoMahma2009-03-12

Monday (3/16) I will be 63. When my father was 55 I thought he was old. I do not feel 63, maybe 40 or so, sometimes even younger. Time passes faster than you expect.

NachoMahma (author)Phil B2009-03-12

. heehee I'm almost 53. IIRC, I'm a little older than Goodhart - close enough to be called the same age.

About This Instructable




Bio: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying ... More »
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