Real Estate Investors Association of Greater Cincinnati

Why are Duke and GCWW regularly asking for access to their meter equipment


Every month I have clients call that they received a notice from Duke Energy (the local gas and electric utility) or from the Water Works, asking for access to check their equipment. People often are confused why we get these requests. 

The reason is twofold – equipment upgrades or checking for leaks. In years past, a “Meter Reader” would go door to door every month reading the gas and electric and water meters. They went in every property monthly and manually read the meter so they could bill you. If you were not home, they did an estimated bill based on your history.

Technology has changed this, and new meter technology lets them read the meter without entering the building. At first it was a separate little box they attached to meters or in the case of electricity, they had a way to read it though the electric wires. Early versions put out a signal and the utility had to have someone drive down the street to get the meter reading. Over time these devices have changed, and newer versions can be read remotely anytime.

I recently got a letter from the Water Works about my house. The man came and was able to pop off the top of the meter and replace it with the new top that has a transmitter built in. It took him less than 5 minutes to make the upgrade. Then he cut off the wire to the old transmitter on the wall – and left it there.

Duke Energy’s newest gas meters also have technology to read remotely. New gas meters are also much smaller, lighter, and easier to replace.

BUT – we have another issue – checking for leaks. We don’t have electric leaks. When we have a water leak, we usually see it. Gas leaks, however, are invisible and dangerous. Natural gas is odorless – they add sulfur so it will smell – but small leaks can go undetected. When the old “Meter Reader” came to the property, he had a Gas Sniffer sensor that taped to his helmet. As he walked through the basement it would pick up any gas leaks. Now because they don’t come to the house, they need to go inside and check the gas lines for leaks once every 3 years.

Gas leaks are common and can be dangerous. With our aging housing stock (the oldest house I manage is 143 years old and lots of houses are well over 100 years old) I have seen an increase in gas leaks. Fixing them is slow task.  First you have to find the leak – Duke may tag some but not all – you have to check every connection and find the leaks. You can use a Gas Sniffer device, or the old-fashioned method of soapy water and a small brush – you coat all the connections and look for bubbles telling you there is a leak.

Then you disassemble the pipe. This is heavy Black Iron pipe threaded on the ends, assembled using pipe dope. Finding and fixing the leaks often means hours of work to unscrew the pipes starting from one end, working back to the leak. Then you clean all the pipe threads, coat them in pipe dope and screw them back together.

The people doing it are often working in dark basements unscrewing pipes overhead that were originally screwed together 60 and 120+ years ago. They need to carefully lay them out so they can put them back together in the same order and layout. They are threaded in such a way you cannot start in the middle – you have to start at the end or at a union (a special connector). 

After putting it all together, you need to pressure test the system and make sure it’s not leaking. If there is still have a leak, you do it again until there are no leaks. These are heavy iron pipes mounted overhead – it’s dirty, tiring work. While it’s being done tenants have no gas –which usually means no hot water or heat and sometimes no stove. 

Once the workers get it to hold pressure, they have to call Duke and wait for them to come check it before Duke will turn on the gas. If they find a leak, you continue doing this until you have it all together with no leaks.  Depending on the size of the building, this can be a lot of work ($$$).  

Years ago, I would have one or two leak situations a year. As time goes past and these buildings get older, we now get more frequent reports than ever. Fixing leaks is a slow, expensive, physically demanding and often frustrating task. 

So – if you get a notice or door hanger from Duke or the water works, now you know they are either upgrading their equipment or doing periodic checks for gas leaks. 


Debra Barrett8/29/2023

dbarrett.citycountry@live.comWhat a great post! Thank you, Jim, for clarifying the situation. You've laid out such a thorough description of what the plumber has to go through to find and fix a gas leak. That'll allow me to be better prepared when it happens to me -- and more sympathetic to the plumber's struggle!

Mike Frank8/28/2023

Mikefrank5227@gmail.comAn important topic and great explanation. Thank you Jim!

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