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This past summer, my vacant home was vandalized. Thieves stole the copper plumbing. Once the re-plumbing was done, the city came to install the water meter.

The meter is female-threaded on either end. It suspends in the air by the threaded connections. One side threads on to a copper piece that runs about 6 inches before an elbow, and then 3 more inches until it reaches the wall. The other end threads on to a line that runs about 6 inches before it hits an elbow and the line runs vertically up to the ceiling about 5 feet. This line is suspended in the air; it is not tight against the wall (to give the meter room, I guess). There is no Teflon tape on either joint, to my memory.

Yesterday, I installed a water line heater (think it's also called a heat tape) and wrapped the pipes in insulation because the meter is in a part of the house that is unheated, and it is supposed to get darn cold in the next couple days. During installation, I noticed that the meter was loose. This caused a steady drip. Both joints were loose. I tightened it back down and have been worrying ever since.

What caused it to loosen? I don't think there's been much vibration. The only thing using any water at all right now is the furnace, and it shouldn't really be using much at all since I filled it and bled it 3 months ago. Everything else has been shut off. There was one or two nights a couple days ago where the outside temperature reached down to about 10 degrees F. Could this have caused the problem in the unheated room where the meter is? There was one morning years ago when I lived in the house that the water line actually froze on an extremely cold night and it prompted me to install a heater then, so this room can get very cold.

water meter with heating cable under fiberglass insulation

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The meter likely has rubber gaskets that make a seal between the meter body and the pipes; like a garden hose. Temperature changes or age (likely only if the city installed a used meter with used gaskets) could have changed the pliability of the gaskets. I can't say if the nuts loosened, but there shouldn't be any teflon tape or pipe dope on the threads. If they start to leak again, or if you're sufficiently worried, you can check the gaskets. Turn off the water at the main and you can easily take the pipes apart from the meter and inspect the gaskets. New ones can be purchased at any plumbing supply store for a couple bucks.

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In my locale the meter is the municipalities responsibility. If it leaks they repair it for no charge. –  mikes Jan 6 at 11:24
    
The meter was loose. I had to tighten both nuts. What I'm asking is what could have caused the nuts to loosen. Thanks for reassuring me that there shouldn't be anything on the threads, though. –  San Jacinto Jan 6 at 18:41
    
@SanJacinto What I'm saying is that the nuts did not necessarily come loose. They leaking could have been caused by a change in the state of the gaskets. –  Edwin Jan 6 at 19:19
    
Ahhh, ok. That makes sense. Thanks. –  San Jacinto Jan 6 at 19:25
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If the fixture is in an unconditioned space, heating and cooling cycles could possibly cause the fixture to "loosen". The expansion and contraction caused by heating and cooling, could potentially cause a leak free joint to leak if the conditions were right.

For example. If the joint was just barely made water tight while the pipe was warm, it could leak if the pipe became cold enough.

I'd tighten the connections; as you have done, and monitor the joints for any further loosening.

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As I said in the question, I've added a heating cable to the pipe on either side of the meter and also insulated it. Do you think this may exacerbate the problem, since it will constantly be cycling between being heated and not heated? –  San Jacinto Jan 6 at 18:43
    
As long as the joint is tightened enough, it shouldn't be a problem at all. The joint likely wasn't tight enough to begin with, and so by tightening it you've solved the problem. –  Tester101 Jan 6 at 18:49
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