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How to Read an Electric and Gas Meter

by vscontent on December 15, 2017

How to Read Electric and Gas MeterYour electric meter keeps track of how much electricity your home uses. Your gas meter measures how much gas your home uses.

By learning how to read and understand your electric and gas meters, you can track and monitor how much energy you are consuming.

Actual vs Estimated Meter Readings

Your utility bills may contain the meter readings between periods, but it’s a good idea to make sure these bills are based on actual meter readings as opposed usage estimates.

Unfortunately, many people are unfairly overcharged for energy consumption based off of estimated bills. If you know how to read your energy meters, when your utility bill doesn’t match the meter, you can prove that you were overcharged.

You may be unwittingly charged hundreds of extra dollars if the usage was estimated. In many states, for instance, utility companies can legally estimate your energy use, no less than 3 consecutive months.

Our Recommendation

Read every meter, every month. If your reading is different from the utility company’s contact them right away and ask them to re-check the meter. If you can’t resolve your dispute with the utility company, contact Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC).

Everyone should monitor their own meters and check them against their utility company’s readings. To help prevent “estimated” readings, make sure your meter is accessible. Locked gates, unfriendly dogs, and overgrown vegetation may prevent your utility company from reading the meter.

Any estimated bill should be marked, and if it is, we highly recommend checking your electric, gas, and water meters yourself.

Protect yourself from overbilling with these three steps:

  • Read all of your meters, every month.
  • Take a picture of the meter to dispute your utility bill’s charges.
  • You can file a formal complaint with your state’s Public Utility Commission.

Warning: It is illegal to tamper with any of your meters or its connections! If any of your meters are broken or tampered with, contact your utility company right away.

How to Read an Electric Meter

Your electric meter measures electric power consumption based on watts. A thousand watts is called a kilowatt. Your utility bill will charge you by the kilowatt-hour (kWh), which is one thousand watts of power used in one hour.

The standard electric meter has clock-like dials, with the speed of the hands determined by the amount of electric current that is drawn into your home. The more electricity you are using, the faster the meter hands will rotate.

  1. Write down the date and time when you read the meter.
  2. Take a picture for your records.
  3. Read the numbers on your electric meter from left to right. But keep in mind that the hands of adjacent dials will turn in opposite directions of each other, but will always go in the direction of the number (0-9).
  4. If the hand is in between two numbers, record the lower number.
  5. When the hand is directly over a number, write down that number.
  6. If the hand is in between 9 and 0, write down 9, but reduce the number you took down for the dial to its left by 1. For instance, if your second dial is 4 and your third dial is in between 9 and 0, reduce 4 to 3 and write down 9 for the third dial.
  7. Let at least a week pass before recording the meter number again.
  8. Then, go back and record your electric meter again (from left to right).
  9. Subtract the first reading from the second reading to get the number of kilowatt-hours (kWh) you used for that period of time.
  10. For instance, if your first reading was 12981 and your second reading was 19542, subtract 12981 from 19542 to get 6561. In this case, 6561 kWh were used for that period.

Standard Electric Meter

Source: Wikimedia Commons (Jc3s5h)

In the picture above, the dials register 34065.

Some meters, however, are digital. Digital meters are much easier to read since they should simply display the total kilowatt hours you have used. Simply write down the kWh number (take a picture and record the date/time), then subtract this number from your next reading to get the kWh used for that period.

Digital Electric Meter

Source: Wikimedia Commons (Angelsharum)

Contact your local utility company for more information on reading and understanding your water meter.

How to Read a Gas Meter

Your natural gas meter measures the amount of gas you use by thousands of cubic feet (MCF) or hundreds of cubic feet (CCF). Some meters bill by therm, which is very similar to CCF (100 cubic feet). Unless otherwise noted, assume that your meter is measured in CCF. Check with your utility company whether they measure in MCF or CCF. The typical gas meter has 4 dials.

  1. Write down the date and time when you read the meter.
  2. Take a picture for your records.
  3. Read the numbers on your gas meter from left to right. Keep in mind that the hands of the adjacent dials will turn in opposite directions of each other, but always between 0 and 9.
  4. Write down the numbers on the dials that the hand has just passed. Keep in mind that the hand is going in the direction of the higher numbers. If the hand is in between two numbers, always use the lower number. The only exception is if the pointer is in between 9 and 0. In this case, record 9, not 0.
  5. Next, add two zeros to the number you just recorded. Or multiply the number by 100. If your gas company measures in MCF (1000 cubic feet), multiply by 1000 or add three zeros.
  6. In the picture below, the dials register a reading of 720500.
  7. Let at least a week pass before recording the meter number again.
  8. Again, subtract the first reading from the second reading. The remainder is the amount of cubic feet of gas your home has consumed during that period.

On both types of meters, it is important to take pictures of the dials for your records.

Look at your utility bill so you can read your meter on the same schedule as your billing period. They should list the dates for your billing cycle/period.

Standard Gas Meter

Source: Wikimedia Commons (Loadmaster)

Click here for tips on how to save energy and money at home.


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