Figuring out how to read a gas meter might not seem like the most important thing on your to-do list, but it is a good idea. The more you know about the energy warming your home or cooking your food, the easier it is to make household decisions and manage your budget. Before we get into the nitty-gritty on how to read your gas meter, let’s do a quick primer on natural gas itself.
Natural gas was formed by tons of pressure and prehistoric timelines. Plant and animal life buried by sand and rock decomposed and created fossil fuels in the form of gas, oil, and coal beneath the earth’s surface.1
There are several kinds of natural gas, and they’re collected in different ways, including drilling and fracking. The availability of gas and other variables in collecting it can affect prices for obtaining and distributing gas. While you can’t control the cost of gas, you can keep an eye on how much you use, and adjust as needed.
Natural gas is a cleaner burning fossil fuel, releasing half the carbon dioxide of coal and up to 20 percent less than oil. However, natural gas still releases methane into the atmosphere when extracted from the ground and through pipe leaks during distribution. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is actually a stronger heat trap than carbon dioxide.2
How to Read a Gas Meter
OK, so you understand the historical origins of gas, and overall how it’s collected and distributed by utility companies. So now, let’s talk about reading the numbers on your gas meter dials.
Gas is measured by the cubic foot. On your gas bill, you might see that you’re charged by the thousands of cubic feet (Mcf) hundreds of cubic feet (Ccf) or by the therm. One therm is about equal to 100 cubic feet.3
As the gas moves through the pipe into your home, the force turns the dial. The more gas moving through the pipe, the quicker the dial rises to a higher number. Gas meter readings are done left to right.
Gas Meter Dials, Digits, and Hands
When the hand on the first dial completes one revolution, the hand on the second dial moves to the next digit, and so on. The dials right next to each other move in opposite directions. For example, the first dial on your gas meter might read from 0 to 9 going counterclockwise. Then, the second dial will read from 0 to 9 going clockwise, the third dial counterclockwise, and so on.
If a dial hand is between two numbers, write down the lower number. If the hand is between 0 and 9, the lower number, in this case, is actually 9. This is because 0 moves the next dial to the right up to the higher level. You could think of it as 10.
If your dial hand is on one number directly, look at the next dial to the right. Has it passed zero? If it has, write down the number the hand of the first dial is directly resting on. If the second dial is not past zero, write the next lowest number from the one the first dial hand is resting on.
When you’re done writing down the correct digits from your gas meter, you’ll have a four-digit number to show you how much gas you’ve used over the past month, or however often you check it. Some gas meters are digital now and display in the easy-to-read fashion of a digital clock.
Benefits of Reading Your Own Gas Meter
The utility company will send a meter reader around every month or quarter. So, you’re not obligated to read your gas meter. If meter reader doesn’t have access to your meter because of a locked gate, etc. the gas company might estimate your gas usage rather than charge you for exactly what you used. Some people don’t mind this. They like the privacy of avoiding a stranger alongside their house.
Whether you allow the meter reader access, or if your gas company estimates your rate for a specific period, just make sure you understand the gap of time between readings or estimates.
Although utility gas readings or estimates are generally accurate, reading your own gas meter and keeping track of how much gas you use will help you spot any glaring discrepancies between what you know you used and what your bill says.
Other advantages are that you can make adjustments to conserve energy for environmental reasons or for your own budget. If you know that winter months when you’re heating your home are especially high usage, you can make adjustments on other areas to stay within budget. Or, you can spend a little extra upfront cash buying everyone in the house snuggies, and turn the thermostat down.