How to read an electric meter

Understanding how to read your electric meter means you’ll know how much energy you use on average. It’s a good thing to be knowledgeable about in general, and especially if you’re looking into adding solar as a power source for your home. Knowing how much power you need every month will determine the size and other details of the system. But it’s a good idea for anyone paying for electricity.

Some utilities have automated electric meter readings that don’t even require a meter reader to come out to your house every month. The information is sent directly to the utility company electronically.1

Of course, for the most part, utility companies get reliable electric meter readings with both traditional analog or dial meter readers and with new digital smart meters. But keeping track of your own electricity usage is a way to be your own advocate. If there’s ever a discrepancy, you’ll catch it.

Whether your home pulls electricity from the main power grid, or you generate your own electricity during the day with solar panels, you can benefit from learning how to read your electric meter. Here’s how.

How to Read an Electric Meter

Your electric meter is on the outside of your house. The meter keeps track of how much electricity flows from the nearby power lines through the meter, and to your electrical panel inside. Any time you turn on the TV or computer, or open the fridge, you pull electricity through the meter, and the meter adds it up.

Electricity is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh).2 Your electric meter might be a traditional meter featuring four to six dials with pointers that look like clock hands. These are the meters we’ll discuss in this post. It could also be a digital meter, which can be as easy as reading a digital list of numbers. However, there can be variations between manufacturers. Contact your utility if your digital meter is confusing.

Electric meters are read from left to right, as are gas meters. Each dial on the traditional electric meter face indicates usage from 1 kWh up to 10,000 kWhs.

Starting at the dial furthest to the left, each dial moves in the opposite direction from the previous one. Often the first dial hand will move from 0 to 9 in a clockwise direction. In this case, the second dial will then move from 0 to 9 in a counterclockwise direction. This continues on in an alternating pattern.

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Rules for Reading Your Electric Meter Correctly

As you read from left to right, you’ll write down a single number from each dial. Make sure you’re standing directly in front on your meter.

If a pointer is between two numbers, write down the smaller number. If the dial is pointing directly at one number, you have to look to the dial to the right for which number to write down.

If the dial to the right has passed zero, write the number the first dial is pointing to. If the dial to the right has not passed zero, write down the number just before the one the first dial is pointing to.

The very last dial is treated differently by various utility companies. Some companies round this final digit up to the next highest number, while others might tell you to disregard it completely. Check with your electricity provider to find out whether to count the final digit or not.

Other Factors in Reading an Electric Meter

If you track your miles in a car, you can reset the odometer to zero and see exactly how many miles you’ve driven in the past month at a glance. But with electric meters, you can’t reset to zero. Once you have your four to six digits written down, note when you read your meter and come back to it later.

Preferably every month, read your meter again and subtract the kilowatt hours you used this past month from the month before. The difference is how much electricity you’ve used since the last reading. This is how you’ll keep track of your electricity usage over time.

If your utility offers off-peak electricity rates, you might have two meter rows instead of just one. Contact your utility to verify which meter corresponds with peak and off-peak rate charges.

Why Read Your Electric Meter?

As with most behavior-driven things, a great way to stay mentally engaged with your electricity use is to monitor it. When you monitor the foods you’re consuming, the money you’re spending or the electricity you use, you tend to be more aware and purposeful about it.

This will help you manage your electricity usage to conserve energy and stay within budget. After all, the money you save on electricity can be stashed away for college, or spent on those cheese snacks you really like. Whatever is a top priority for you.


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