*Reading Your Utility Meters*
By Stryder


You probably don’t ever really NEED to read your own electric or natural gas meter. Your local utility company will be sure to come around and read it every so often so they can bill you. Many of us who are still on the grid like to keep track of our usage for a number of reasons though. One reason is as a double check to make sure that our gas and electric bills are accurate. Another is to track our conservation efforts and gauge their effectiveness. Yet another reason is to budget for the next bill so we don’t have a heart attack when we open that bi-monthly envelope from the power or gas company.

Reading a gas or electric meter is really very simple. Whether you have a regular electric meter, a day/night electric meter, or a natural gas meter the basic procedures are all the same.

Electric Meters


  1. The dials on the meter are like a car odometer. Just be sure to notice what direction the dials move -clockwise or counterclockwise - (they’re usually labeled with an arrow although the one shown is not) because they do not always move in the same direction. The dials represent the amount of energy used in ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands of kilowatt-hours (kwh) which is how consumer electric energy is measured.
  2. A basic rule for meter reading is that when a dial pointer is between two numbers, always read that dial as the lower of the two numbers. If the pointer is between 2 and 3 read that as a 2. If the pointer seems to be ‘dead on’ a number as in the case of the third dial on the meter pictured above, it can be very difficult to tell if the pointer has reached or passed a number or is really still approaching it. In that case, refer to the dial on the right of the one in question and if the right dial has passed zero then read the higher number on the left. If the right dial has not yet passed zero then read the lower number on the left dial. In the case shown, the third dial looks like it is on the 2 but the dial on the right is just shy of passing the zero so the third dial should still read 1.
  3. Read the dials from right to left and record the results in that same order as you read them.
  4. To calculate the amount of electricity used since the last reading, subtract the last reading from the current reading and you will get the number of kWh of electricity used since the last reading. In the case of the current meter above the reading would be 89194. The calculation would then look like this:
  5. 89194 (current reading) - 87485 (previous reading) = 1709 kWh used between readings

  6. In some homes the monthly or bi-monthly use may be more than the meter installed can register so the meter would have a meter multiplier labeled on the front. That multiplier is usually 10. You must then multiply the answer you get for your use by the multiplier factor to get the actual amount you will be billed for. An example would look like this:
  7. 8919 (current reading) - 8748 (previous reading) = 170(difference in readings) x 10 (meter multiplier) = 1700 kWh used between readings

  8. Once you have the number of kWH used then the next step is to multiply that number by the cost per kWh in your area and add the access charges and taxes to get the cost of that period’s usage.

1709 kWh x 13.0966 ˘/KWh = $223.82 + $15.52 bi-monthly grid access charge + $ 7.18 state sales tax = $246.52 total bi-monthly electric cost

Day/Night Electric Meters

If you can shift a substantial portion of your usage to the nighttime and if you choose day/night billing service you may significantly reduce your energy cost. A special day/night meter will be installed that is read the same way as a regular electric meter, except that it has two rows of dials. The top row is the day rate (usually 0700 to 2330 and the bottom row measures the usage on the night rate which is cheaper. Remember the basic steps from above and just keep the two readings from the top and bottom row of dials separate as you read them. Then multiply each reading (day and night) by the correct cost rate factor and add the two numbers together to figure the total cost of use.


Natural Gas Meters

Natural gas meters do not look the same as electric meters, but the basic steps of reading the meter are exactly the same. Natural gas meters register hundreds of cubic feet (ccf) of gas usage instead of kWh as does an electric meter. Natural gas meters have four or five dials in a row, which measure the gas and two dials below them, which are used for testing and calibration and can be ignored (unless you work for the gas company.)


When reading your gas meter remember the steps:

  1. When the pointer is between two numbers, read the lower number.
  2. When the pointer is very close to or looks to be ‘on’ a number, refer to the dial on the right to decide the correct reading.
  3. Read the dials from right to left and be sure to record the numbers in the same order as you read them from the dials.
  4. The gas used is calculated in the same way as electricity, the previous reading is subtracted from the present reading and the difference is the amount used. Natural gas, however, has different energy contents depending on a number of things such as where it was drilled, etc. and so the amount used is multiplied by a number called a therm factor to determine how much energy the gas that was used actually delivered. Usually (at least in the northern states) there is a different cost per therm depending on how much gas you’ve used that month so the calculation is a little trickier. Your monthly therm factor can only be determined by looking at your previous bill as an estimate or calling your natural gas company and asking. The therm factor varies from time to time depending on where the gas company is buying upstream the gas they are selling downstream to you. A typical example would look like this:

3610 (current reading) - 3345 (previous reading) = 265 ccf used between readings x 1.0290 content factor = 272.6 therms

6 therms x 0.0 ˘/therm (the first 6 therms were free per account this month) + 94 therms x 85.7963 ˘/therm + 172.6 therms x 58.2768˘/therm + $30.34 bi-monthly gas access charge + $ 6.35 state sales tax = $217.91 total bi-monthly natural gas cost

As you can see reading a gas or electric meter is really very simple and can be very useful as well. So ... Go give it a try if you want to make sure you’ve got a handle on your usage. You may even want to think about assigning this as a job for the kids in the house to read, record, and calculate the monthly usage as a simple project in math, graphing and household economics.

Get out and train!


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