How to Read Your Electric Meter

Reading time: 8 minutes

8 minutes read

Category: Home Utilities
Posted on: 02/26/2019
a square electric meter on the outside of a home with orange siding

Electric meters record how much electricity you’re using. Knowing how to read your electric meter is important to keep track of the electricity consumption in your home or business. Your retail electric provider uses the readings from your meter to calculate your bill.

Utility meters are typically located on the outside of your home or apartment building. Sometimes, they’re also located in the basement or utility room. In apartment buildings, all meters are usually in the same place and marked with the respective apartment numbers.

Types of Electric Meters

There are generally three types of electric meters; mechanical (analog) or dial meters, digital meters and smart meters.

The old-style analog meters mechanically measure electricity usage, using rotating discs to display the amount of kilowatt-hours (kWh) used. Analog or mechanical electric meters are no longer being installed in the U.S but they’re still in use.

Digital meters are more advanced and feature a digital display. Digital electric meters typically transmit the data back to the utility or to the Retail Electric Provider (REP) on the electric service wires. This makes manual meter readings obsolete for billing purposes.

Digital meters can also record the direction of energy flow and report the net usage to the utility. This is important for incorporating distributed generation in your home such as a solar photovoltaic system into the bill. Modern digital meters can calculate electricity cost according to the rate structure and measure other parameters such as power factor or peak demand.

Smart meters provide two-way communication between the customer’s home and the utility company. They allow you to continuously monitor and store your energy performance data. Advanced or smart metering infrastructure (AMI) includes meters, which measure and record electricity usage at a minimum in hourly, often in 15-minute intervals.

Some smart meters even allow for real-time data monitoring. Smart meters provide the data to the utility, which stores the data and makes it available to its customers.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), about 69.5 million residents and 9 million businesses in the U.S. had smart meters installed in 2017. In total, about 78.9 million smart meters were installed, covering over 52% of the almost 152 million electricity customers in the U.S.

How to Read Your Analog Electric Meter

Analog meters, sometimes also called standard or dial meters, typically feature five or six dials to calculate the kilowatt-hours used. The dials advance with a turning central disc, which is driven by the electricity flowing through the meter. The reading is given in kilowatt-hours.

Each dial on the meter is numbered from 0-9 and has a pointer. Odd numbered dials are read counter-clockwise, even numbered dials are read clockwise. The dials measure the number of kilowatt-hours used in 1s, 10s, 100s, 1,000s and 10,000s from right to left.

To read an analog meter, read the numbers at the pointers of each individual dial on your meter from the far right to the left and note them down from right to left. If the pointer is between two numbers, the correct number is the lesser of the two. If the pointer is directly on a number, use that number only if the pointer on the dial to the right has passed zero. Otherwise, use the lesser number. The result is a 5-digit number reading the amount of kilowatt-hours used at the time of the reading. If your meter is still somewhat new and has less than 10,000 kWh, it’ll have one or more leading zeros.

How to Read Your Digital Electric Meter

A digital electric meter records the amount of electricity used electronically. It’s easy to read since it has a big central string of digits showing the kilowatt-hours used as an actual number.

Modern digital electric meters transmit the meter readings to the electric utility. It isn’t necessary for the utility to send a meter reader out to locally read your meter. Digital electric meters sometimes provide more information, which is typically used by the electric utility only.

Balance Your Meter Readings and Your Electric Bill

To balance your analog or digital electric meter, you should record the kilowatt-hours and dates of the consecutive readings and keep the data for later reference. At a minimum, read your meter once a month. The utility company typically doesn’t reset analog or digital electric meters after a reading.

To calculate the kilowatt-hours used subtract the current reading from the previous reading. The result will be the kilowatt-hours used during that period. To calculate your electricity cost on the bill, multiply the amount of kilowatt-hours with the cost per kilowatt-hour in cents. Keep in mind that other charges apply, which vary depending on the supplier and your location.

It’s useful to read your meter the same day your billing period ends. That way you can compare your readings to the amount of kilowatt-hours charged by your utility or retail electric provider. Contact your electric company to find out more or if you notice the number of kilowatt-hours billed could be incorrect.

In order to keep more detailed records using analog meters and to better match your calculations to your bill, find out how your local utility reads the last dial. The utility may round up the reading to the next full kilowatt-hour or utilize the number closest to the pointer.

Meter Responsibilities

It’s important to understand who is responsible for the electric service equipment connecting your home to the electricity provider lines, for example in case of damage. Your local utility company typically owns the electric meter. Even when you switch suppliers, you’ll continue to use the meter installed in your home until it must be replaced.

While responsibilities can vary between utilities, the customer or homeowner is responsible for all equipment beyond the overhead service drop, the service connection point where the lines connect to the home. The exception is the electric meter. That means the owner or customer is typically responsible for the weatherhead and insulator, the service entrance cable and the meter box before the meter as well as everything behind the meter, usually starting with the main service panel.

In some cases, the utility company may take responsibility for the riser, the conduit that protects the wires going to the meter, and the meter enclosure or meter box.

The electric meter installed in your home is the property of your energy supplier and necessary to be able to purchase electricity from them. Tampering with or removing the meter is illegal and can result in serious injury or death. You can learn more about energy consumption in our deregulated energy guide.

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Finance Guru